Anger at disabled access at centre for assessment

Marco Biagi says interviewing disability claimants in the building is 'ludicrous'. Picture: Greg Macvean
Marco Biagi says interviewing disability claimants in the building is 'ludicrous'. Picture: Greg Macvean
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CAMPAIGNERS have slammed the company in charge of assessing disability benefit claimants as being “unfit for purpose” – as its city assessment centre is inaccessible to many disabled people.

Those arriving for fitness-for-work interviews at the Atos assessment centre at York Place must navigate through two sets of heavy doors without any staff assistance. A ramp is fitted at the facility but wheelchair users and those on crutches are then left to tackle the doors alone.

Bill Scott, of charity Inclusion Scotland, said: “You would think a facility such as this would be fitted with automatic doors or have staff on hand to help out.

“Some wheelchair users have a lot of upper body strength and can manoeuvre these doors but older people or those with conditions such as MS or MND can find it almost impossible. A ramp is the bare minimum you would expect these days.”

A lack of disabled parking spaces and accessible ground floor meeting rooms at the centre has also been highlighted.

Wheelchair user George Lamb, from Leith, who has attended the building for assessment on numerous occasions, said: “It’s a complete nightmare if you are on your own. You have to manoeuvre yourself in with one hand while holding the door with the other and then repeat. It can be even harder to get out of the building as the doors swing back in the way on top of you.”

Under the Equality Act 2010, firms providing services on the behalf of the Government have a legal obligation to ensure their premises are accessible to those with disabilities, and have a duty to anticipate any problems before they arise.

Edinburgh Central MSP Marco Biagi said: “It is frankly ludicrous that a building being used specifically to interview those on disability benefits does not have acceptable disability access.

“Simply installing electronic doors or providing staff assistance would solve the problem, and ensure that those going through an often traumatic process are not subjected to any unnecessary stress. Unfortunately, this situation 
only serves to reinforce the image of Atos as uncaring and unfit for purpose.”

However, Atos Healthcare, which leases the building from the Department of Work 
and Pensions, revealed it believes York Place to be “fully accessible”. This was echoed by a spokesman for the DWP, who said: “The assessment centre at York Place meets accessibility standards.”

An Atos spokeswoman said claimants who may have problems accessing sites are “encouraged to contact us directly and will be offered an appointment at an alternative centre or a home visit”.

Last month the Government slammed Atos, ordering it to improve its standards.