There’s at least a billion of us!

A little video about the months and years surviving life-changing injuries on top of blindness:

I’ve also just talked to George who is the leading light of blind cricket in India – here’s a link to the podcast:

You’ve guessed why I’m focussing on disability: about 20% of the world population is like me and 3 December is our International Day.

I wonder if the powers-that-be, the Governments, businesses, employers, IT developers and the global economic system remember that 1-in-5 of us have impairments.

Anyone trying to get through the financial impact of the pandemic would do well to remember the enormous potential of all of us shoppers and workers.   We could make all the difference.   Let’s de-bunk the perceptions that having a disability instantly renders you poor (not worth selling to) and incompetent (not worth employing).   I’m neither and nor are the thousands of other people I’ve met around the world over very many years.   This is a market and pool of talent that is ripe for the picking and the timing is perfect too.

Meanwhile, here’s a little recipe to spice up those autumn pears:

6-8 pears, cored and cut into chunks.

8 pieces crystallised ginger, chopped.

1 orange, juice only.

3 eggs, weighed.

Same weight butter, honey and self-raising flour.

2 heaped teaspoons ground ginger.


Place the pears, crystallised ginger and orange juice in an ovenproof dish.

Whizz the butter and honey in a food processor.

Add the eggs to the mix one at a time with a little flour.

Pulse in the last of the flour and ground ginger.

Pour the mix over the pears and cook in a pre-heated oven at 180C, Gas 4 for 40 minutes.


Hot and warming for chilly winter days.












Q: What difference has 25 years made?

A: Not a lot if you’re a disabled person.

This week marks 25 years since the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (later included in the Equality Act 2010).  And the result is a raspberry.

Whether it is business, voluntary organisations or even Government Departments, there is little doubt that most weigh up the risk of being challenged under the law and decide compliance just isn’t worth the bother.  All of this contributes to people with long-term health conditions and disabilities getting a much tougher time than others.  Just a few recent examples:

Getting health information and communications in a format that is accessible for me is still hit and miss.  This week I was told that the reason I couldn’t access a report about my own health was because it had to be created using a specific template.  Despite the health sector dealing with every disabled person in the country, they still can’t get it right.  And one of the consequences, as reported by a former national Chief Medical Officer, is that people like me, for whom standard communications are more difficult due to visual or hearing impairment, have far worse health outcomes than other people.  Essentially, because the health sector won’t fulfil its legal responsibilities, I’m likely to die earlier/be sicker.

On another front, I’ve just marked the sixth anniversary of my continuing dispute with DWP: supposedly supporting disabled people to work but, due to arbitrary decisions, maladministration and injustice, they have brought my business to its knees and still no sight of a resolution.    No wonder the number of disabled people out of work is so high – and don’t believe that they are scroungers.  I’ve worked with thousands just desperate to get a job and have a place in the world.

And, talking of discrimination, what’s the difference between a care home and a student hall of residence?  Some clues: the residents in one haven’t been topped up with infected hospital castaways, have some chance of seeing their families for Christmas and aren’t all disabled people.

On a more positive note, and I need to declare an interest having worked with them for many years, our tax men and women are trying to do better.  HMRC has played a key role during the pandemic and has recently published its Customer Charter and principles of the extra help they can give to people with long-term health conditions and disabilities:

Please share this link with anyone you know who might need a helping hand with tax or Working Tax Credits.

And, if you want simple, straightforward and practical information  to help more disabled people, please get in touch or visit

End of rant!









Disabled Entrepreneurs Smash Targets

Disabled people smash self-employment project targets with over 80 new businesses and over 70% still trading 12 months later. I’ve been quiet for several weeks bringing our Work for Yourself project to a close .  This is what we achieved :

A scheme that helps people with long-term health conditions or disabilities get back into work has been hailed a huge success after over 80 new businesses were set up over the last three years.

The specialist ‘Work for Yourself’ programme exceeded all its targets and supported many people to happier and more fulfilled lives.

Funded by the European Regional Development Fund, Bolsover District and Chesterfield Borough Councils, the project has helped many businesses to become established and seen a 70% sustainability rate over the last 12-months.

