‘If having an artificial limb doesn’t mean you’re disabled, then what does?’

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Ross Ruberry who lost his lower right leg to cancer

Belfast man Ross Ruberry, who lost his lower right leg to cancer, tells journalist Kelly McAllister how he went from receiving the highest disability rate payment to getting absolutely nothing at all after he went through the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment process.

Ross Ruberry was awarded Disability Living Allowance 14 years ago after losing his lower right leg to cancer.

When he received a letter earlier this year explaining that the benefit was to be replaced and that he had to reapply, he initially thought it would not be an issue.

But, like many others that were forced to do the same, his application was denied.

I met with the 26-year-old in a coffee shop in Belfast city centre, close enough to his home in east Belfast.

We spoke about his situation and how his life has been impacted by this decision. Although Ross remained calm throughout the interview, his disappointment was clear when he talked about how he had been feeling since he received the news.

“It’s been extremely difficult and extremely stressful. It’s hard to describe to you how I felt receiving that letter, I really couldn’t put it into words,” he said.

“It just made me feel really angry and at a total loss of what I was going to do.

“I went from receiving the highest rate you can get as well as middle care rate, to absolutely nothing at all.”

The decision was based on how Ross answered questions when reapplying and how he was perceived during a face-to-face assessment.

“I had to fill out an application form first and some of the questions on it didn’t really relate to me.

“They judged me on communication – that’s irrelevant to my situation, managing money and mixing with other people. They don’t affect me so how can you judge me on them,” Ross said.

“Even during the assessment, they would make me do things such as put my hands above my head, another one was asking can you stand on one leg,” he added.

Ross talked about passing his driving test six years ago and how getting his licence has enabled him to become more independent. Being in receipt of the allowance meant that he could get a car that suited his needs through a mobility scheme.

“Passing my driving test changed my life, I can get out and about and don’t have to rely on anybody else.

“I can’t drive a normal car because of having an artificial leg – it’s specially adapted for me to drive it.

“They gave me a date to give it back and offered me something like £300 or £400 pounds for it and something like £12,000 to buy it off them.

“They never told me that when you’re going through an appeal you get to hold on to it.

“The way I see it is that they just want you to give up,” he said.

Although Ross is appealing the decision he hasn’t received a date for it. He worries about losing his car as it would have a huge impact on his life.

“It is a big concern. “Whenever I first got the letter I had to take two days off work because I was so stressed out about it. Having no car would make things like shopping nearly impossible to do, and what if I need to go to Musgrave Park Hospital to get adjustments done? That’s another burden.”

Ross said that the criteria the decision is based on is the same for everyone applying for the new Personal Independence Payment.

“They need to look at it again and base criteria on people with a physical disability, then base criteria on people with a mental health disability. Don’t judge people on both unless they have both.”

As the conversation comes to an end Ross turns to me and says something that caused a lump in my throat. “If having an artificial limb doesn’t mean you’re disabled, then what does?

“I was in receipt of DLA indefinitely because my circumstances won’t ever change. I would love them to, but they never will.”

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