Blind Ironman battles against Government short sightedness

On 5th May 2017 I was offered a job at Universities Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust as their Equality and Diversity Lead. I was delighted and accepted the offer. As anyone who has a disability and needs support to do their jobs will know, moving jobs isn’t a straight forward process. I have a full time support worker, Abby, who I value greatly and is fantastic at her job. She is one of the best support workers I have had and is fully funded through the Access to Work (ATW) Scheme. This scheme is government funded and the ATW team are based within the Department of Work and Pensions.

So, what does Abby do for me? Abby works with me full time. Without her I really couldn’t do my job effectively. She proof reads all my reports, converts PDF documents into MS word including tidying them up when the conversion doesn’t quite work, reads printed papers to me handed out in meetings (despite asking colleagues to send me electronic copies prior to meetings) and drives me to meetings and occasionally home. She hasn’t driven me mad…yet. However, this is only a fraction of what she does. If I went in to detail then I may as well copy and paste the insane form I had to fill in explaining to ATW all the tasks Abby does for me on a day to day basis. Believe me you wouldn’t want to read it. I’m sure it would bore the pants off you.

Changing jobs usually means applying to ATW for funding for my support, any specialist software I need and any travel to work. I have to think very carefully about moving jobs as I also have to simultaneously apply for ATW support. And of course this is what I had to do for my next job. When I moved jobs from Nottingham city Council to my current role at Leicester City Clinical Commissioning Group I only had to fill in a form and my support was approved by letter. There was no work placed assessment or completion of other forms or proof of evidence of my eye condition.

Well, you can imagine how Abby and I felt when the ATW Officer asked me to complete a support worker task form, make arrangements to see a work place assessor (meeting to be held on 7th August 2017) and a medical form which has to be signed by my GP to prove that I can’t drive. My current ATW funding was approved last year for 3 years. If I stayed in my current job I wouldn’t have to go through this tortuous process. The job I am going to is more or less the same as my current role, except that it is in a bigger organisation with a much busier and demanding workload. If anything I will require more support and assistance from my fabulous support worker. But, what I really can’t get my head around is that the ATW worker told me that he knows that I am in receipt of the higher rate of Disability Living Allowance which was granted to me indefinitely a number of years ago because I am blind and mobility is difficult for me. Yet, they insist that I pop along to my GP and get a form signed by them stating that I can’t drive. What nonsense. What a waste of GP time and taxpayer’s money.

I did offer to drive the ATW worker and his boss around in their car to prove I couldn’t drive but they declined my generous offer. It’s a shame they haven’t seen me racing. They might have noticed that I need help wherever I go, being guided by my wonderful friends and family as I walk around the race venue, or hotel or shops. They may notice that in the swim I am tethered so that I don’t end up swimming to the shores of France or that I sit on the back of the tandem and not the front. They may notice that on the run I have a tether and my guide is constantly shouting instructions to me and giving me my nutrition (drinks and food).

I am very independent but only because of the brilliant people around me like Abby who enable me to have the confidence to do what I do. That is work and race hard.

I have written to my MP about the unnecessary bureaucracy to prove that I can’t drive. I hope to get a positive response. I will keep you posted.

My Letter to my MP :
Dear Mr O’Brien,

I am a local constituent living in the Oadby area. I am totally blind and have worked in the public sector for over 20 years in various positions leading on equality and diversity. I have been registered blind since 1987 at the age of 17.

I have been in receipt of Access to Work support which is a government run scheme to support disabled people into employment since 1994. This pays for a support worker for me and more recently assists me in respect of travel to work. My support worker takes me home twice a week which relieves pressure for me to rely upon public transport. Without going into too much detail it is a challenge for me to get to and from bus stops due to my blindness.

I am in the process of moving jobs and start my new job on 4th September 2017. This has required  a fresh application for support to ATW, despite having had my support renewed last year for 3 years. The job I am taking up at UHL is pretty much what I am doing now accept it is more demanding for various reasons including the size of the Trust.

The main issue I have is that the ATW worker has requested that I get a medical form completed by my GP which will provide proof that I cannot drive. This is despite the fact that the DWP know that I am in receipt of the higher rate of the Disability Living Allowance (which I had approved indefinitely a number of years ago) exactly because I am blind and had to provide evidence then that I cannot see.  The eye condition is incurable. This is the email I have got from my ATW worker this morning:

“As you requested me to ask my Line Manger regarding medical evidence I confirmed and unfortunately this is the requirement. I can completely understand your point of view and there is no doubt about your current disability.

It will be highly appreciated if you get it signed and send back to me on my email address.”

Apart from the fact this request is highly insulting it is a waste of GP time and tax payer’s money. I would really appreciate if you could find out the rationale for making me and other totally blind or partially sighted people go to our GP’s (who are not qualified ophthalmologists) to get them to sign a form proving that we cannot drive, when, they already have this evidence on their systems? I would be more than happy to go to the media on this issue as I think it is extremely ridiculous and when I tell my friends and family about it they are utterly astounded. At best it is incredulous at worst it lacks any understanding, compassion or common sense. I look forward to your response.

Kindest regards,
Haseeb Ahmad

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