Speaker 1 00:00:05 Hello and welcome to today's episode of Accessibility and Me. I'm Anica Zeyen from Royal Holloway University of London, and I co-host this podcast with Oana Branzei from Ivey Business School in Canada, and Luke Coughlin, also from Royal Holloway.
Speaker 2 00:00:21 Our guest today is Jonathan Fisher, chair of a number of disabled led organizations, including the Surrey Coalition for Disabled People.
Speaker 3 00:00:30 Jonathan, thanks very much. Joining us today, could you first talk about your work with the Surrey Coalition for Disabled People and your other volunteer roles?
Speaker 4 00:00:38 Okay. I joined what was the Sorry coalition, uh, when it was formed back in 2006. And in, in those days there were only about two or 300 people, but by 2008 I had been asked to join their board of directors, which are 12 people, all with different sorts of disabilities. And then in January of this year, 2022, the previous chairman, uh, was stepping to one side and I was unanimously elected and I was not volunteered, but, uh, um, I was elected as the chair of the SUR Coalition. And over the intervening time, we've now got more than 2000 people with all sorts of disabilities in, uh, Surry area and as members. And, uh, we have, um, evolved into a number of focus groups which have come, come about because of the needs of the different groups from the hearing impaired to the ability impaired to the site impaired and those with mental health issues.
Speaker 4 00:01:58 And around about 2015, 2016, I was asked to chair the subgroup, which is called the Sur Vision Action Group. And that is really to represent the needs of people with a visual impairment. And um, there's also four other subgroups of the coalition called Disability Empowerment Network. And the group for Northwest, sorry, is the North Surry Dens. And I have been chair of that for more years, and I can remember at least eight or nine. But it means that I have a lot of contact and connections with the Surry Coalition and they have the North and mid and North and Southwest Surry and East Surry areas all have their own disability empowerment network. And then every couple of months or so, all the chairs of all the various committees on of the coalition, uh, they all meet to have a, a regular meeting to discuss the issues of all sorts of things, um, affecting people that belong to the coalition.
Speaker 4 00:03:20 And, uh, at the same time, um, I've also been volunteering, uh, to chair the Eggum Constellations Disabled Swimming Group, which although a lot of people in the, uh, the Constellation Swimming Group are members of the coalition, we are actually independent and we are a little independent AUM area, disabled swimming group, and we meet at the Aham orbit. And then the other areas which I volunteer for, I've got, um, uh, again, I seem to be in London with this word chairman. I typecast, I actually chair the Roamed Access Liaison group. Again, this has quite a few members who are, um, members or affiliated to, sorry, coalition of Disabled people and something for totally different. One of my interest is in railways and particularly in Swiss railways. And lo and behold, guess what? I'm chairman of the Swiss Railways Society Fund bra. I'm also chairman of the Elbridge running me and Spell Thorn Talking newspaper, which has its studio in way bridge in a port cab in behind the New Hall Community Center.
Speaker 4 00:04:42 And we have a group of about 30 odd volunteers who some of whom, uh, read and record and uh, uh, the it items from the, uh, story advertiser and other local North story papers. And, uh, that sends out about 50 copies of a weekly newspaper with a digest of the newspaper articles for the, um, uh, for the print paired. And, um, they go out on USB sticks. And there is also an online addition, which anybody can look at and, um, that is available on a specialized website, which has built-in speech if the people can't read very well. And, uh, that has the link www.erstn.org.uk and anybody is welcome to come and have a look at that if they've got a computer. We still maintain the post or USB stick weekly distribution because a lot of the people who are on our books do not have computer equipment and some of them are technophobia, so they prefer just still to receive the memory stick in a pouch, which comes free post through their letterbox usually every Saturday morning. And then they can listen to all sorts of things from the local newspaper. And we also produce a free monthly magazine as well. So that one week in four, not only will they have the newspaper, but they'll also have a separate stick holding the monthly magazine. Uh, both of these are available on the website. I think that's about all the voluntary activities for the moment that I can remember. But sometimes when the emails run in said, oh, I've gotta do something about that. But, um, life is never boring.
