The BBC has sparked anger and shock among disabled people after deciding to shut down internet messageboards that they say provided them with a “lifeline” and a “valuable and scarce resource”.
The BBC said the decision to close the Ouch! messageboards – which allow disabled people to start their own online discussions and seek advice on important topics such as benefits cuts, discrimination and healthcare – was part of Ouch!’s move from the “BBC Learning” department to “BBC News”.
Ouch! – the BBC’s own disability website – describes the messageboards as “the beating heart of the Ouch! community where you talk to us and each other”.
But a message posted on the site by Ouch!’s disabled editor, Damon Rose, said that social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter had now “outclassed” what the BBC could provide “in terms of specialisms, privacy and personal connections for this community”.
But users flooded the messageboards with comments criticising the decision to close them on 6 July, with some suggesting they could mount a legal challenge.
One accused the BBC of trying to “palm its loyal disabled users of Ouch off [onto] commercial ‘Social Networking’ sites such as Facebook and Twitter”.
Another said they were “utterly outraged” by the decision, and added: “Only last month I was helped by the good people on Ouch to deal with a very bad experience; and I wouldn’t have known how to cope with it without their kindness and help.
“This is the only part of the BBC dedicated to the needs of the disabled community and should remain as our life line.”
Another wrote: “It sounds to me like a disability resource is being removed with nothing being put in its place and no consideration made to the effect this is going to have on its users.”
Others said they were “almost speechless”, described the decision as “totally immoral” and “disgusting” or felt “betrayed”.
Several of those who posted comments questioned whether the BBC had carried out an equality impact assessment on the decision, in order to comply with its duties as a public body under the new Equality Act.
Rose declined to comment on the closure, as did a BBC spokeswoman.
9 June 2011