CreativeCrip Atos Communications Strategy

“We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.” 
— Randy Pausch (The Last Lecture)

It goes without saying that we in the British disabled community are well aware of the flaws inherent in the application process and health exams for Employment Support Allowance (ESA), the ESA Work Capability Assessment (WCSA) and Disability Living Allowance (DLA). There have been numerous stories of the Harrington Review as well as media profiles of ordinary people living with disabilities and how they cope (or don’t). Only recently, it seems, has there been significant mention of Atos Origin, the private French IT firm contracted by the previous government  to facilitate the health exams, the impact of this on people with disabilities and concerns about some of the doctors carrying out the assessements

As most will now be aware of, this past weekend the private, membership-only CarerWatch Discussion Forum was shut down with no warning to the organisation itself. The hosting company took the decision after allegedly receiving a complaint from Atos. As of this writing, our comperes at CarerWatch are completely in the dark about what content was so objectionable. Though speculation is futile, there are recurring actions I have noticed for some time across the disabled community that are particularly worrying.

As a Communications professional (and someone who has made mistakes of this nature in the past), I strongly make the following recommendations.

  1. Above all else – stick to facts as much as possible; they speak themselves even in personal narratives.
  2. Cease and desist from using the Atos name and logo or derivatives for projects
  3. Do not use slogans that can be interpreted as libellous hate speech, “Atos Kills!” being the prime example.
  4.  Do not share anything via social media or  a forum that is potentially libellous or infringes on copyright no matter how much one may actually agree with any legitimate points raised therein.
  5. The previous point also applies to comments on personal and campaign blogs and media stories. It’s better to censor oneself than have someone else do it for you.
  6. Qualify personal opinions by explicitly stating “in my opinion” – and proceed with caution.

The reality is that none of us can afford to take on a legal challenge from Atos – especially where they might actually be in the right. Furthermore, as much as we may not like it, we *are* at the mercy of hosting companies and ISPs no matter the jurisdiction. Whether large or small, they don’t want trouble from the likes of Atos any more than we do and especially if it can potentially affect their bottom line. It’s the threat of legal action which prompted the shut-downs that have taken place.

Even where we may have an entirely sympathetic technical or media entity behind us we must all carry on being vigilant in what we say and how we say it. Yes, we are angry and upset and justifiably so – but it is these emotions that can cloud reasonable judgement along with a lack of knowledge concerning copyright and digital communications law. It is entirely possible to make valid, substantiated points that are not emotionally driven and this is the approach we need to take consistently

I value the support and solidarity amongst us all, but I have to take this stance for your protection as much as my own. We need to continue to be heard  and it is important to remember that there are many ways in which to do this. I hope that by continuing to work together and utilising this strategy we can all carry on fighting our good and just fight.. As BendyGirl, Co-Founder and Director of The Broken of Britain always says “Alone we whisper, together we shout!”