Speaker 3 00:06:50 No, it, it sounds like, uh, a really wide range of roles there. So, I mean, you, you're involved in a lot of, uh, volunteer groups, but are there certain common issues that you campaign for? And what successes have you had in that area?
Speaker 4 00:07:04 Um, we've had successes in so far as, uh, we've got good links with Surry County Council's adult social care, and when they are hoping to develop schemes or seek information, uh, they collaborate with us and then hopefully we can try and sort out some of the problems facing, uh, people with disabilities and, um, uh, the, uh, the, the principal disabilities usually are the fact that, um, many disabled people are in the lowest income bracket. And one of the things that we have succeeded in doing is getting grants to, uh, get extra staff to actually help provide the services for the coalition. Because since, uh, the start of the pandemic then a lot of people were going to be faced with the social isolation when they couldn't go out with lockdowns. And it was in the very early days of mass use of Zoom. And so it was very easy to set up social interest groups.
Speaker 4 00:08:22 And so we have five or six different, uh, little social groups that happen at the same time and each week, and it means that anybody can just join in with the zooms and the, um, it means that everybody meets up with people who they otherwise would never have been able to meet. And it's built a good, uh, social organization. And one of the problems that happened was after the local, the, the, the most recent storm Eunice, uh, when one of our members who lives down in um, U Hearst near Cranley, he was without power for five days. Now he has a battery operated power chair cuz he's very severely limited and the only way that he could keep going and keep warm was to go from U Hearst to the office at Berham. And then he used the power there in the communication facilities, uh, to charge up his wheelchair.
Speaker 4 00:09:31 Um, although he was on the at-risk register with the power networks, it took them five days before they could restore his power and they, they normally undertake to respond sort of within an hour or so of, of anybody calling up if they're on this at-risk register and uh, try and provide them with an alternative source of power. But this didn't happen for five days, so it had no heating and no whole water. So it was a very big failure. But we've made some contacts with the people at, um, gen and they are, look, we've asked some pertinent questions and we are hoping to resolve these issues because this was just one of quite a few people farther down in sur from <inaudible> that were really badly affected when storm units demolished the trees and cut off the power. Uh, so that's one of the, as I say, really the positive result we've had is by being able to build up a network of Zoom meeting groups and it, we act as an, an enabler to empower people.
Speaker 4 00:10:49 This is why we have the acronym Den d e n, which is called the Disability Empowerment Network. And it, it is a really useful way of sharing difficulties and people getting support or, uh, solutions to whatever life throws at them. Um, one of the other big problems, uh, is that a lot of people who are visually impaired have difficulties getting letters for appointments and things like that with NHS services, despite lots of complaints, uh, the, uh, the various hospitals and the other NHS services just send out letters in small print. And you can imagine if you can't see at all, a small print letter is not much used to anybody. I happen to make the approach to somebody in audiology at the Royal Sur Gilford and as soon as I've explained the issues, um, then I've got all my communications from them by email and that's a really good success.
Speaker 4 00:12:01 Now since July of 2016, there has been a law passed called the Accessible Information Standard, which requires all service providers like the nhs, like your dentist, like the gas and electricity people, they have to send you information in a format that you can use and can communicate with. And we've had good progress. I got very good accessible communications from, uh, what was done electricity, and I know other people have, uh, been able to negotiate what is useful for them. But this is still an ongoing struggle with the, the National Health Service because the National Health Service England don't recognize the fact that it's appointed law that they have to provide information in the format that you can use. So it, there's lots of work to do.
Speaker 3 00:13:03 Thinking back to March, 2020, where were you at the start of the pandemic and how did life change?
