Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Our Accessible Challenge

Disabilities, accessibility, equality and general acceptance has been part of my life for the last 24 years.

When I was first diagnosed at 13 I was more active and “able” and I could walk unaided.

Yet, even then I was facing adversity against what I could or couldn’t do.

I was diagnosed halfway through Secondary school. The campus spread over 9 different buildings of which over half of those my classes were on the 2nd or 3rd floor.

I couldn’t at the time use the stairs. I could do stairs but my legs would give way; it was a health and safety nightmare.

So what were the options?

I had to learn from the school library; the only accessible space.

Every morning I would pick up my work from the school office and head to the library. The “disabled kid” was shoved out of the way and ended up being isolated from my friends.

So, I fought for change.

Lessons were rearranged, classrooms were changed and specialist equipment was provided.

In every institution, work place and setting that I encountered I had to fight for change.

However, this isn’t just a “normal” diagnosis. As regular readers know I have a degenerative form of Muscular Dystrophy.

With every deterioration and change physically the fight changed too.

When I became weaker and needed assistance I used either a crutch or a walking stick.

Yet, now I faced challenges of steps, steps without rails and poor floor surfaces.

It wasn’t just to make settings better; I wanted equality. I never wanted anyone to be put aside because they had a different ability to someone else or, as I found, different ability to their peers.

When I found myself in a manual wheelchair for the first time that feeling was the same even if the challenges changed.

With the recent blessing of my new power chair I have found a greater insight.

What was previously accessible isn’t now.

In a manual wheelchair or with a use of another person, if needed, you can tilt the front wheels up, place them in position and then push against the back wheels and go over small steps.

This would mean that unless it was a very special circumstance I could get in most places. However, having the power chair changed that.

The chair is solid and heavy.

Lifting, even partially, is near on impossible; especially if I’m on it!

This subsequently made me start questioning which other places have the same issue.

Hannah was also on the same path. What was once a place we could both enter she is now seeing her partner being isolated.

She wanted change too.

We both, in our own ways, started investigating our town.

Mine was more visual. I was taking note of which places seemed ok and which weren’t. Hannah was more practical and started contacting these premises and seeing which ones had reasonable access.

This is when things became interesting.

Hannah started to hit a hurdle of what can only be called ignorance.

I started to ask shops, whilst outside, if they had access. Again, like Hannah, I was met with ignorance.

We found that some places were accessible and some weren’t. A small proportion of those who weren’t had a portable ramp for customers to use. However, the majority didn’t.

In many cases we would get “This is a listed building so can’t do anything", “We haven’t been given anything to use" and “It’s something YOU need to discuss with head office". Interestingly, all incorrect.

The Equality Act 2010 and the addition of the Equality Act 2019/20 states this shouldn’t be happening. The Acts protect people against discrimination, harassment or victimisation in employment, and as users of private and public services based on nine protected characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.

This is set out quite clearly and all public buildings need to be accessible. Outside of that, where accessibility is not as clear cut as “changing the front of the building”, anywhere that accepts the public should make “reasonable adjustments”.

Now this is very loosely placed. This could be anything from hand rails, portable ramps or worst case scenario a bell that alerts the premises that a disabled person is waiting and requires assistance.
However, and here is the real kick in the teeth, this isn’t legally enforced apart from new builds.

Although the legislation makes it clear that things need to change there isn’t anything to actually make people do so; unless you are solely relying on peoples morality.

Potentially people like ourselves could “purple pound" the place (The act of promoting the discrimination which impacts the people using the premises subsequently making the business lose revenue) but will that ever really change when the majority are not affected by inaccessibility?

Well that is what we (Hannah and I) are aiming to prove wrong.

This last week we’ve been looking, communicating and trying to make a difference. One person, one shop and one town at a time. Particularly, our town first.

This blog has always been a place for me to document my journey through life and that is exactly what I am going to do with this.

We are living in 2020. No one should face ignorance that leads to discrimination on any level.

At the moment this just the beginning. We have no idea what will happen along the way but I hope that we can make some real change and some more places more accessible.

Do you notice the accessibility of a shop or business? Have you ever had to ask for accessible options?  Would you be willing to ask and check the next time you're out?

For further information or to chat more regarding this please drop me a tweet at @mr_kitney

1 comment:

JOhn Adams said...

I've been watching and admiring your tweets on this subject. Odd that so many tourist attractions are listed buildings yet they are accessible yet high street premises aren't! I've also always thought that if a premises isn't accessible to a wheelchair, it won't be accessible to a push chair. Love what you're doing Martyn. Support you all the way.