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At the Labour Party Conference I tested my taxi-hailing skills in a football-themed game with Guide Dogs. While trying to get a taxi to take guide dog owner Jacqueline to her local football match, I heard about the real problems assistance dog owners face when being illegally refused by taxis and minicabs.

Let’s just say my performance didn’t quite get me into the top ten on the leaderboard.

The Equality Act 2010 makes it illegal for a taxi or minicab driver to refuse to take an assistance dog or to charge extra for carrying it. But Guide Dogs research found that 42 per cent of assistance dog owners have been turned away by a taxi or minicab in a one-year period because of their dog. The research also revealed that 38 per cent of assistance dog owners have been asked to pay an extra fare for carrying their dog.

Imagine being turned away by a taxi driver for no good reason. This can clearly undermine the independence guide dogs bring to their owners and stops them doing the everyday things that most people take for granted – going to a café, meeting friends, going to the doctor’s or to their local football match.

That’s why I’m supporting Guide Dogs’ call for all taxi and minicab drivers to receive disability equality training so they understand the rights and needs of disabled passengers and feel confident to offer assistance. This campaign is supported by more than 30 organisations, including trade bodies, local government representatives and disability groups.

I’ve also arranged with Guide Dogs to do a blindfolded walk in Bristol next month. I’ll let you know how I get on.

 


Further information about the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association

The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association provides independence and freedom to thousands of blind and partially sighted people across the UK through the provision of guide dogs, mobility and other rehabilitation services. It campaigns for the rights of those with visual impairments. Guide Dogs is working towards a society in which blind and partially sighted people enjoy the same freedom of movement as everyone else.

Guide dogs and taxi refusals

At the Labour Party Conference I tested my taxi-hailing skills in a football-themed game with Guide Dogs. While trying to get a taxi to take guide dog owner Jacqueline to...

I have written previously on this website about autism awareness and about tackling the autism employment gap. Making Bristol an autism-friendly city has been one of my priorities since I was first elected in 2015, and one my whole team is committed to.

Constituents tell me that many autistic people in Bristol, and their families, encounter barriers in accessing public services, receiving support in education and in finding employment. So recently I held a constituency surgery specifically for autistic residents.

The appointments allowed people to raise specific issues and gave me a better understanding of what’s important to autistic constituents, and how to set about resolving any problems. I want to help create the changes that could transform the lives of those on the autism spectrum, and I hope other MPs and politicians will hold similar events.

Thanks to Henry Barnes from National Autistic Society (NAS) for organisation and Ian Ensum from Bristol Autism Support Service (BASS) for hosting. BASS and NAS have both helped train me and my team on autism awareness and keep us well informed.

I was really pleased to see coverage of the surgery in the i newspaper. Here’s the full text of the story, as it appeared on 19 September: 


Thangam Debbonaire holds ‘UK’s first MP surgery’ for people on the autism spectrum

by Serina Sandhu

A Bristol MP has held what is thought to be the UK’s first constituency surgery specifically for people on the autism spectrum and for parents of children with autism. Thangham Debbonaire, the Labour MP for Bristol West, met with her constituents to find out their specific needs and the barriers they face in accessing services and receiving support, in the hope of making the city more autism-friendly. Many people brought up issues that Ms Debbonaire usually hears during her surgery. “But it was all through the prism of what it’s like for me as a person on the autism spectrum,” she tells i.

Changing employment practices

“People on the autism spectrum have very high rates of unemployment. The graduate unemployment rate is much higher than the rate for other disabled people. There [are] all sorts of things an MP can do to try and change that.

“I changed my own employment practices. I altered the job descriptions to be more accessible for someone on the autism spectrum. There is someone in my office who is and it works extremely well.”

Ms Debbonaire says she believes that many adults with autism are being excluded from mainstream services due to a lack of understanding and awareness.

“If you meet somebody who may be having difficulty maintaining eye contact with you, your first response, if you’re not autism aware, might be: ‘This person is really shifty, I don’t trust them.’ When you become autism-aware, my first response is: ‘It’s possible this person is on the autism spectrum. I just need to lower my expectations about them maintaining eye contact.'”