Speaker 4 00:13:09 Well, I've been living here in Aham since 1984, independently in a ground floor flat and um, obviously with lockdown then, uh, couldn't go anywhere except that I had to find my way along the road to Tesco's or the other shops and get my shopping. I found that the, uh, a lot of the online shopping for home delivery was very, very tricky to negotiate because of the way that the webpages for the different supermarkets were designed. And also when you did get a slot to put in your order, it could be at three or four in the morning. So the, uh, the issue wall still just get myself along the road to Tescos and Tescos are very, very helpful. And um, I would just sort out my list cuz my computer has a screen reader facilities, which is called assisted technology so that when I touch any of the keys, uh, to make keystrokes, if I'm typing a letter or want to read a document, then generally speaking, um, I can listen to the documents, listen to the emails, and I can type in a response.
Speaker 4 00:14:28 Some of the bank websites and things like that are just totally inaccessible, so I still have to go along to the bank. Fortunately we've got a bank here in AUM and um, I can go in there and, uh, do all the things I need to do, um, at the bank. So, um, it was a big change. I mean it was a huge change for a lot of people and there's a lot of folks that are in the more remote areas for, um, for shopping and things like that. Then online shopping was the only option that they had. And some people have carers that help for them and some people with site, but if they are mobility impaired, if they live in a wheelchair, then um, they can often just use a computer. But there are still a lot of people with disabilities, the figure is probably something like 160,000 people. So although we've now got more than 2000 members, we've got a long way to go to get to help and support, um, the large majority of people with a disability.
Speaker 3 00:15:41 In your role as, um, as a volunteer and uh, as chair of all of these various organizations, what were some of the challenges that disabled people and you were facing during the pandemic?
Speaker 4 00:15:52 Well, the, the challenges were principally of not being able to get out and about because if they relied on community transport, the dialer ride, uh, then that was closed down. So then the only way of getting about would it been to have hired a taxi or get a friend to give them a lift, but also of course, bear in mind that very, very few people had experience of using Zoom. So it's, it's something that evolved out the need for emergencies. Now, one of the other services that the coalition runs, it was, uh, funded to start off with for just for the eastern half of Sury and it's called the Tech to Connect service. And where there were people that, uh, were marooned at home on their own, then think it was the, um, Mercedes, um, distribution center at at Gilford or somewhere just outside Gilford.
Speaker 4 00:17:01 They came up with a box full of a hundred Android tablets. And um, so these were distributed to people that were very, very isolated at home and then volunteers from the Tech to Connect scheme took them along and showed them how to use it, got them going. And the feedback that came from the people that had been, uh, introduced to these things, it was just tremendous because using a tablet, they could just have three or four selected family members or other carers, which all they had to do was just tap on the, on the, the glass of the tablet and they were talking to the people that they needed to speak to. And they all said to a person, this is wonderful because it's connecting us. And I mean, for instance, if somebody is recovering from a stroke so they've got limited dexterity with their fingers, then just to be able to point a fingers on the, on the screen, on the tablet to communicate to people is an absolute miracle to them.
Speaker 4 00:18:15 There are many, many stories like that and once we've had a year of it working in Eastern Central, sorry, then the, um, NHS area, sorry Heartlands that covers or most of the national health services for the whole of the county of Surrey, they stepped up and they said, right, we will give you some money so that we can employ some people on a part-time basis and buy some more equipment. So now this tech community of Connect scheme is available all over, sorry. Um, it, it is taking its time to, to take route as it were. The tech to connect has some volunteers called Tech Angels so that if people have problems with their equipment then they can call upon the Tech Angels and then they can try and visit them in their homes to help sort out their problems. But it's a wonderful scheme. I think there are similar schemes in other counties, but I can only speak in detail for what goes on in Sury. And the success of what we have done so far has enabled the county council to loosen the purse strings to give us money to employ some extra stuff because the complexity of what we've got now two years after the start of the pandemic is well, it just mind shattering and if I talk to you about everything that we can do or that is being done, then both you and I would be fast asleep. I hope it gives you a flavor of what we've achieved over two years.