Project-lead Penny Melville-Brown of Disability Dynamics said, “We celebrated the enthusiasm and achievements of these newly self-employed people earlier in June: it was an evening of laughter and even some tears as people talked about how the project had been ‘life changing’.”

Freelance writer Leonie Martin described how she has already had three books published alongside articles in local and specialist media despite her multiple sclerosis.

Noreen Maynard gave a demonstration of the Emotional Freedom Technique therapy she offers and Trevor Johnson was hugely enthusiastic about the ‘spider web’ climbing frame he had constructed with his recycled safety nets.

Working can still be a struggle with a health condition but Davina Bates continues with her knitting even when she has to stay in bed and her ‘reborn dolls’ are selling well. Overall, her sales are already four times her original forecast.  Award-winning David Harding is pursuing new contracts and will be featured in the next series of the BBC’s ‘Saints and Scroungers’ due for broadcast in October.

Penny added, “The pictures of the event and products such as Estelle Winfield’s wedding novelties were all taken by Catherine Foster who is setting herself up as a photographer.  One of the big successes for us is that quite a few of the new business owners are now thinking about taking on others as their ventures grow – their versatility, determination and creativity is just remarkable.”

The new businesses have resulted in many new full and part-time jobs and are increasingly contributing to the local economy. Although some of the project’s participants decided that self-employment wasn’t for them, nearly 50 have gone on to get jobs or moved in to training.

Bolsover District Council’s Leader, Councillor Ann Syrett said, “We were very proud to host the celebration and are delighted so many people have benefitted from the scheme. We have been leaders in offering this alternative work opportunity and it has paid real dividends for our communities.

“For the BBC to repeatedly showcase our local successes demonstrates what a success the project has been and that the demand for Work for Yourself-type support is growing across the country.”

Councillor John Burrows, Chesterfield Borough Council’s leader and cabinet member for regeneration, said: “Having a disability or long term health problem should not prevent people from having the opportunity of a fulfilling and productive career.

“The Work For Yourself programme has helped several Chesterfield residents develop the confidence and skills needed to succeed in running their own business.”

“We are pleased to have been part of this partnership project which, as the case studies show, has changed the lives of the people taking part.”

Amongst 326 English local authority areas, Bolsover district has the fourth highest level of disabled people and Chesterfield Borough is not far behind, and both areas fall below the national level of self-employed disabled people, this project has made a strong contribution to improving their prospects.

You can read more about other businesses helped by the programme at

Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

WFY team - new entrepreneurs with their advisers

Work for Yourself team – new entrepreneurs with their advisers

Self-Employment for disabled people

What do you think: • Is self-employment for disabled people just about new businesses or broader cost/benefit goals? • Generic business start-up advice isn’t difficult to tailor for disabled people with the right approach and advisers? • Is the bubble of self-employment sustainable or will it burst without support?

Not surprisingly, having run self-employment programmes for disabled people since 2008, I am rather more convinced  about the value of this work route than the academic paper provided to the OECD.    While new businesses are a great outcome, disability self-employment programmes have the potential to make much bigger social impact.

The paper draws on a range of research reports and found that, like the UK, working disabled people in Europe are more likely to be self-employed than others.  This should be reason enough for ensuring that business start-up support is inclusive and tailored for them.  But this certainly isn’t always the case so that disabled entrepreneurs may flourish despite, rather than because of, “mainstream” business support.  Just imagine how many more could succeed if their needs were met!

For example, our client-based Work for Yourself programme has been delivered over recent years to large numbers of clients with very different impairments and needs.  The trick is to make it relevant and appropriate:

  • The advice:  start-up advice is always likely to be fairly generic.  But it needs to be tailored:
    • for the client group –  concise,  jargon-free, written at the appropriate reading level,  bite-sized, available in alternative formats etc ;  one-to-one help delivered locally, not time-bound or following a prescribed format. Continuous satisfaction surveys check if we are meeting their needs.
    • For the likely businesses – proportionate to the size of the business (no/few employees, low turnover etc) but still covering the essentials (financial records and tax, marketing, insurance etc).
    • The advisers: ours have professional qualifications and many years experience working with this client group so have deep understanding of the benefits system, different impairment needs and the range of other personal circumstances  which all contribute to business success.
    • Inclusive approach: avoiding judgement of business viability or individual capacity but enabling clients to make their own decisions; including people with any form of impairment; enabling participation and progress at client’s pace etc.
  • Research and data: There is no doubt that there has been limited study of self-employment for disabled people.  Some of our work for EMDA is reflected in this recent academic paper.  We also have the information from 6 subsequent years of delivering the Work for Yourself programme plus contextual local population data for further research if helpful.

