Considering the number of wheelchair users who undergo fitness-to-work assessments, this is only seen as yet another thing to add to the long list of serious problems that disabled people and carers have with the way the company operates.
The latest story of an inaccessible assessment centre appears to be the worst one yet, with the most serious potential consequences for a severely disabled person. It also illustrates clearly exactly why it is so important that all centres and offices used by Atos should be completely wheelchair accessible.
Geoff Meeghan, 32, has early-onset Parkinson’s disease and cannot walk more than three metres unsupported. He was being assessed by Atos on the second floor of a building in Neasden, North West London. A few minutes into his assessment, the fire alarm went off.
Staff evacuated the building, but left him behind in his wheelchair.
Disabled people are supposed to be asked whether they can exit the building unassisted. Mr Meeghan, for some unknown reason, was apparently not asked this question.
He also said that they were not allowed to use the lift and when they asked a security guard for help, he said he would send some, but no one came. Eventually, another security guard arrived at the scene and stayed with Mr Meeghan and his carers, even though he had been told to evacuate.
Mr Meeghan can tackle stairs supported, he said, but in the “highly stressful situation” he felt it was “far too risky.”
Most shocking of all, it was a real fire. Mr Meeghan said “It wasn’t a drill. We could see the fire engine arriving outside.”
He went on to strongly criticise the company, saying: “I feel like there was a general lack of respect for disabled people at Atos – they make you feel as though you’ve done something wrong by being disabled – like you’re being persecuted.”
An Atos spokesperson said: “This should never have happened and we apologise unreservedly. We will be getting in contact with Mr Meeghan directly. We have since reviewed this case internally with the building security and management team to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
“This is a DWP building and the fire warden in charge on the day followed the appropriate evacuation procedures and advised that everyone had to leave the building except for a security guard who was asked to stay with Mr Meeghan.”
Mr Meeghan is extremely lucky to be alive after this incident. And this story transpires after we hear of the Atos boss getting a £1million bonus.
It is now hoped that all Atos workers and assessment centres are made aware of this incident at the very earliest opportunity. It is also hoped that all assessment centres used by Atos will, in light of this case, now make every possible effort to provide ground floor rooms to wheelchair users for assessments at all times. At the very least offering respect and safety to the disabled people they are testing.