Monday 24 October 2011

30 Pieces of Silver - The International Paralympic Committee and ATOS Origin

The following is the text of a letter I have just sent to the International Paralympic Committee ( regarding their partnership with ATOS Origin - they of the appalling record for disability assessments and cavalier attitude toward disability rights, not to mention freedom of speech. If you aren't familiar with ATOS, you can read the full and unpleasant story of my encounter with them here, and mine was a relatively positive example in comparison to many of the tales of abuse out there. I literally cannot think of a worse company for the International Paralympic Committee to partner with, yet there they are, taking their 30 pieces of silver, kicking disabled people and everything the Paralympics movement stands for in the teeth.

If you don't think this is good enough, if you think the IPC should know better than to partner with a company that promotes the perception of disabled people as scroungers, refuses to meet our most basic access needs and rolls out the lawyers when disabled people complain, then I urge you to write to the International Paralympic Committee at and copy it to your national paralympic committees (see here). Feel free to borrow from what follows, but the message will be stronger in your own words and experiences.

Dear Sir,

  As a disabled person I have no option other than to write and express my utter disgust that the International Paralympics Committee have entered into a partnership with ATOS Origin. With less than a year to go to London 2012, the worldwide disability community is increasingly focused on the United Kingdom, but it is in the United Kingdom that ATOS Origin are known to every disabled person for their disablist activities. Awarded the contract to assess disabled people for disability related benefits, ATOS Origin have left a massive trail of distress and a string of suicides behind them, as their contempt for disabled people results in assessment after assessment at which not even the ‘facts’ reported by their assessors can be taken at face value

I can perhaps best illustrate the repellent attitudes of this company towards disabled people by describing my own experiences with them, and I write as someone who passed their assessment rather than as someone who failed it, meaning I have no axe to grind for being rejected. Their first attempt at an assessment for me got no further than the door to the assessment room, they had failed to provide the reasonable adjustments to my disability needed to get me through the assessment – adjustable seating, nothing too outrĂ© – adjustments that they were required by law to provide. When questioned over this, the ATOS doctor admitted ‘We have complained about the seating before, but regional management just tell us to make do with what we have’. This clearly indicates an utter contempt for the needs of disabled people existing at higher levels of management within ATOS Origin. ATOS then proceeded to tell the Department of Work and Pensions that I had failed to attend the assessment, resulting in my benefits being frozen. I leave it to you to judge the attitudes to disabled people this less than honest report reflects. The stress this caused led to a massive flare-up in my disability that lasted for months. When I was finally able to challenge the decision DWP immediately accepted my points, they had heard them far too often before, and a second assessment was arranged.

The second assessment was a clash of wills, between an ATOS doctor who clearly wasn’t prepared to listen to yet another disabled person annoying him with facts and my own refusal to be browbeaten. I was criticised for not giving ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers, even when neither would have been true, I was criticised for knowing the structure of the assessment, I was criticised for insisting on giving the information that indicated I automatically qualified for my benefit, even though he had failed to ask for it, even though the information to say he needed to ask for it was on the form in front of him, I was even criticised for my description of the effects of my disability, a description shown to be completely accurate just a few minutes later when the still inadequate seating left me unable to continue other than by balancing on one leg in the middle of the room, hanging desperately onto the back of the chair. I was even criticized for being unable to bend my knee so that he could test my reflexes. I have met bad doctors before, but only at ATOS have I met doctors who criticised me for my disability. Surprisingly I passed the assessment, but many, many disabled people would not have been able to override the opinions of an abusive, close-minded doctor in the way that I did. As an engineering professional I understand the legal duty of care when acting professionally, in each of my two assessments ATOS Origin aspired to a level of professional competence and care that was utterly farcical.

And yet my assessments were far more professional than many that are reported. Outright falsehoods in assessments seem positively common, while ATOS personnel have been caught in homophobic rants, abuse of their patients as scroungers and a whole range of other abuses that would seem absurd if they weren’t demonstrably true. Even if we disregard the many, many reports of outright disablist behaviour, their true attitudes towards their disabled patients (though their staff are urged by ATOS management not to think of disabled people in those terms, even as they conduct medical assessments and delve into the most intimate details of their disabilities) can be illustrated by the fact that many of their assessment centres, centres whose entire clientele will be disabled, do not have on-site disabled parking, are not wheelchair accessible and lack even such basics as accessible seating.

The statistical results of ATOS Origin assessments demonstrate that their professionalism towards disabled people is clearly questionable, in any other industry a failure rate of 1 in 8, as demonstrated by successful appeals at independent tribunals, rising to almost 1 in 4 with representation from advocacy groups, would be an utter catastrophe, never mind in an industry where each of those failures represents an individual disabled person put through intolerable stress at considerable risk to their health, but ATOS Origin continue merrily onwards, not just refusing to acknowledge that they have a problem, but actively trying to stifle debate by bringing legal actions against disabled people who dare to complain publically.

ATOS Origins have demonstrated their attitude towards disabled people in tales of abuse stretching from one end of the UK to the other. If they chose to associate themselves with the IPC, it is not to demonstrate that they care for disabled people, that they do not is demonstrated by their refusal to admit that they have a problem, but because they see the goodwill that people around the world hold for the Paralympics Movement and hope to leech away some of that for themselves, hiding their disablism by wrapping it in the Paralympic Flag. Is the IPC really willing to sell the reputation of the Paralympic Games to whitewash the abuse of disabled people? Are ATOS Origin's 30 pieces of silver really worth the betrayal of everything the International Paralympic Committee stands for?

As a disability rights activist, if the IPC choose to retain their connection with such an actively disablist firm as ATOS Origin then I will have no option than to throw my weight behind the protest campaign at London 2012 and stand in line with other disabled people saying ‘Not in our name’. Disabled people picketing the Paralympics in a stand against disablism, could any sight be more disturbing?

Yours in sadness,

David Gillon

No comments:

Post a Comment