Lone voices in the wilderness.

What do you think?

  • Estate agents discriminate against blind seller.
  • Complaint handlers prefer “poor customer service” to admitting breaking equality law.
  • Watchdogs fail to protect us disabled people from illegal discrimination.

I got really depressed a couple of weeks ago:  utterly fed up with constantly being cross and having to complain in the vain effort of trying to get people to do things properly.  Those of us who are madly optimistic might have thought that legislation that has been in place for 20 years about reasonable adjustments and accessible information would have achieved some level of compliance across the public, private and voluntary sectors.  Dream on: even with the Equality Act having been more prescriptive about alternate formats in 2010, there’s still systemic and endemic behaviour that clearly shows that most organisations believe that this legislation is purely optional.  And worse, those watch-dog agencies that are supposed to protect us don’t take any action either.

We are left as lone voices in the wilderness.  So let’s hope that the current House of Lords Select Committee looking at enforcement of the law to protect disabled people has some impact – and kicks the Equality and Human Rights Commission and all the rest in to some sort of action.  After all, we are paying for them.

Meanwhile, I’m struggling to do my bit to fulfil my mother’s wishes.  She died earlier this year and I’m a co-executor of her will – and happen to be blind.  We have been trying to sell her house but the law is completely alien to estate agents.  One (Fox & Sons) simply stopped communicating with me at all after I had asked for accessible Word documentation.  Another (Cubitt and West) clearly had no process of providing me with their terms and conditions in an alternate format – and so they suggested that I should find another estate agent that “would suit me better”.  The house sale forms provided by the Law Society again are only available in an inaccessible format – my solicitor had to read them aloud to me and the same was needed for HMRC’s huge 80 page inaccessible Inheritance Tax forms.  The clear message is that I’m not allowed to have such responsibilities because I’m blind.  It’s no wonder that disabled people have problems getting jobs when so much everyday stuff is stacked against us!

I was trying to be green by recycling a mobile phone to a friend and we got tied up in the nausea of “unlocking”.  It took over 45 minutes on the phone with me repeatedly telling the 3 agent that I couldn’t provide all the information they wanted because I was blind.  She didn’t seem to grasp the concept and simply cut me off when I asked for the supervisor.  Their Executive Team maintained that it had just been “poor customer service” and that I couldn’t have experienced discrimination, harassment and victimisation because they had an “Accessibility Team”, whether or not that extra help had been offered to me!   It’s like being told that you can’t be bleeding because we have got a First Aid kit – even though it’s locked away.  And they absolutely didn’t want to categorise my complaint as a breach of equality law.  Now do I struggle on to complain to OFCOM?  Probably but with no hope of any action as I suspect that they similarly don’t monitor the real cause of “poor customer service”.

Last time I complained to the Financial Conduct Authority about repeated discrimination across the financial services industry, they sent the usual asinine response – similar to that from the Government’s Chief Medical Officer when suggesting that poor communications with us probably contribute to the significantly worse health outcomes of blind and Deaf people.

If those with authority at every level don’t take responsibility for monitoring unlawful action, is there any prospect of us disabled people being able to play our part in life and society?  It is just an endless battle of us “little people” with all those impersonal big organisations that have decided that it is easier and cheaper to take the risk of mistreating us when no-one is going to take any notice or action.

Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

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