By Cahal Milmo
Published: 30 January 2006
Susan Drew remembers when chip and PIN first reduced her to tears. It was not because, like others, she had forgotten her four-digit number. The cause was a shop assistant who refused to accept her disability.
The 59-year-old nurse, who has Parkinson’s disease, was left unable to pay for her shopping when staff at a supermarket insisted she key her PIN into a machine.
The hand tremors caused by her illness mean that Mrs Drew is unable to use the keypads, which become compulsory in stores next month. When, a few months later, she was confronted with the same problem – after dozens of similar confrontations – Mrs Drew could take no more. She went home and tried to take an overdose.
She said: “People do not realise the effects of having to explain in front of a queue of people that you have a disability and cannot use a system like chip and PIN, only to then be told I have no choice. I’ve had my card refused, been told to hurry up and told there is no other way to pay. It is a daily humiliation. One day it all became too much and I tried to overdose. Fortunately my husband caught me after four pills.”
But today Mrs Drew and nine other people with physical and mental disabilities are to lead a £1.2m advertising campaign, launched by the Disability Rights Commission (DRC), the government-funded disability watchdog.
Posters and radio adverts outlining the shabby treatment of disabled people every day will highlight what the commission says are rising levels of unfair treatment, poverty and exclusion faced by the 10 million people in Britain who have a disability or a long-term health condition.
The campaign, carrying the slogan “Are we taking the dis?”, will highlight the fact that just 17 per cent of people with learning disabilities are in work and disabled people earn 10 per cent less on average than their able-bodied colleagues.
Bert Massie, the DRC’s chairman, will accuse the Government today of “lazy fatalism” in its policies towards the disabled.
He will warn that unless equality for those with disabilities is given greater importance, Labour will miss its targets for reducing poverty and increasing the number of people in work.
A report by the Rowntree Foundation last month revealed that a third of disabled people in Britain of working age now live in poverty, on less than 60 per cent of the average income. The study also found that an able-bodied person with no qualifications was twice as likely to be employed than a disabled person with a university degree.
Mr Massie will launch the campaign alongside David Cameron, the Conservative Party leader, after Tony Blair declined an invitation to attend the event. He said: “Successive governments have failed to break the culture of low expectations that holds disabled people back – including the present administration.
“There is a lazy fatalism that too often shapes the perceptions that politicians have of disabled people. In important areas, the distance between the living standards, opportunities and life-chances of disabled people and the rest of the population has widened.”
The DRC, which will cease to exist in 18 months when it is merged into the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, is calling for new measures to increase the representation of disabled people, including a requirement for political parties to have a disabled candidate on their shortlists for every parliamentary seat. The body also wants a target of 20 per cent for the number of disabled people on public bodies.
Campaigners point out that discrimination and prejudice remains endemic, ranging from ignorance of rules that allow those unable to use chip and PIN to sign for their goods to the Government’s insistence on the use of phonics to teach literacy – a system that deaf children cannot use. The ads focus on 10 people who have suffered exclusion, ranging from a bakery assistant sacked because she had diabetes to an arthritis suffer who was stopped from appearing on a BBC television game show because of her condition.
Mrs Drew, from Gloucester, said she continued to face requests to use chip and PIN machines despite having payment cards which informed cashiers that the holder should be asked for a signature. She said: “It got to the point where my bank sent me a letter which they wanted me to take out every time I wanted to buy something. Why would they think that is acceptable? Why should I have to apologise for my illness every time I want to go shopping?
“So many decisions in our society are taken without considering their impact on the disabled.”