Do you ever get the feeling you’re being ripped off? Paying over the odds is something every disabled person encounters. Time and time again, we are faced with eye-watering prices for ‘basic’ products and equipment that are labelled as ‘disability’ or ‘specialist’ but have a price tag that is often extortionate.
On average, one in five disabled people incur extra costs of £583 per month, with almost 25 per cent looking at more than £1000 extra. This price tag is calculated after welfare payments designed to meet those costs have been taken into account.
Society seems to be charging the disabled community for the right to be independent and participate fully. The attitude seems to be that we won’t spend billions to make the world a more accessible place to live, yet we will still charge you a premium and if you can’t afford it, well, tough luck.
Bespoke wheelchairs start from £2,000 up to £20,000 and over for an electric chair. Add to that the maintenance; a new battery costs £600, while you have to shell out £15 for special cutlery and if you want some wheelchair gloves that’s another £20. Yet the same gloves, advertised as bike or riding gloves, are much cheaper.
Planning a holiday? Well, as someone with a disability you are deemed as ‘high risk‘, so insurance companies charge you more, sometimes exceeding the cost of your flight. Meanwhile, accessible hotel rooms are not very accessible at all, so you need to buy and transport your own hoist.
Not to worry though, that will only set you back a couple of grand. Then there is the cost of travel. Forget using the underground – only 78 out of 270 tube stations have step-free access – and even then you have to pray the lift isn’t out of service. If you aren’t battling buggies on buses for the wheelchair space or getting refused from Uber for having an assistance dog, you are left with the premium option of black cabs, which are all accessible, or your own accessible adapted vehicle, if you can find a wheelchair space to park it in, that is.
‘As a family we get hit by extra costs at every turn,’ Garry Ratcliffe, a father of four – three of whom are disabled, told the disability charity, Scope. ‘Everything we do takes longer and costs more. Phoebe, our daughter who doesn’t have a disability, has a new bike. It cost £90. ‘Curtis had a new bike recently. It was £600. Why? Special needs! ‘It is interesting to see the premium often put on toys and games if the words “special needs” are added to the description.’ Many are turning to makeshift solutions to avoid obscene prices, but at what cost?
I fear that some DIY attempts may put many at risks of injury. ‘A floor stand for my daughter’s communication aid is £658,’ Cara Devaney, whose daughter Lyla uses an eye gaze communication device, tells me on Twitter. ‘We are making do with our own set-up of a table and stacked books to get it to the right height!’
Ironically, consumer culture and mass production has lowered the cost of some products, Helen Dolphin MBE, a disability transport consultant, tells me. Helen uses an adapted car – 20 years ago she payed a small fortune for adaptations such as key ignition to be replaced by a button, removing hand breaks to make the car electric and to have an electric boot system.
The question then remains, how are disabled people supposed to live independently, safely and reach their full potential if devices and adaptive products are unattainable and leave many of us with financial burdens? Now, you can buy all of these features as standard. My own home is controlled by voice-activated equipment such as Alexa, who can turn on my television and lights for me. Nevertheless, my more bespoke home alterations cost over £14,000, as 93 per cent of homes in England do not meet basic access standards.
Before society tells me I’ve never had it better and points out that we now even have our very own set of disabled emojis – which signifies how far we’ve come to acknowledging the existence of disabled people – let me politely remind you of something. While token gestures of inclusion and equality like a wheelchair user emoji is nice and all, that won’t make me feel like an equal member of society when my wheelchair is broken and the new parts are so expensive that I’m rendered housebound.
However, at least the disabled community had benefits such as Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and a near-full and inclusive employment record to be able to cover these extra costs…oh, wait. The question then remains, how are disabled people supposed to live independently, safely and reach their full potential if devices and adaptive products are unattainable and leave many of us with financial burdens?
It seems that decision-makers in Britain are more concerned about corporate costs, so how can we, the disabled community, fight back and say enough is enough? The Extra Costs Commission, an independent inquiry set up by Scope in 2014, has suggested that disabled consumers and their families be ‘bold and loud’ and put pressure on businesses to remind them of the importance of the purple pound – the combined spending power of the disabled community, which is estimated at around £200billion per year.
And thus, make businesses aware of our needs as consumers. also suggested that disability organisations should work collaboratively with one another to drive down extra costs, exchange knowledge and resources, as well as help develop and promote initiatives to empower disabled people as consumers.
The Commission identified that company boards should act as champions for disabled consumers, ensuring that the businesses they represent have a clear focus on serving disabled consumers effectively, in order to help drive down extra costs for this group.
But should so much responsibility land on the disabled community? Surely our government and, more specifically, our elusive Minister of State for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson, should be fighting our battle? The bottom line is that the most vulnerable members of society, and I say this with all respect, are being taken advantage of and pushed further into financial hardship.