The summer holidays are approaching and people will be busy planning family days out, weekends away, and trips with friends. But for the 1.2million wheelchair users like me, it is a stark reminder of the obstacles that continue to stand in our way.
There is a long way to go until we can say that the UK is accessible. Yes, things have improved, but the reality is disabled people still face many barriers when going out – and it starts right from the moment they try to leave the house. Booking a taxi may seem straightforward, but will there be a wheelchair accessible vehicle available, especially if travelling outside of working hours? Will I be overcharged? Does the driver have the correct-sized ramp, and will I be strapped in properly, if at all?
And would I even need to think about taxis if public transport was better set up for my needs? More railway stations now provide step-free access – but only half are fully accessible, and assistance usually needs to be pre-booked. Then there are the issues with the cuts to staffing support, onboard toilets not working, broken lifts, inadequate ticket machines, crowded services; it’s honestly enough to put disabled people off going out. And we know this happens.
It seems the public recognises these difficulties. This week, Muscular Dystrophy UK published the results of a YouGov survey, which showed just 3% of the public thought all of the UK’s tourist attractions provided easy access for wheelchair users, while 6% said the same of railway stations.
It has been 10 years since Trailblazers, a campaigning network of 800 young disabled people, was launched to help tackle independent living issues of accessibility. In that time there have been some huge successes – but I do wonder what it will take to improve those survey numbers in another decade’s time.
In the longer term, there is lots that needs doing for businesses and services to open themselves up to disabled people – it’s the right thing to do, plus we’re a huge pool of potential customers! There is no silver bullet, but lots of ways to take practical action. Whether they build a Changing Places toilet, consider wheelchair access when looking at renovations or ensure that staff are trained to know how best to work with disabled people, we need to see more willing – and legislative support – to see change happen.
I know this won’t happen overnight. But right now, this summer, I want to see businesses to start having those conversations, to start listening to the real concerns that real people have, and to start – or continue – working with groups like Trailblazers to drive change. We have come a long way in 10 years, but we need to make sure that we aren’t having this same conversation in 2028.
Lauren West is Trailblazers manager for the charity Muscular Dystrophy UK. Trailblazers, a national network of 800 young disabled people, campaigns on disabled rights, and this week marks its 10th anniversary