Organisers of a conference aimed at addressing disability poverty made it too difficult for disabled people experiencing poverty themselves to attend the event, it has been claimed.
The conference was organised by three leading disability organisations, Disability Alliance (DA), RADAR and the National Centre for Independent Living (NCIL), and was held at the central London offices of the international law firm Taylor Wessing.
But disabled activists criticised the failure to offer free places, or provide bursaries to cover the cost of travel to the conference, for disabled people on benefits, or to hold the conference in a more accessible part of London.
They also pointed to the lack of blue badge parking spaces or an accessible tube station near the venue.
A small group of activists had protested outside the venue about the government’s welfare reforms, and the presence at the conference of the minister for disabled people, Maria Miller, and executives from Atos Healthcare, which carries out “fitness for work” tests for the Department for Work and Pensions.
But the activists were refused entry to the conference when they asked to be allowed to attend the event after their protest.
Members of the three organisations had been charged £40 to attend the conference, while non-members paid £70 and “unwaged individuals” £10.
Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, who did attend the conference, said: “It’s a conference on disability poverty and the people excluded are disabled people on benefits, because they cannot afford the £10 to get in.”
Anne Pridmore, chair of Being the Boss, which supports disabled people who employ personal assistants, also attended the conference.
She travelled to London from Leicestershire with a colleague. They faced a total bill of £140 to attend, including transport costs, all of which they funded themselves.
Pridmore said: “What we are saying is that this conference wasn’t aimed at the people who have the most to lose.”
Neil Coyle, DA’s director of policy, said the event was “very accessible”, and there had been a need to charge delegates in order to cover the conference’s costs, which included hiring a British Sign Language interpreter, and paying for transport and overnight accommodation for one of the speakers.
But he said he hoped Disability Rights UK, which will be formed next year through a merger between NCIL, DA and RADAR, would take a “more systematic approach” to such conferences.
He also said he hoped Taylor Wessing would offer the venue free of charge again next year, despite the company’s concerns about repeat protests.
He added: “We will be planning events like this for the new organisation and will take on board the comments we have had on this.
“I think we have done a good job in limited circumstances to provide a debate that is so relevant to disabled people’s lives.”
He said material from the conference – including Miller’s speech – was being placed on DA’s website.