Wow! What a few months we have seen since March 2020. Our worlds were all changed and threatened by a virus gone rogue. It posed a threat not seen in a century and I am unsure life will ever be quite the same again.
Whilst inevitably there will be some excellent changes that come to a new way of life, there is one group of people being blatantly left behind. The minority that anyone can join!
The current situation has seen a roll back in disabled rights and access. There is no longer access to toilets out and about. Blue Badge parking bays are used for queuing areas for shops or to widen paths to encourage social distancing. Shops are blocking and locking wide doorways so that wheelchair users cannot access their shops. One way systems using the only ramp to a building. (https://vm.tiktok.com/ZMJhQDD6w/)
Whilst I’d love to bunny hop my chair down some steps, it’s probably going to result in a number of injured people and £1000s worth of damage to my equipment.
We have been forgotten in the rush to resume ‘normality’. We are being refused entry to restaurants as they have not included accommodations for wheelchair users in the new layouts of their buildings. (https://www.ipswichstar.co.uk/news/ipswich-mcdonald-s-discrimination-wheelchairs-1-6798977)
The government is not helping. They are not reminding businesses that they still have a duty to provide reasonable adjustments. And businesses are now using Covid-19 guidance as a reason to not comply. It’s an appalling situation. Whilst disabled access is noted as ‘unforeseen difficulties’ in the current world. I’m sorry how did 20% of the population become unforeseen?!
During the 1990s a group of disabled people (and allies) formed the Direct Action Network. (There’s some great videos on YouTube if you’re unaware of this!) After attempts at getting legislation for disabled people through private members bills to no avail, these people took action. (https://youtu.be/ngkx8ASyWaY)
The result of this was the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. This was a great start in the fight for equality and access, although it did not meet all the demands of the time. This has now been shelved by the Equality Act 2010, which it seems is vague, ignored and unfit for purpose.
Disabled people have been saying that the Equality Act does not provide enough protections or accessibility across society for some while. The current situation proves just how little this legislation is respected by businesses and services.
We have little support in law, with the only way to usually ensure it is enforced is for us to pay to take a claim to court. This is rarely possible and so businesses and services get away with this blatant flout and disregard to the act.
We need action now for the Equality Act to be enforced. And we need it updated to reflect our needs or a separate Act to protect us and make society accessible.
Who will support us to make this happen?