Hidden in plain view

Disability Discrimination in 21st Century Britain

Today’s blog comes from Michael Clinton, Research Director at the Schumacher Institute.

I am a disabled person. Getting around has always been a challenge but the wear and tear of  a few years under my belt means that my mobility is not what it once was.

It has always hurt when I landed on those marble floors beloved by shopping malls, but these falls are more likely these days. So now I have to use my wheelchair every time I go out. The sad truth is that in my lifetime nothing has really changed. A few drop kerbs and badly designed accessible toilets, inclusion do to make.

Quite simply the built environment is – even if new – hostile to disabled people. Only 5% of homes are even minimally accessible. Most new builds have at least one front door step, so getting in and out of your own home can be the first challenge! Then there is public transport. I have used planes, trains and busses in my time and they are all flawed. Tiny inaccessible toilets on aeroplanes, steps and gaps onto trains and busses all pose risks for disabled people. Even going self-propelled in a wheelchair or mobility scooter can be risky if the drop kerbs are blocked or too steep to safely use (more common than you might think). Any of which could prevent or delay you getting to work, the shops or a doctors’ appointment, now imagine if it is the route home that is blocked. You may actually be unable to get home at all!

My local railway station is only part time manned. Normally I would arrange assistance onto and off the train (thanks to the steps), a service that is usually well delivered, but it can and has for some failed totally. The homeward platform at this station is on the opposite side of the track from the station exit. To get to the exit in a wheelchair requires crossing the tracks and avoiding the Intercity 125’s. Would you risk that in a wheelchair without assistance?

If something goes wrong for an able bodied person they can usually walk out of a situation. I can’t. I’m stuck. At any point in the journey if things go wrong I could find myself in a very vulnerable situation very quickly. It is this added risk that makes life so very challenging for many disabled people. So I drive. At least I can shelter in the car and call the AA or on occasions I simply don’t travel.

A few years ago I was made redundant and so needed a job. I wrote out my CV and hunted through the situations vacant. I saw a company that closely matched my own skill set and it was barely a mile away from home. So I brushed up my CV and wrote a covering letter, donned my best suit and went round to deliver my CV. Imagine how I felt when I found that the office was an old house and completely inaccessible. I ended up getting to the front door on all fours!! Why should anyone have to get down on all fours to seek a job in the 21st century? Would you?

The point is that for disabled people to contribute we need to be allowed to participate. That means a built environment that is fit for all. ALL homes built to Lifetime Standards, FULLY accessible transport systems and a realisation that even listed buildings can and should be made accessible. We live in the present not the past!

Why should the built environment be inclusive? Well here is a little thought for you. Nearly half of the population will suffer either a permanent or temporary disability in their lives with about 1 in 5 of those of working age being disabled. This world can be very hostile for disabled people. Doorsteps basically say “no cripples here”! That kind of attitude is illegal when applied to any other identifiable group today and quite rightly so! Next time you walk down the high street look at the buildings around you. If they have steps in front the chances are they are not accessible. Which means disabled people cannot access the offered services, work there, or socialise there. Then think how would you feel if you are one of those people suddenly faced with being disabled, especially if it is your own home or place of work?

May your next journey be safe and informative.

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