Jen Dodds: Three Access to Work case studies which show how Deaf people have been affected (BSL)

Posted on November 15, 2015

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At weekends, we publish some of our most popular articles, which you might have missed first time round. Let us know your favourites by emailing thelimpingchicken@gmail.com

Recently, the Limping Chicken Editor, Charlie, and I were having a chat about Access to Work.

To watch this article in BSL, signed by Jen, click play below.

I mentioned how it feels like more and more of my Deaf friends are telling me about the problems they’ve had with the cuts and caps. I’m not really sure what to make of it all.

Charlie asked me if I could ask a few people if they could talk a bit more about their experiences for Limping Chicken, so I asked three friends.

The worst thing about this was… it was really easy for me to think of three people who have had AtW problems. I could probably come up with 30, actually, but I think three’s enough.

So, here are their stories. Crazy stuff.

Friend 1: The Review That Vanished

This friend of mine has been using AtW funding for interpreters etc for 15 years. When his funding agreements came to an end, AtW always contacted him to remind him that he’s up for review, so that they can check things through and make sure the funding carries on.

However, in 2013, AtW changed their policy and stopped reminding users when it was time for their funding to be reviewed.

So, my friend didn’t know that his AtW funding was up for review, and carried on booking freelance interpreters through an agency as usual. In fact, this went on for three months, with my friend happily booking interpreters, having no idea that AtW had closed his case and cut his funding.

He found out three months later, when AtW sent him a harsh letter, along with a copy of an email that they’d sent him (he hadn’t received it because they’d sent it to the wrong address).

The letter said that his funding had run out and he had missed his review, so they would not be paying for the interpreters he’d booked for the past three months. They also said he would have to apply for funding all over again… over the phone.

So, when he phoned (via an interpreter, of course), he was told that he now had to employ an in-house interpreter, rather than booking freelancers, because of the “30 hour rule”.

This put my friend in a difficult position, but he had no choice. They still wouldn’t pay for the interpreters he’d booked over those three months, either.

So, my friend decided to follow their official complaints procedure and sent them a letter of complaint. They didn’t reply.

Following the next step in the complaints procedure, my friend, his manager and his manager’s manager sent another letter of complaint to someone higher up in AtW.

Again, there was no reply.

My friend, getting rather fed up, then asked the Independent Case Examiner to look into his case, but they couldn’t do that… because AtW hadn’t replied! Ridiculous!

So then, my friend had to open a complaint with the PHSO (the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, who deals with complaints about Government departments), with the support of his MP.

Whilst the PHSO was looking into it, AtW suddenly changed their minds and said they would pay to cover the three months of interpreter fees after all. That meant that the case was “resolved”, so the PHSO’s freedom of information (FOI) request to see his paperwork was refused and they couldn’t find out what had been happening!

Yep, more crazy barriers to AtW.

This is still being investigated by the PHSO, as my friend would like an apology for all the trouble and complications they’ve had to go through.

Friend 2: The Communication Shambles

This friend told me about two different problems he’s had with AtW.

Firstly, AtW wanted to contact him about something private, but their email system was temporarily down and they didn’t know how to contact a deaf person without it.

So, they looked at the list of interpreters that my friend usually works with, picked one and asked them to contact my friend for them!

Eh?! What’s wrong with sending a text message, or a letter?

Of course, this had a dreadful effect on the interpreter, who was put in a difficult position, and on my friend, who was not at all happy!

The same person told me that they needed to go abroad to some kind of international conference, and were relieved that AtW had agreed to fund an interpreter to go and work with them, so that they could access papers and networking.

It was an important conference, so they started organising things months in advance, to make sure they’d get a good, experienced interpreter who was right for the job.

However, my friend got passed around three different AtW advisors who didn’t know what to do with him!

Time was running out, as my friend tried desperately to find a suitable interpreter for the job, but they were all being booked up while AtW staff went round in circles and asked him for more and more details.