Since the constituency surgery, which took place on Friday 15 September, Ms Debbonaire says she has already spoken to businesses about being more autism-aware and that she will be dealing with individual problems that her constituents raised.

Her surgery has also encouraged her fellow Bristol MPs to hold similar meetings and Ms Debbonaire hopes MPs across the country will follow suit after they realise that people with autism may be unintentionally excluded from their surgeries.

Making Bristol an autism-friendly city

Her long-term vision is to make Bristol a thoroughly autism-friendly city.

“That’s my goal. It’s very personal but it’s one as a team we believe in really, really strongly.”

It may even benefit neurotypical people (who are not on the autistic spectrum), adds Ms Debbonaire.  “For instance I’m not on the autism spectrum but when I watched a video of a little child having difficulties in the shopping centre – very busy, lots of bright lights, lots of noise, lots of confusing information, sensory overload – I was thinking: ‘Yeah, I’ve had that feeling.’ I think quite a lot of people have that feeling in shopping centres.

“If we could convince city planners, from people who plan cities to people who plan their own small shop, dance class or museum to think about how to make sure that people don’t get sensory overload, it not only becomes more accessible to adult with autism, it becomes more accessible to a child with autism. But also the spin-off benefits are that the rest of us don’t have sensory overload either.”

You can read the story online here in the i newspaper.

There was also good coverage on Bristol 24/7

 

First MP surgery for people on the autism spectrum

I have written previously on this website about autism awareness and about tackling the autism employment gap. Making Bristol an autism-friendly city has been one of my priorities since I...

Today in parliament (Monday 11 September 2017), we will be debating and voting on the second reading of the European Union Withdrawal Bill. This is one stage in the bill's process through parliament. There will be further stages, and opportunities to debate and amend the bill, this autumn.

I regularly consult residents of Bristol West. Four out of five of them voted to remain in the European Union last June. Four out of five of them continue to tell me that they believe that the best relationship for the UK to have with Europe is full membership of the European Union (EU). I agree with them.

Full membership of the EU is best for jobs, for workers' rights, for environmental protection and for our place in the world.

If, reluctantly, we are to accept leaving the EU, I want us to keep full membership of the Single European Market and Customs Union for as long as possible and keep both on the negotiating table for our future relationship with the EU. You can read more about what these terms mean here (see especially Annexe 2, p.25).

It's important to note that membership of the Single Market and the Customs Union help maintain free movement of goods, services, labour and capital; reduce trade barriers, and maintain consumer rights. They also help our universities by keeping us in the Horizon 2020 and ERASMUS schemes. Other countries such as Norway are outside the EU but are part of the Single Market, for instance.

I believe it is best for my country and my constituents that we have as close a relationship with the EU as possible.

This government is recklessly throwing away all of the best possible options. Labour wants to keep them on the negotiating table. With this bill, the government is giving itself sweeping powers to make huge changes, virtually unchecked by parliament. They have also failed to protect environmental standards. This is worrying, because the only protection we have from air pollution for example, currently derives from EU rules and the government had to be taken to court to stick to them.

I voted against triggering Article 50 because the government had shown itself to be singularly ill-equipped to start the process of leaving the EU. I will be voting against the bill tonight because I believe this is the best way of making the government reconsider their strategy.

There is a long way to go in this process so I need your views and thoughts. I will continue to hold regular EU meetings, consult you through surveys, listen to your views in person and through my inbox.

Please do complete this short survey and add in anything you think I need to know or any questions you have. 

The EU Withdrawal Bill

Today in parliament (Monday 11 September 2017), we will be debating and voting on the second reading of the European Union Withdrawal Bill. This is one stage in the bill's...

Thangam Debbonaire became Member of Parliament for the Bristol West constituency in May 2015 and was re-elected at the General Election on 8 June 2017 with an increased majority of 37,366. 

You can contact Thangam by email on thangam.debbonaire.mp@parliament.uk. 

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