This story first appeared in the Information Point newsletter Our World in 2010.
Access to Work is a government run scheme available to anyone with a disability or health condition. The disability or health condition does not need to have a big effect on what you do each day but may stop you doing parts of your job or have a long-term effect on how well you can do your job.
The aim of the scheme is to give clients and employers advice and support to help individuals overcome work related obstacles and it may be available to you if you are in a paid job; unemployed and about to start a job; unemployed and about to start a work trial or you are self-employed and your disability or health condition stops you from being able to do parts of your job.
Earlier this year my work required that I move offices and I found that after the move I was experiencing increased pain in my back, hips, leg and shoulders, so I requested an Access to Work assessment to see if there was any help available to me. I completed an application form and was subsequently contacted by Access to Work, after which it was agreed that a workplace assessment would be appropriate.
In the North West of England RBLI Employment Solutions, a specialist division of Royal British Legion Industries, an independent charity committed to providing employment opportunities for people from all backgrounds and particularly those with a long term health condition or disability, are contracted by the Department for Work and Pensions to deliver Access to Work. An RBLI assessor visited me at my workplace within a few days of it being agreed that I would benefit from an assessment, which took the form of an interview, learning about the work that I do, my health condition and the problems that I experience as a result. He also carried out a workplace assessment which involved seeing me at my desk, correcting the height of my computer screen and chair, advising on the correct posture to adopt while seated and the need to organise my workstation so that all equipment is in-line and in front of me, the reasons why this is important and the importance of postural breaks before the onset of pain and discomfort.
A number of recommendations for equipment were also made, namely a chair headrest for increased support in my cervical spine; a right grip mouse to support my hand in a relaxed handshake position, so eliminating the arm twisting required by an ordinary mouse; a mini keyboard to allow me to have the mouse close to my mid-line, so reducing the amount of unecessary reach and rotation in my shoulder joints and decreasing the strain when using a normal keyboard and mouse setup; and a keyboard corner shelf to fit over the curved edge of my desk to produce a straight edge, so my body does not twist when sitting and to allow me to get closer to the desk, so eliminating stress and strain on my joints.
Assistance with travel to work is another aspect of the Access to Work scheme. Help is available for people who may require assistance year round or who for example may use public transport for much of the year but find this challenging during the winter months, when weather conditions such as ice, snow and high winds, coupled with issues such as a tendenacy to fall and poor balance, can make it difficult for people with mobility issues to get about. Again, such help can be put in place by contacting Acess to Work who, at the time of writing, require three quotations from local taxi firms, in order to source the best price and will also request details of the current cost of transport, for example bus or train fares, so this can be deducted from the contribution they make towards the cost of alternative transport. Once the scheme has been agreed, an account should be set up with the chosen taxi firm who will bill the client or arrange for a BACs transfer on a monthly basis. Access to Work will provide the client with claim forms, so that the cost of the transport, not including the cost of regular bus and train fares can be reclaimed.
Access to Work can help in other ways too, for example it might pay towards a support worker; if you need a communicator at job interviews, then Access to Work may be able to pay some or all of the communicator costs; and if specialist advice is required, an Access to Work adviser may be able to arrange for a specialist organisation to complete an assessment and recommend appropriate support.
Once a package of support has been decided, formal approval of their recommendations will be sought from Jobcentre Plus and a letter will be sent to you and your employer advising the approved level of support and the grant available to pay for this. It is the responsibility of your employer (or you, if you are self-employed) to arrange the agreed support and buy the necessary equipment. Employers should then claim repayment of the approved costs from Access to Work. The grant available varies from a proportion of the cost to 100% of the cost depending on how long you have been employed, what support you need and whether you are self-employed. The precise level of cost sharing where Access to Work only covers a proportion of the cost is dependent on the size of the employer.
If you feel that you would benefit from an Access to Work assessment, you should contact your regional Access to Work contact centre to check whether you can get help. Alternatively, ask the Disability Employment Adviser (DEA) at your local Jobcentre about Access to Work.