In the end, the funding was agreed just a few days before the conference, so they couldn’t take advantage of cheaper flights and accommodation for the interpreter… and AtW ended up paying nearly £700 more for flights than they’d originally expected, thanks to their own delays!

That’s just silly… not to mention stressful.

Friend 3: The New Job

This friend has been receiving AtW funding in different jobs for over 20 years (phew!). She recently got a new job, which she was really pleased about… but she knew she’d have to apply for AtW funding again, which she wasn’t so pleased about.

To be on the safe side, my friend decided to apply for the funding two months in advance. She was given an AtW advisor who was new to the role… er, great. She filled in a form to say what kind of support she’d need, then sent it off.

They then send her a more detailed form to say exactly what she needed the support for, which was very complicated because it was a brand new post and she was the first person to do that job.

She didn’t really know what to expect, but she tried her best, with the help of her new boss. Lots of emails went back and forth with AtW, but the funding still hadn’t been agreed by the time she started her new job!

My friend had asked for funding for interpreting and a bit of notetaking, but the advisor suggested they could replace all of that with a remote notetaker, then argued with her when she explained that wasn’t what she wanted!

Realising that the AtW advisor was trying to save money, my friend managed to explain that she needed an interpreter to actually interpret between BSL and English so that she could understand things and express herself in BSL. In the end, the advisor agreed that my friend could “trial” interpreters, as long as she wrote down exactly why they were booked.

So, my friend kept a detailed record of her usage of interpreters, with lots of clarifications, for seven weeks. She emailed eight pages of notes to the AtW advisor, only to get a one-line reply:

“Please reapply for your Access to Work funding.”

Frustrated no end, my friend pointed out that it was a TRIAL! She then had to ask the AtW advisor’s boss to help to sort things out because the advisor didn’t seem to know what they were doing.

They tried to move on, but confusingly, the advisor kept changing their mind about the number of hours they agreed to allow funding for. They also said that if video relay service (VRS) interpreting worked well for them, then their “real life” interpreting” funding would be cut. Everything kept changing.

My friend told me that over the last 20 years, she has always been given the funding that she’s asked AtW for in the end. However, before they agree, they’ve always made her explain why at length, filling in lots of forms and answering lots of questions, including whether she wears hearing aids and how useful they are!

So, why all this haggling if they always decide to provide funding for interpreters in the end? My friend believes it’s clear that AtW are simply trying to make cuts to save money.

She also told me that she feels lucky and “privileged” to work for a big company that has supported her well through all of this, but what about other deaf people who might lose their jobs thanks to the cuts? She feels very strongly that we must all work together and support each other in this.

On a brighter note…

Sorry this has been a bit depressing (it was for me, too!) – real life’s like that. It could have happened to you, or to me, or to anyone, really.

I hope my three friends get things sorted out! If you’re having problems like they are, there’s a really great independent website – http://www.deafatw.com – that has plenty of information and advice which might help you, so have a look.

Whether you’re having problems or not, the Stop Changes to Access to Work campaign group is doing a survey to find out more about AtW users’ positive and negative experiences, and help them to campaign to improve things.

So, if you haven’t filled it in yet, please do so. It’s easy to fill in, in English or BSL, and it’s confidential. You can find it here: http://stopchanges2atw.com/take-our-survey/

Jen Dodds is a Contributing Editor for The Limping Chicken. When she’s not looking after chickens or children, Jen can be found translating, proofreading and editing stuff over at Team HaDo Ltd (teamhado.com). On Twitter, Jen is @deafpower.
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The Limping Chicken is the UK’s deaf blogs and news website, and is the world’s most popular deaf blog. It is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.

Please note that the views of the writers are their own, and not necessarily the views of the Editor or site as a whole. Read our disclaimer here.

Find out how to write for us by clicking here, or sign a blog for us by clicking here! Or just email thelimpingchicken@gmail.com.

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