Speaker 3 00:20:02 No, it sounds like a really excellent initiative. Did the pandemic present new opportunities for organizing for you and your groups? I mean, you've talked a little bit about the role of Zoom and you know, suddenly this like kind of new technology comes along.
Speaker 4 00:20:15 Yes. We also managed to persuade people with, um, smart cameras to go to places of interest and they would walk around, say, uh, one of the interesting places was at museum, another place was R hs Gardens at Wesley and we had really good guides who we had a dialogue via Zoom so that all the people that were listening, um, the, the guide would mention say one of the, the, the pictures or some of the ex exhibits in, um, uh, in the Guild of Museum and they would answer, they could answer detail questions, chapter and verse on whatever they were showing. So the smartphones camera was relayed to coalition headquarters and then coalition headquarters had set up a zoom call maybe with 25 or 30 people all watching from anywhere in the county from their own home. And that gave people the chance to broaden their horizons, dropped them something else to think about other than their four walls. They've had trips. As I say to Wesley, they've had a trip even to the Royal Gallery at Ingham Palace where all the pictures were described and the history. There's been a whole range of different things and that has helped build the social circle of the coalition. Zooms
Speaker 3 00:21:50 Look into the future. What is the outlook for disabled led third sector organizations?
Speaker 4 00:21:56 Well, there is still, there are still a lot of issues, um, that we are trying to tackle. One of them is to get the community transport unified across the county at the moment. Um, if you try and connect to a local, your local councils community, transport the dial aide, then certainly within Ronnie you can only book transport between 10 and 3:00 PM in 10 in the morning and 3:00 PM in the afternoon. And that's on a Monday to Friday. You can't get assisted travel to go out anywhere at the weekend or in the evening. And there's no coordination with cross borders as a special dispensation. If you live in running need, you can go across into stains, which is Spelthorne, but they'll only take, take a passenger as far as the Elley bus station and then you are on your own devices as for getting say community transport take you to Gilford.
Speaker 4 00:23:07 If you wanted to go, if you needed to go to the Royal Surrey Hospital at Gilford, you'd either have to meet the requirements of hospital transport or you'd have to organize your own travel. And uh, one of the things we are negotiating with currently is to talk to Surry County Council to see if they can just have one centralized booking service, which will provide cross borough boundary link and uh, also will work for longer hours in the day. One of the reasons why you can only travel up until three o'clock currently is because the local burs, they earn most of their money for this scheme from school contracts to and from special schools. And then it seems as though, uh, they think, well, disabled people don't go out anywhere. They don't socialize, they just sit at home and vegetate. Well, yeah, as you can probably guess for people like me, that's the last thing I do.
Speaker 4 00:24:17 And this has got to be, uh, a, a very delicate negotiation process between the coalition and the people who hold the purse strings up at County Hall. And um, of course with all the restrictions on local authority finance, it's going to be quite a difficult job to actually get what we would like to have. And it, it's, it, it's really pursuing the idea of equality and inclusion so that everybody, regardless of whether they're able-bodied or whether they have some impairment, have the same level of equal opportunity to services as fully able bodied people. And we want to be included. We don't want to be put on us on a, a shelf and sort of dusted down, say there, there, there, come on, here's your cup of tea, here's your biscuit. We have a, we have a right to an equal level and quant quality of life as everybody else. And that is the hallmark of the coalition of disabled people to be, to be equal and included.
Speaker 3 00:25:34 Absolutely. Jonathan, it was a fantastic talk to you today. Uh, thanks very much for joining us.
Speaker 4 00:25:39 Okay.
Speaker 0 00:25:44 Thank
Speaker 1 00:25:44 You very much for listening to today's episode of Accessibility in Me. We hope you enjoyed it and we'll tune in to our next episode. We would like to thank the British Academy for funding today's episode.