The Equality Act (2010) lists disability as a ‘protected characteristic’. This is a statement that makes disabled people sound like an endangered species. However, with almost 12 million registered disabled in the UK and with roughly 7 million disabled people being of working age; this is simply not the case. When you also consider that, since October 1999, service providers have had to take reasonable steps to change practices, policies and procedures which make it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled people to use a service and in addition also have to provide auxiliary aids which would make it easier for disabled people to use a service; the BBC’s Inside Out London report into accessibility is therefore, truly baffling and incredibly disturbing. The episode can be found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b04nvj65/inside-out-london-10112014
The following extract further demonstrates the evolution of disability law and the responsibility placed on service providers in regard to accessibility.
“From October 2004, service providers may (have) to alter the physical features of premises if the service continues to be impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled people to use.
These requirements apply to facilities and services in the pedestrian environment and in transport related infrastructure: bus stations and stops, airports and rail stations.” The full government report can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/3695/inclusive-mobility.pdf. Reading just a few pages of this report leaves me feeling bewildered as to why sterner punishments are not be sanctioned for those who fail to follow these laws.
What all of the content written above tells us is that it is unlawful to discriminate against those with disabilities. It also tells us that it is a legal requirement to make reasonable adjustments to public services and business premises in order to allow access for those with disabilities as outlined by part III of the DDA.
However, whilst the fact that Reshi Ramlakhan who has Retinitis Pigmentosa, meaning he is going progressively blind, was told he would be charged extra for traveling in a taxi with his guide dog is disgraceful and; the fact that Christiane Link, a wheelchair user, was asked to carry out a monetary transaction on the street- given that was no ramp into here local post office is disgusting, there are bigger issues here.
Disabled people are fiercely independent – fact! The reason for this is because, in reality there will always be limitations enforced by a disability. However, the stubborn and determined streak that exists within disabled people, should naturally lead to the following question being asked:
Is it not the responsibility of the disabled person (where possible) to make themselves as independent as possible and should the government be doing more to help with this? Firstly, it is fair to say that these sound like contradictory questions and secondly; these questions need to be placed within the context of the article being written.
So, I want to ask the question; should Christiane Link, in a wheelchair since she was a baby, be doing more to ensure that she has the wheelchair skills to access a shop or a form of public transport? Shouldn’t all those with the physical capabilities to learn such skills be doing so? Finally shouldn’t the government be doing more to ensure that this is the case?
For example, Whizz Kidz, run wheelchair skills classes and I believe it should be compulsory for every wheelchair user, with the required physical capabilities, to undertake these courses. I also believe that the government should enforce this and employ experience wheelchair users to run them. Let me put it this way, you wouldn’t be allowed or fully able to drive a car without a licence, so why should a wheelchair be any different?
Now, I accept that even with the best wheelchair skills in the world, some places and forms of transport are simply inaccessible. I also accept that you need to be incredibly skilled and brave to bunny-hop from a train. I can also tell you from personal experience that if it goes wrong, it’s incredibly painful and finally, I want to say that I understand that people with disabilities shouldn’t have to go to extremes in order to access every day public facilities and services. However, I also worry that being so outwardly and vocally negative about a situation, like high tables in Café Nero or a step into a local Post Office branch could alter the public’s perception of those with disabilities. I for one would like to access public facilities with the minimum of fuss and if I need to improve my wheelchair skills to do so, then so be it because; ultimately the vast majority of staff and members of the public are incredibly helpful. A lack of accessibility is not the fault of staff within an establishment and I feel that this report, albeit unintentionally paints people with disabilities in a negative light.
My comments do not however, excuse companies that fail to allow accessible facilities due to a lack of commitment to equality and fairness. However, it is the responsibly of everybody to ensure that accessibility improves. After all, it costs nothing to treat someone fairly and with dignity.