Minister’s access award is hard to swallow


Disabled activists have been left “bewildered” by the decision to present the minister for employment with an award for the accessibility of his website.

Chris Grayling beat off competition from all 648 other MPs to win the accessibility award in this year’s MP Web Awards.

The awards were organised by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, and recognised MPs who have embraced the web, and are using it to “engage effectively with their constituents”. The accessibility award was judged by the disability charity AbilityNet.

Grayling is the Conservative minister responsible for the government’s incapacity benefit reforms, including the much-criticised “fitness for work” tests.

He has been heavily criticised by opposition MPs and disabled activists for helping to fuel hostile media coverage of the issue through his department’s presentation of government statistics.

Kaliya Franklin, the disabled blogger and activist who co-founded The Broken of Britain, said disabled people were feeling “demonised and scapegoated” by the coalition’s rhetoric on benefits.

She said this attitude was underlined by Grayling’s “implacable opposition” to a more accurate and sensitive test for out-of-work disability benefits and his “insistence that work is good for us, even for people undergoing chemotherapy treatment”.

She said: “Many will be left feeling bewildered and further betrayed by this award for services to disabled people at a time disability hate crime has increased… with the public perception of disabled people as fraudulent scroungers clearly linked to the language used by government ministers, particularly Chris Grayling.”

Eleanor Lisney, another leading disabled activist and herself an information specialist, also pointed to the irony of Grayling being handed such an award.

She said AbilityNet should be aware of the high cost of adapting technology for disabled people at a time when the government was “cutting funds for access support for the same disabled people”.

She said: “Technology which can be so helpful is also so costly and unaffordable to many disabled people who are struggling to make ends meet with the many cuts affecting their lives in the present economic climate.”

AbilityNet said its judging had been “expert, impartial and based upon global technical guidelines on accessibility”, with an “automated accessibility check” on all the websites, followed by a mini-audit of the 23 sites with the best scores.

No-one from the charity was available to comment further on the decision to award the prize to Grayling.

A BCS spokeswoman said the judging and the award were “completely apolitical” and based purely on the accessibility of Grayling’s website.

1 December 2011