But we would also argue that self-employment programmes for disabled people have the potential for much broader social benefit.  The prospect of working for yourself can be a means of engaging people who are long-term unemployed, face employer prejudice and see little prospect of getting a job.  Self-employment offers control, flexibility plus the chance of getting off benefits and personal fulfilment.      Many of our clients are now running sustainable businesses.  But the outcomes for others are equally valuable:

  • Some clients step from self-employment in to jobs – often with their primary customers who have seen their enterprise and abilities.
  • Some use the personal development aspects of our programme to re-focus their ambitions and achieve jobs.
  • For others, the process helps them identify skills gaps so they take up vocational training.
  • For many, participation improves their health and well-being plus social integration.

I see self-employment support as opening a door to many possibilities and that starting a business is only one measure of success.  Consequently, policy makers need to consider enterprise for disabled people in a more realistic and much broader cost/benefit context.

On a broader topic, more people have moved in to self-employment than jobs in the UK in recent years.  There are those who have started new businesses, some chose this type of work rather than retiring   while others may have legally-fragile self-employment status.    Many will be the result of the Government’s New Enterprise Allowance scheme for unemployed people.

Now we need all that self-employment to be sustainable but there is a risk that the support that individuals received in the early stages was not adequate or long-term enough.    There are lots of schemes to upskill the workforce but support for businesses tends to be largely focussed on those considered to have “high growth” potential to contribute to GDP etc.

Most self-employed people need simpler help. HMRC has lots of sole trader tax and finance material (HMRC Key Messages February 2015)   but many may not be aware or able to use it.    However, the more pressing need is to make the new businesses sustainable: develop their goods and services, extend their customer base etc   – low growth that keeps people off benefits.  Stronger coordination between HMRC, DWP and BIS is probably the answer.

Disability Floristry Art

Disability Floristry Art

Bouquet of the week.

To mark Holocaust remembrance – for all those who were lost then and those facing similar fates now.

Following the pub lunch last week, the tenant landlord was proudly telling us about the squirarchy that still controls a local village: even the colour of the front doors is prescribed.  He was rather more sotto voce about the tenancy control that meant that there were no ethnic minority residents.  And then we spotted the youth in a jacket bedecked with Union and England flags.  We agreed that this is probably not a place for repeat custom.

Yours staggered-that-this-still-goes-on,

Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

In-work support for disabled people failing

Did you know? •Access To Work support highly criticised and needs substantial improvement says Parliamentary Committee. •Legal compliance seems optional for Access To Work and the Equalities Commission hasn’t managed to bring them to book. •Government more focussed on disabled people watching sport rather than whether we can work and pay for the tickets?

