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Stormont is failing our disabled people

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 18/05/2016

Andy Allen
Andy Allen

It is easy to understand the frustration and not a little anger felt by UUP MLA Andy Allen at having to prove he is disabled in order to gain a disability benefit at Stormont.

This is a man who lost both legs and has only 30% sight as a result of being blown up by a bomb while on a tour of duty with the Royal Irish Regiment in Afghanistan.

While it is right and proper that assessment rules are in place, they should be administered with a large dose of common sense instead of sticking rigidly to the letter of the regulations.

A cursory glance at Mr Allen would be all that it takes to know that he has a severe disability and qualifies for a driver to assist him on Assembly and constituency business.

But, as the MLA points out, this is not just about jobsworth obstinacy making him undergo examination by occupational health services. This attitude has much wider implications for other disabled people throughout society.

Many of them would undoubtedly like to lead more fulfilled lives but, given Mr Allen's treatment to date, may feel that the system is more geared towards denying them assistance rather than offering it to them.

And it must be remembered that however they came about their disability, they do not want to be humiliated when asking for assistance.

What is truly astonishing is the lack of facilities to make life easier for disabled people entering Stormont. That includes members of the public who either want to attend sessions of the governing Assembly or who want to meet their public representatives.

There is no doubt that in wider society there have been great strides in improving access to and movement within buildings, yet in the very place where legislation is decided, Parliament Buildings, access appears to lag well behind what is acceptable.

As the seat of government it should be open to everyone who wishes to visit, and that inevitably will include people with limited mobility. Surely it is not beyond the wit of those who manage the building to ensure that adequate ramps are installed and that doors throughout the building for staff and MLAs - and also in areas where the public have access - open and shut automatically.

Steering a wheelchair around any building is a demanding task and passage for disabled people should be made as accommodating as possible. It is time Stormont got its own house in order.

Belfast Telegraph

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