* This post is written by our Equipment Case Manager. *
Access To Work. Where to start?! Access To Work is a brilliant system in principle, helping disabled people get the tools and equipment they need to be able to work, however in reality I have found it slow, difficult and time-consuming.
First, a little bit about me. I’m 25 and prior to going the Access Your Life team as a Case Manager, I was working with a charity as a Creative Office Assistant (a fancy way of saying, general admin dogsbody). I am an ambulatory wheelchair user and have issues with my legs, knees and shoulders. Although remote, my job requires that I sit at my computer for five hours a day, five days a week, something that I find very physically demanding.
The day after receiving my previous job offer, I immediately contacted Access To Work and had an assessment a week later. So far so good. I was offered a supportive chair, height adjustable desk, leg rest, dictation software, and the thing that made me really excited, a SmartDrive. I started work the next day. I didn’t yet have any of my support in place having only had my assessment the day before, but I was confident that this would arrive soon. How wrong I was.
Three months into working and I had received no support. My body was screaming at me for spending too long sitting at my computer without the supportive equipment I needed. The way Access To Work is set up, your employer has to pay for the support upfront, and then Access To Work pays them back. However, I work for a small charity that could not afford to pay for everything upfront, so I had to wait while my employer desperately tried to sort this out which took three months. After three months I eventually had the go-ahead to order my equipment and I finally received everything after a further 7 weeks. The companies that I’ve had to purchase things through as dictated by Access To Work have not been the best and I have experienced delay after delay. It has caused me quite a lot of stress, not having the right equipment for over 4 months caused a lot of unnecessary pain and I’ve spent a lot of time on the phone with suppliers – more of that admin that seems to be a full-time job for those of us with disabilities.
So how does the whole process work? Firstly you submit a short form online and then you will be contacted by an Access To Work assessor, who will go through your needs and recommend equipment for you. I would highly recommend thinking about what you want and not being afraid to ask for it. I was aware that asking for a SmartDrive was a long shot, but I took a deep breath and did it anyway, and now I am the proud owner of an all singing all dancing SmartDrive MX2+ that is my pride and joy! If you are asking for anything that isn’t an obvious need or is very expensive, you might trigger needing a face to face (or zoom to zoom) assessment – asking for the SmartDrive did this for me. This is nothing to be worried about and the lady I spoke to was really knowledgeable. She approved my SmartDrive and at no point did I feel like I was having to fight to be heard – unlike in the soul-destroying PIP process. This process took about 10 days from initially applying, but I started work 11 days after being offered the job so this may have been fast-tracked.
After the assessments you have to wait 14 days for a paper report to be written and posted to you – you won’t hear anything during this time, or even know that you are waiting for a report in my experience! Once you have this report, you can order the support! For items deemed useful outside of work, e.g. a SmartDrive, you will have to contribute the same percentage as the number of days a week you are not at work – for me 2/7, everything else is free to you.
It's such a shame that access to the life changing but eye wateringly expensive equipment, such as a SmartDrive, is only funded when about work. The NHS took 5 years to decide they would fund my wheelchair (review linked below); they would definitely not have funded anything like a SmartDrive. My SmartDrive has opened up the world to me, hugely reducing my shoulder pain and improving my mental health by increasing my independence, yet I am only “worthy” of it in the DWP’s eyes if I am working. It speaks very poorly of the government’s perception of disabled people. Regardless of my ability to work, I am worthy, but that’s a big topic for another day.
So, what’s my takeaway? Access To Work has great intentions, but in actuality, it is plagued by slow paperwork and assessments like all things the DWP touches. Yet it is not as dehumanising as PIP or ESA, the assessors seem like they genuinely want to help and it has allowed me to access the support needed to work and only collapse into bed in pain every other night rather than every night, which I’ll take as a win. I would highly recommend applying – you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. You can also check out my SmartDrive review HERE!
Thanks - Isobel