Access To Work is the scheme run by the Department for Work and Pensions to assist disabled people to work. It can provide funding for special equipment, some work travel, support workers and more. But the report published by a Parliamentary Select Committee on 19 December exposed how this vital support has failed to keep up with the efforts of Welfare Reform and the Work Programme in moving more disabled people in to work.
Published just as most people started their Christmas breaks, the report hasn’t had much visibility so it needs wider support if ATW is going to tackle the high unemployment rates amongst people with long-term health conditions . Here are points I’ve picked out of the summary:
•ATW needs substantial improvements.
•The Department seems to be trying to increase the number of people receiving ATW support but with only a slightly increased budget. This means that some people who have high support needs are bearing the brunt of the inadequate funding. My perception is that people are considered to be “Fit for Work” by the Work Capability Assessment process (with all it’s other well recognised flaws) on the basis that ATW support is available for those who need it – but that this is not backed up by sufficient funding to make it happen.
•It seems that savings from the closure of the Remploy factories that had been earmarked for ATW didn’t get transferred. Funding has been provided through the Work Programme but this has had very limited success in supporting people with long-term health conditions.
•ATW appears to focus primarily on people with sensory and physical impairments but there are many more people with a much larger spectrum of conditions that need help.
•Policy that caps support for Deaf people who use BSL interpreters needs urgent resolution. But it is disappointing that the report doesn’t show equal concern for others of us who need highly skilled support workers too. Some might consider that such a policy is indirect discrimination that DWP cannot justify and that the Equalities and Human Rights Commission should be on their case.
•There is no clear information about how ATW decisions are made and how they can be challenged. In practice, from my experience, the Department is deliberately not telling people that they can take disputes to the Independent Case examiner and the Parliamentary and Health services Ombudsman. It isn’t just or fair to deny us our rights.
•ATW is not taking adequate account of the full circumstances of self-employed people’s businesses. Again, it also seems that they have little appreciation of the circumstances of those running single person companies. This flies in the face of Census data that shows that working disabled people are more likely to be self-employed than others.
•Poor administration. Enough said.
•ATW staff need better disability awareness and communications need to be more accessible. From my perspective, it is staggering that a system aimed at supporting disabled people is not compliant with the Equality Act 2010 and that the Equalities and Human Rights Commission hasn’t taken a stance on this.
•The Department has introduced major changes but not told the people who will be affected! One feels rather mushroom-like …
As you may have guessed, I provided evidence to the Select committee and wouldn’t it be great if the ATW team talked to us who have had years more experience of the system than those who run it? From an individual perspective, I see no sign of any resolution to disputes that have been going on for months already. It feels as if the last 15 years working to help other disabled people get back in to employment is treated with utter contempt when now my future work prospects are put at risk rather than being supported by this system.
Perhaps the current survey in to the accessibility for spectators at sports events is timely – it looks as if I may have lots more leisure time in the future!

Disability Floristry Art

Disability Floristry Art

Bouquet of the week.
To all those disabled people who have been recognised in the New Year’s Honours List – we may not be able to identify you all but huge congratulations for making contributions to our society and setting great examples of just what is possible.

Yours respectfully,

Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

Austerity hitting disabled people hardest

Did you know? Austerity hitting disabled people hardest?

While austerity policies may well be shown to have been at least part of the answer to the financial crisis over the last few years, the evidence provided in the recent Dignity and opportunity for all: Securing the rights of disabled people in the austerity era report suggests that disabled people have been disproportionately disadvantaged as a result. Although this may not have been deliberate, it does smack of lack of attention to the impact of single or collective policies on about one fifth of the population: probably 5-10 million people have born more than their fair share of austerity and they are the least able to do so.
The report provides a wealth of evidence within the context of assessing the UK’s performance in relation to its obligations under Articles 19, 27 and 28 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (plus other treaties). It’s not a great success story.
My one-page summary  (Is austerity unfair for disabled people) can’t hope to do justice to this huge and very comprehensive report although I have added links to other related blogs that add further depth.
It really does seem time for a much bigger debate on the UK’s social and economic approach to nearly 20% of the population. The combination of a growing and ageing population plus later retirement ages is going to result in more working age disabled people in the future. But, despite legislation, conventions and lots of public expenditure, we still don’t seem to have found an effective way of being fully integrated socially and economically. If there aren’t some much more successful changes, there are decades ahead of high cost to the UK economy while some people are consigned to near destitution. Is this the sort of society that we want?

Disability Floristry Art

Disability Floristry Art

Bouquet of the week.
Last Friday’s production of Peter Shaffer’s “Amadeus” (remember the film about the death of Mozart?) At the refurbished Chichester Theatre was terrific: outstanding cast led by Rupert Everett. For us blind people, there was a special “touch tour” when we could handle all the props and set on the stage and have a good fondle of the (empty) costumes: so heavily padded, embroidered and be-sequinned that the actors must have been melting under the lights. We got audio description through head-sets: especially tricky to keep us in touch with who is speaking/moving in such a rapid fire script.

Yours dramatically,

Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd

Helping disabled people to work since 2000