Campaigning for Disabled Access
We live, work and study in a world that is very much tailored to the needs and abilities of people without disabilities. It is time to talk about how access should be improved for disabled people, and what this would be like.
I am myself a disabled person and I am an ambulatory wheelchair user. I campaign and raise awareness of accessibility and try to improve disabled access within Milton Keynes.
Disabled Access Day was founded in 2015 and occurs every two years on March 16th. It stems from the experience of founder and powerchair user Paul Ralph when he found that buses in Lothian were not accessible, After attending an open day with the bus company to try a wheelchair accessible bus, he came up with the idea that there should be more opportunities for disabled people to see things that they would like to try and are not sure about accessibility and how they would get on, therefore disabled access day was born and is sponsored by Euan’s Guide. On Disabled Access Day in 2019, 13,000 people took part and 153 organisations and businesses got involved.
While Disabled Access Day is a great opportunity in place for disabled people to raise further awareness and education on access and inclusion of disabled people, it unfortunately only takes place every two years, the last one having been in 2021. The need for disability access must noticed and discussed daily. This is the only way to ensure there is a change in society. While Disability access has improved a lot since the introduction of social care in the 1970s, and the disabled persons act in 1986, there is still a long way to go in terms of being accessible to all disabilities.
Where we started
The rights of disabled people and accessibility started to see a real change when the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 was introduced. This was a huge improvement towards better accessibility and awareness of disabled people and their needs as it now became illegal to discriminate against people in terms of employment and provision of services and facilities, and service providers would now have to make reasonable adjustments to enable disabled people access. This was all started by protests by the disabled. Accessibility further improved in 2004 when it became a legal requirement to make reasonable adjustments to make buildings accessible.
Disability access has improved vastly over the years, there are now accessible buildings, while there are also reasonable adjustments being made more into education and work settings, allowing disabled people to be included, be part of society and be able to live independent lives. The history of accessibility, as well as legal requirements, are encouraging and educating employers and education providers on the needs of the disabled and the accessibility needed to enable independence. While also importantly raising awareness of accessibility for all disabled people.
There is already great accessibility in place, as well as campaigns that help improve accessibility such as the Purple Pound and Purple Tuesday, which is a national initiative that helps businesses to improve the experience for disabled customers, raise awareness and to make customers’ experience more accessible and inclusive. A lot of organisations miss out on business and sales simply because their shop or website is not accessible and inclusive, especially as the spending power of disabled people in the UK alone is worth £274 billion and will rise by 14% every year, so vital that business is seen to be more accessible and inclusive.
Another great aspect of accessibility which has taken off and expanded in the last few years is having changing places toilets across the UK, this is showing best practice, ideally, there should be a changing places toilet in all establishments as standard disabled toilets are often not suitable for many disabled people while not being large enough to even fit a standard wheelchair at times. This shows best practices within accessibility and will improve the lives of disabled people when having a suitable and fully accessible toilet means they can go out, be independent, not have to be changed on a dirty floor in a small disabled toilet, also not have to worry about not being able to drink when out and enables disabled people to fully live the lives they want.
There’s still room to do more
I am working on improving access locally in Milton Keynes, while also raising awareness and trying to educate organisations on what inclusive accessibility should look like, while also trying to run a red cord campaign to get a red cord card into every disabled toilet in Milton Keynes and to raise the awareness and educate others on why emergency red cords in disabled toilet are important and why they should always be hanging freely. Studying at The Open University has allowed me to start this campaign work, as studying has improved my organisation, well as helped me gain more confidence to work on what I am passionate about. Open university and studying, have also allowed me to improve further skills such as professional writing and being able to speak up and approach organisations as well as being able to see an insight of accessibility within education
Being able to have improved accessibility does not just help and improve the lives of disabled people, but it can also benefit everyone within our society. If our buildings, homes, workplaces, and education are accessible, this will improve the awareness within our society but can benefit anyone without them realising, as not everyone can use stairs, but ramps are inclusive, and everyone can use them. It is also the fact that anyone can become disabled at any point and have access needs, which is why accessibility needs to be improved now.
Looking towards the improvements that can be made
Finally, the ways that accessibility can be improved are very vast, it is even the little part of accessibility that no one thinks about such as shops and buildings having level access and ramps and working lifts. Make sure that there are more changing places toilets within our buildings. Improved access also means being able to have a wheelchair-accessible home, not only making adaptations in the current home but also making sure that more accessibility is being built especially within council stock. Make sure that there are accessible tills within shops. It is also important that workplaces are disability aware and are educated on accessibility so they can make suitable adaptations for an individual. Improving access also means being able to have more drop kerbs, and people learning sign language can be a great way to be inclusive and to improve access, as well as smaller things like shops having quiet hours including removing music and having dim lights.
It can also help for education providers to just be more aware and educate themselves on disability and access needs. They should ask learners about their access needs, make sure all buildings are fully accessible, and have captions on any online learning material and tutorials.
Disability accessibility is diverse and can mean changing a vast amount to become more inclusive. Improving accessibility does not always have to cost a lot or mean extensive building work, though. Improving access can also be anything small that can be easily implanted and is always about making our society more inclusive for all people with disabilities.