Jackie Mulhallen reports on the activities of the Fenland People's Assembly around disabled people's rights
12 June was D-Day in King’s Lynn – no, not the one the government was celebrating, but Disability Day. Fenland People’s Assembly organised a conference at the Professional Development Centre, Kilham’s Way to highlight the way in which disabled people’s rights are being attacked and how this is connected with attacks on working people in general.
Four speakers came, two from the West Norfolk Disability Information Service (WNDiS), a service set up in 1994 to provide information about disability rights. Jonathan Toye, director of WNDiS, spoke of the appeals they help present over the decisions made by ATOS, 92% of which are successful. Over the last year, their work has more than doubled yet despite its success, it looks as if WNDiS may not be able to continue because of funding cuts.
Mia West, also from WNDiS, spoke about the difficulties of access for disabled people at King’s Lynn railway station, which has triggered two demonstrations over the last year. Mia has discussed better disabled facilities with the local bus company, Norfolk Green. As a result of the conference, Mia and Andy Tyler, a Labour borough councillor and secretary of the Fen Line Users Association, are discussing how facilities can be improved with the new train company which is due to take over the franchise shortly.
Sue Dockett, Secretary of the Wisbech Trades Council, spoke about how hate crime affects disabled people. As Equalities Officer for the London Borough of Croydon she was involved in a schools project to raise awareness of hate crime against the disabled for which films were made. It would be excellent to get borough councils in the area to initiate something similar.
Mark Harrison, of DPAC, spoke of the importance of the People’s Assembly which gives an opportunity for disabled people to fight back alongside others against austerity, and about the People’s Assembly Festival on 21st June where a special disabled route had been organised.
Members of the Fenland People’s Assembly went straight from the conference to the fire station to support the FBU strikers’ picket line.
The conference was followed by a wheelchair rally through the centre of King’s Lynn on Saturday 5th July. The group of people taking part in the rally included a partially-sighted man, wheelchair users, and others who tried out what it was like to be a wheelchair user. They investigated which shops and cafes do not have disabled access, where access is blocked, and where access is good, and gave out certificates identifying strengths and weaknesses in access.
On 28th June the Fenland People’s Assembly stall attracted a lot of attention at the excellent and lively Wisbech & March Trades Council Festival.
On 10th July, the Fenland People’s Assembly again joined the Wisbech & March Trades Council in Wisbech Market Place at 10 am, going on to join the march of about 50 people through the centre of King’s Lynn in torrential rain – just like a monsoon!