Bert Massie: 'Risk must not be used as a bar to the disabled'

From the Duncan Guthrie Memorial Lecture by the Chairman of the Disability Rights Commission
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Our starting point, therefore, must be that risk cannot be eliminated in every aspect of life. It needs to be assessed and managed, but in such a way that the management does not create more problems than it solves.

We must also be wary of allowing so-called risk assessment to be used to permit managers to avoid the fundamental issues. Like many disabled people, I have often faced the frustration when "risk" is invoked to limit my life opportunities or to ensure I paid more for them.

I cannot recall how many times I have been refused access to a cinema or theatre because, it seems, I was a fire risk. It was always my habit to ask the various managers to explain the risk. This was invariably amusing. They confused access with egress.

I can also recall buying travel insurance and the broker phoned me to say that there would be a loaded premium. On asking why, I was informed that it would take me longer to cross the road. I think I was then in my 30s and I told the broker to go back to airheads in the insurance company and ask them did they really think I would have got to my current age without being run over if I did not know how to cross a road. The loading was dropped.

There is ample and growing evidence that unemployment is bad for your health. Most disabled people who can work are better off if they are working. Yet the Disability Rights Commission has had cases where people have been in danger of losing their jobs because health and safety officers were too inflexible. Of course, they have a dilemma. It took trades unions many years to secure legislation that protects the health of the work force. However, we must always assess how great a risk is, and accept that sometimes seeking to eliminate it is even more undesirable for the people the legislation seeks to protect.`