What if we viewed lived experience as an asset? As an asset of professional, economic,…
Is England accessible?
Much as the UK has, in some ways, made great strides with respect to those with disabilities, it still has a long way to go. Disability discrimination is still happening. Most places are not fully wheelchair accessible. Being wheelchair accessible doesn’t just mean having a ramp; it means wide aisles, enough space to access all areas of the shop/building, appropriately placed furniture and displays, wheelchair friendly dressing rooms, low counters, enough space in corridors to turn a wheelchair round, spaces for wheelchairs in waiting rooms, and many other things brain fog won’t let me think of. Also, not all pavements are safe for wheelchairs, some don’t have dropped kerbs and many dropped kerbs aren’t properly level with the road. Disabled parking? Often they forget about dropped kerbs up onto the pavement, so you end up having to go a distance in the road until you reach a dropped kerb – and you have to hope it’s a level one! Are blue badge parking spaces big enough? Not for wheelchair accessible vehicles. Are we treated equally? No we’re not. Discrimination is everywhere.
|Courtesy of Paralympics GB|
I know some businesses, organisations and individuals see wheelchair access as a hassle, but I bet if they were in a wheelchair they’d expect to be able to go everywhere. The reality is that this country isn’t wheelchair friendly. There are some wonderful places that are completely – or almost completely – accessible, which we disabled folk appreciate and cherish. It is so uplifting to go somewhere and not have to complain, beg and ask for help just to access places and to have a “normal” outing. The healthy and able don’t realise just how hard it is for us, and how inaccessible this country is. I’m not tarring everywhere with the same brush, because there are many wonderful, accessible places, but a only minority of places are truly, 100% accessible and wheelchair friendly. Some of my local shops, as legally required, have made ramp access into their buildings. The problem? The council haven’t, and won’t put in a dropped kerb. I have written to them three times, and the corner shop has been trying to get one and so has the mobility and independent living shop. Who’s breaking the law now? The council. They’re supposed to be promoting and making their borough accessible to all, but they’re the ones discriminating. Bearing in mind the mountain biking for the Olympics was held here, so we’re a 2012 Olympic town, and the supposed Olympic and Paralympic legacy, you’d think they’d want to make everything accessible to all. The legacy means nothing. We’re just as inaccessible now as we were before the Olympics. Attitudes before the Olympic and now aren’t any different, if anything they are worse.
Essex is just not accessible, and the disabled are treated as lesser people – even though it’s against the law. For example, a park near me, which sits behind the council offices, is inaccessible to wheelchair users. It would take a workmen less than half an hour to make it accessible; it’s got cycle barriers, so if they swapped that for a wheelchair barrier it would be accessible to all. Or even just took the top off the barrier so a wheelchair can get through and made the path level. A little effort would go a long, long way. It’s a barrier (pardon the pun) the disabled then wouldn’t have to face. Most of the nature reserves in and around Essex have kissing gates and raised bridges; also inaccessible to wheelchairs. What would it take to put in wheelchair barriers and small slopes/ramps up to bridges and unlevelled areas? The majority of dropped kerbs are atrocious; if there even are dropped kerbs, 90% of the time you feel like you’re jumping off Beachy Head because they’re not dropped – they might as well not be there. Or they put lamp posts and bollards in the way.
|Inaccessible – kissing gate|
Recently, it has been found that Essex is one of the worst places for disabled people due to lack of access and people’s attitudes towards them. Everywhere, there are stories popping up of discrimination, lack of support, hate crime, and offences against the disabled. It’s not fair. Just recently the story of guide dog owners being refused access to shops, restaurants and transport, despite it being illegal, was published. It’s not unusual or rare, these incidents are happening all the time to people with disabilities. Others seem to forget we are people first; our disability is just a part of who we are. We are people, like everyone else, with wants, needs and desires.
Does the government care about the disabled? If they do, they’re doing a pretty poor job. They’re taking away our enjoyment, taking away our freedom, and taking away our support. They are fuelling hate crime by making us out to be scroungers, cheats and frauds. They inflate statistics and tar us all with the same brush, instead of showing disabled people in a positive light. It seems disabled is almost synonymous with scroungers in today’s society.
All disabled people ask is that we can have the same opportunities as able bodied people. We have enough limitations in our lives with our illnesses and disabilities, we don’t need any more problems. We want to lead as ‘normal’ a life as possible, but society poses so many barriers to us. Nobody enforces disability rights laws, but if someone is racist, the law is used to full effect. Should we not have the same rights? What about our human rights? We are not fakers, we are not scroungers, and if you look at the facts, they will show you a very minute percentage of people are those. We just want to live our lives as best we can, without small minds, lack of access, unacceptable attitudes and lack of support. Given the right support disabled people have so much to offer. Help us to contribute to society.
(c) Lucy Watts