What’s your handicap?

January 18, 2013

I recently received the draft of an educational document from a local authority that contained repeated use of the word ‘handicap(ped)’ when referring to disability or those with disabilities. I was appalled and stated so. What is most appalling is that this was from a department dealing with education, along with social services, and the author and earlier viewers of the draft obviously had no idea of the social model of disability, where society is the party that disables people by the lack of provision, or acceptance of whatever it is, that reduces those people’s ability to easily participate in society as a whole. I managed to cause a little stir over this, but in the end the blame was put on haste, missing the expression when proof-reading (the multiple uses of the phrase), and using a volunteer.

Why does this matter? It matters because this was a local authority education department that appears to have missed the point. By not actively discouraging the use of such archaic terminology they are placing people with disabilities at a lower level within the community and are continuing the de-humanisation of those with disabilities in the manner that cost the lives of around a quarter of a million human beings during the Holocaust. This is possibly the same reason that the same body, as it reduces services and support to those with disabilities, condemns them to remain hidden in homes and without a social life. So where does this fit in with the Paralympics’ legacy – it is obviously no legacy at all – when the much-impoverished daily lives of those with disabilities cannot generate a photo-opportunity for the politicians.

Not having a disability, although having experienced episodes of disability, and having associated with those with disabilities for forty years I now find myself working with them for half my week. I recommend this to those highly detached politicians and public servants who don’t have a clue of the reality. Whilst the Prime Minister makes much of his late child’s disability, does he, with the comfort blanket of inherited wealth, really understand the daily lives of ordinary people, let alone those with a disability or even worse multiple disabilities? Does the Leader of the Opposition, with all his talk of ‘One Britain’ as a juxtaposition to ‘Big Society’ ever get his hands dirty?

There is a relatively new sociological theory called ‘intersectionality‘ which brings further forms of identity and distinction into the bigger model. Is life for a woman of colour with a disability different to that of a white woman with the same disability. What does the compounding of gender, race, colour, disability, age, sexuality, class and many more distinctions bring to that person’s life chances when the language employed by bureaucracy is already condemning them as second or third class citizens, or the methods of service delivery recreating barriers?

There is no easy answer to the questions raised, only that by continual awareness and education will matters ever change. The Paralympic games have changed since I first witnessed them in the 1970’s and become more prominent but in the aftermath of the latest, and celebrated UK hosting, has the abuse of Blue Badges or the associated parking areas stopped? Have architects and planners stopped designing public buildings without the correct facilities as a result of failing to consult potential users beforehand? Are systems and facilities changed or removed without consideration of how they might affect the lives of those who use them? These matters occur and will to continue to do so, if those that do it are forever excused, along with no-one speaking out.


January 12, 2013

It is now becoming a regular event that whenever I see or hear the news programmes I think of ‘whitewash’. When I was a child whitewash was what we painted the outside (and only) toilet with, since it was a single-course brick building in the yard lacking lighting and heating, a bright white splash of whitewash provided the aura of light and cleanliness, and also filled in the small cracks in the mortar. Of course it neither cured the lack of light nor improved the hygiene, it just made you feel better when sat there fulfilling one’s bodily functions.

In the wonderful “The Song of the Whitewash” by Bertolt Brecht and Hanns Eisler from the 1934 production of “Roundheads and Pointedheads” that was later recorded by Dagmar Krause on Tank Battles in 1989, we are provided with real feeling for the way that politicians employ whitewash as a stop gap, rather than delivering real social change. With the numerous cover-ups surfacing in 2012, which received the whitewashed political response that ‘but that was then – things have changed’, I can only see another coat of whitewash on the pig sty. “Something to prevent the public spotting everything is crumbling in their sight”.

Am I being too negative? I hope not, but whitewash changes little apart from providing the appearance of change. Openness and transparency may assist real change but again they too are subject to more than the occasional coat of whitewash, which is confirmed by an interview with Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the UK House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, who criticises both the current UK government and the previous one, of which she was part, along with the civil service for failing to be transparent. But with the Saville case, Hillsborough and the many other cover-ups now under re-investigation I’m convinced that ‘armchair auditors’ won’t have any effect and emphasise the need for truly open and transparent governance by politicians and business leaders.

