THE BLOG

'You Don't Mind If We Just Carry You Up the Steps, Do You?'

11/03/2016 16:36 GMT | Updated 12/03/2017 09:12 GMT

I wish I had a pound for every time I have been asked that question. Of course the answer is always, 'Yes I do mind.' It is unsafe, undignified and, as I am not the lightest person on earth, quite a challenging thing to do!

It's Disabled Access Day on 12 March and I thought I would share my thoughts on why disability access matters so much in the struggle for disability equality. This nationwide event encourages disabled people to visit somewhere they wouldn't normally go. Anyone can get involved, and it doesn't matter if you use wheelchair like me, or have a learning difficulty, hearing or visual impairment. Disabled people are also encouraged to feedback on the access issues they have identified as it is only by doing this can we ensure that disability access is continually improved.

Why is it important?

There are over 11million disabled people in the UK and if you want improve attitudes and awareness of disability then disabled people have to be in the room. For no other reason than we are the experts on our own access needs. Most disabled people have been making 'life hacks' throughout their lives and will often have the best solution to good access and better design.

Attitudes change when people talk to disabled people, meet us in public places - there is a clue in the name - and start to understand that enjoy the same things as everyone else.

We are also consumers

Households with a disabled person spend over £200 billion a year. It makes common sense for brands, business, places and spaces to want to tap into this market and compete for our pounds.

That is just good business sense.

A disabled man nearly had his honeymoon in Paris ruined when Air France refused to allow his electric wheelchair on board because it was 'too big'. That's despite trying to contact them for weeks prior to flying. He flew Easy Jet, who could fit it in the hold of their plane and no doubt he will continue to be a valued and loyal customer.

I've lost count of the number of buildings I've been in that have hidden doors, a colour scheme in the toilets which makes it impossible to distinguish between door and wall; or signage that is downright confusing when your vision isn't impaired.

A BBC investigation into Football League clubs found many are 'failing to meet disabled guidelines', particularly in relation to available seating. That can lead to disabled fans being forced to sit apart from their friends and families or miss out entirely. I'd be hard pushed to find anyone who doesn't think that our national sport should be available to all.

No Guide Dogs?

Holly Scott-Gardner, who has been blind since birth, recently went to a restaurant in Coventry for her 22nd Birthday, and was told that by a member of staff that her guide dog wasn't welcome. Thankfully Holly caught the incident on her phone.

Not to be outdone Pizza Hut refused to take booking for disabled children 'because carers wouldn't be eating'. When the carers explained they would be working and not eating out, they were offered a booking at 11am half an hour before the shop opened. That kind of defeats the purpose of eating out.

No wonder a survey by the disability charity Scope found that nearly two-thirds of disabled people (63%) thought that most products aren't developed with disabled consumers in mind. And, three quarters (74%) said it is harder for disabled consumers to access shops and retail outlets.

Attitude is everything

Attitudes need to change and we need to banish the days of disabled people being invisible in society because we couldn't get out and about in our communities. Thankfully there is light at the end of the 'step free' tunnel and many companies are making changes to their policies and procedures.

At the end of last year Airbus announced that it is now offering its customers who operate single aisle aircraft something it calls "Space Flex". It's actually two toilets that can be transformed into one giving enough room for wheelchair users. This means that for the first time I and other wheelchair users can take a long haul flight without worrying about our health or run the risk of a kidney infection as happened to me following a flight to the USA.

My message to every disabled person is to get out, make your voice heard, talk to people, give feedback to companies - good as well as bad, and things will change. Our pounds are just as important as those of non-disabled consumers and in a challenging economic environment the smart service providers and businesses should be looking after us.