Access to Work crisis: Minister is ‘full of hot air’


newslatestA leading Deaf theatre figure has accused the minister for disabled people of being “full of hot air” and ignorant about the government’s Access to Work (AtW) scheme.

Jenny Sealey, who is chief executive and artistic director of Graeae, and was co-director of the London 2012 Paralympics opening ceremony, last week revealed the impact of the AtW cuts and changes on her own career.

This week she spoke out about Mark Harper, the Conservative minister for disabled people, after she had watched him answer questions about AtW from the Commons work and pensions committee.

Speaking at a protest organised by the Deaf-led  StopChanges2ATW campaign, outside parliament, she said: “I’m using a name-sign for him that shows he’s full of hot air and understands nothing of the true meaning of Access to Work.

“We Deaf people have high expectations of ourselves, but today I’ve been made to feel like a burden on Graeae, as though I’m the one responsible for the depletion of our finances.

“Graeae’s funds, first and foremost, are for the creation of performing arts, not to pay for my access. Access is not a benefit, it’s a right.”

Geraldine O’Halloran, co-founder of the StopChanges2ATW campaign, said she believed there had been “so much misinformation” during the session, and that Harper needed to “go away and arm himself with some more information”.

She added: “When he had finished, I wasn’t really sure what he had told us.”

She said it was “amazing” that Harper was talking about replacing interpreters with “some kind of avatar signer”.

O’Halloran said: “We want to support technology but not to a point where it replaces one-to-one interpreting support. This is something which might happen sometime in the future.”

She said the arguments seemed to have “come full circle” since deaf job clubs were arguing for interpreter support at job interviews 28 years ago.

“It just feels like they are basically saying the Deaf community are too expensive and we just cost too much money.

“We expect experienced, skilled and high-quality BSL interpreters. We can’t just put up with some of the unqualified people who are out there.

“Because of the high quality of interpreters we have had access to over the last years that has enabled Deaf people to raise their level of activity in the workplace.

“If we lose that professional service, we might just as well pack up and go home.”

One Deaf professional has told her that it felt as though AtW just wanted Deaf people “to become cleaners, in jobs where you just don’t need support”.

O’Halloran said: “That really is how the Deaf community feels. It is incredibly demoralising and it is just not a fair system.

“They talked this morning about flexibility, but that flexibility isn’t fairly administered.”

30 October 2014