Latest book review – Usability in Government Systems – User Experience Design for Citizens and Public Servants

December 27, 2012

I’ve just had my latest book review published by the British Computer Society. The book is a really useful one: http://www.bcs.org/content/conWebDoc/49245.

My old acquaintances Angus Doulton and Neil Sandford are contributors with a really strong piece on considering the citizen, and the need for sensible policy making. It’s strange that after all these years we still can’t develop systems that are user-sensitive.

Despite being on the Telephone Preference Scheme (TPS) we were disturbed this morning by an unwanted and automated call. Going onto the TPS website to complain I was then bounced around between their site and OFCOM’s until I gave up! Both bodies obviously prefer people to ‘phone up!

Like a Virgin

December 22, 2012

I’ve been a Virgin mobile phone customer for years. Not out of amazing loyalty but for the fact that for my basic usage they provide the service at a reasonable cost and when I’ve considered the alternatives there were no major benefits. What does annoy me is that when I want to use their online service to check on things I inevitably get the message “Oops! You weren’t expecting that? Neither were we.” but after some many times I am now expecting it. It crops up when I try to log in, when I want to look at other pages, but all I’m offered is ringing a call centre to carry out what should have taken a minute of my time and will now take ten!

This I believe is what will become of “digital by default” in many cases. One would expect that given the years I’ve been using the site, Virgin would have sorted out these glitches but currently it’s worse than ever. I presume they’re laying off staff like everyone else and by the time the next round of cuts by central government have really impacted on local government, IT support will be a nominal service with the few remaining techies rattling around the empty town halls. Central government has always been somewhat bloated, so it will take a bit longer to hit home there and really affect Ministers but eventually there will be no-one to fix the web site and when the number is rung, no-one there either…

On that cheerful note – Season’s greetings and best wishes for the New Year…

The Revolution Will be Digitised

December 11, 2012

I’ve just got around to finishing “The Revolution Will be Digitised” by Heather Brooke. Whilst it greatly increases my understanding of Wikileaks, Julian Assange and the author’s own role in making public some of the contents of the Wikileaks, I primarily appreciated the final chapter “A Brave New World” and the “Afterword to the Paperback Edition”, since this is not old news but an ongoing story that is far from complete. If anyone wants to understand why we should not trust governments or big business and those who run them, that final chapter says much of it for me. Whilst Conservatives and neo-cons go on about ending ‘big government’, that is not the issue, but people like them are, who want to conceal the truth and manipulate the world around us to enable them to make big profits. Brooke is not inferring that the revolution will be digitised, just that the new media can play a powerful role in social change when in the right hands.

A book that tells a similar story is Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism“, which will equally make you feel concerned about the megalomaniacs who appear to be involved in society at all levels and places. A broader story than Brooke’s but perhaps the reason why we should be advised by Brooke about making sure that the common people have control of the internet. I don’t agree with her final analysis in comparing before and after the Enlightenment with what is going on, for as she says in the previous chapter the world is not that simple, and the Enlightenment had been brewing for hundreds of years before 1650, as is demonstrated in another excellent read – Diarmaid MacCulloch’s “Reformation“.

Five tails in the sunset

December 9, 2012

A bevy of swans on a Lancashire lake as the sun is setting, all but one diving…



December 1, 2012

As warned, I’ve been building another blog! This time it’s using Posterous and it’s entitled ‘Phlotsam‘. The Great E-mancipator has run since December 2007 and was largely around e-government. It’s had a few visitors and helped distribute some useful information at a time when we were still having dogma thrust down our throats (not that we aren’t anymore).

Phlotsam‘ is intended to pick up some of those wider topics that I have occasionally drifted into such as the environment, managing and experiencing nature reserves, volunteering in a range of non-academic roles, and philosophy (political, ethical and social). I’ll probably link it back to here, so the crossover is likely to get complicated and confusing – but lets see where that road goes…