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Disability: Walk a mile in my shoes

Cllr Bryan Tyler, on the issues that disabled people regularly encounter.
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Peterborough city centre (Picture: Shariqua Ahmed)

I was a wheelchair user for several years, but I am truly thankful that I can now walk and get myself about. Not all wheelchair users have, or will have the opportunity, to go for a walk to the shop, take the kids to the park or go on a weekend away without notifying the hotel that you need an accessible bathroom. To be frank, having a disability is a pain in the adapted cycle seat!

Ask any blue badge holder how it feels to see disabled parking bays full of Chelsea tractors, taxis, and work vans. Talk to the parents of a disabled child who desperately needs a loo with changing facilities, who have the choice of changing them on a floor of a public toilet or, if there is a baby changing unit, having to clean it down first because it’s filthy.

I am aware too of occasions where one had been used previously by an intravenous drug user who left blood stained needles in the unit head. No one should have to suffer this. There is one single changing places toilet, in the car haven, hardly a convenient convenience!

I was once invited to a very well-known organisation to give a talk about education and employment for disabled veterans. I arrived to find out the meeting was on the first floor and no lift

One of our local landmarks underwent a £3m refurbishment some years ago. I asked them to talk to disabled groups to make sure the building was accessible for everyone, but the CEO knew best and refused.

On completion I made a report about the shortcomings, including the audio guide that repeatedly asked the user to look into the cabinet to the left or picture ahead. These guides were for the benefit of?…...blind and visually impaired visitors!

It cost an extra £35,000 of public money to put all the issues right.

Disability or a long term health condition can affect any of us, at any time. And contrary to what some cynics believe, most disabled people do not want to sit at home all day.

But when buildings are inaccessible, toilets non-existent, transport unreliable and blue badge bays full of 4x4s, it’s not difficult to understand why disabled people don’t engage and their mental health suffers as a result.

Not only are they missing out, but businesses are too. According to wearepurple.org.uk, businesses across the UK lose approximately £2bn a month by ignoring the needs of disabled people.

Surely with businesses still reeling from lost revenues due to Covid, they’d want to capitalise on this spending power. If you are a business owner, facility manger or anyone else, don’t just make token accessibility gestures, ask disabled people what they want, you might be surprised how easily they’re pleased.

Disabled people do not want special treatment; they want the same treatment, prospects, respect and experiences of able-bodied people. It’s really not too difficult a concept to grasp.

While I’m talking about respect, why do perfect strangers feel it’s acceptable to ask personal questions about someone’s disability? It is rude, disrespectful and upsetting. I always responded with: “Yes mate, but do you want to talk through your mummy issues first?” Always works!