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Accessibility Proves An Obstacle But Attitudes Are Changing

February 2019

A travel firm has recently announced plans to offer the first-ever wheelchair accessible tour of Machu Picchu. The Inca site in Peru has always been considered off-limits to traditional wheelchair users due to its rough terrain, steps and narrow walkways. However, tour operator, Wheel the World, have developed a way to visit the Unesco site by using a special foldable trekking-style wheelchair.

This exciting news comes the same week it was reported that a wheelchair user was unable to access an Ikea café in Reading. Nigel Brown who visited the store in January said the majority of the store was “fine and quite accessible” but he struggled to wheel himself in his manual wheelchair through the barriers in the café and his friend, who uses a powered wheelchair, could not get through at all. A spokesperson for Ikea said; “We are naturally disappointed that we have not lived up to Mr Brown’s needs as a wheelchair user. We will take Mr Brown’s feedback for the future as we continue to improve the accessibility of our stores.”

Unfortunately Mr Brown’s experience is not an anomaly and we regularly read articles about wheelchair users having difficulty accessing shops, transport or other buildings or areas, or sometimes being refused access altogether.

However, with the fantastic news from Wheel the World, it does appear that attitudes are changing around accessibility. Automotive leader Ford have recently reinvented its traditional car mat and transformed it into a lightweight, portable and smart ramp for disabled drivers to help tackle inaccessible public spaces. The ‘Accessibility Mat’ was initially developed in Brazil in an effort to help wheelchair users negotiate inaccessible areas such as pavements without drop curbs or potholed roads. This innovative product can easily be carried on the back of a wheelchair.

Not content with that, Ford also made the mat ‘smart’ by incorporating technology and allowing the mat to connect to the wheelchair user’s smartphone via Bluetooth. When the wheelchair user uses the device, the mat gathers data on the location and highlights places where disabled access needs to be improved and flags it to local authorities.

Although this revolutionary device is not yet available in the UK, the project shows that steps are being taken to improve accessibility for wheelchair users to help create a more accessible and inclusive society.

Find out more about the new Accessibility Mat from Ford in this short video.

Accessibility Mat from Vico Benevides on Vimeo.

How disabled people could be affected in the case of a No-Deal Brexit

January 2019

With the date the UK is scheduled to leave the EU (29th March 2019) ever-advancing, the Government has published a series of papers on how the UK will cope in the event of a no-deal.

While a potential deal is still being debated in parliament, there are fears the UK could leave the EU without a deal at the end of March. While many are happy with this scenario and would prefer a no-deal to a bad one, there is no doubt a no-deal Brexit could drastically affect the UK.

The Government has already announced it will set a new budget if it is unable to reach a Brexit deal with the EU and next March’s Spring Statement could be upgraded to a full Budget.

Disabled people make up one in five of the UK population and will be affected in specific ways by policy and legislative change following the UK’s decision to leave the EU – and yet disability has barely been mentioned in public and policy debate on the implications of Brexit.

A Brexit manifesto from Disability Rights UK outlines six main topics for discussion that will affect disabled people in the event of a no-deal Brexit – topics that need to be discussed now.

These topics include:

-          Disabled people’s priorities in society (including accessibility and funding)

-          EU disability law and policy

-          Embedding disability rights in the UK (and devolved) law and policy

-          Funding for research and services

-          Freedom of movement of people

-          Strategies for influence

The report from Disability Rights UK indicates a need for the disability sector, working with others, to re-frame the Brexit debate and put disability rights at its heart.

Read the full report here.

British soaps lead the way in disability representation

January 2019

Over the past few years, there have been significant steps taken to make the world a more inclusive society but one area that has always struggled to fairly represent disability is the TV and film industry.

Earlier this month, directors of The Upside faced a backlash for casting Bryan Cranston as the lead actor playing a character in a wheelchair.

Many people were angry that an able-bodied man was chosen instead of a disabled actor when there are many talented disabled actors in the industry.

However, while this may be one case of the TV and film industry arguably not fairly representing disabled people, British soaps are leading the way in disability representation.

Over the past few years, there have been more and more disabled characters with interesting storylines and, better still, disabled actors are playing in these roles.

In Eastenders, Donna Yates was played by actress Lisa Hammond who suffers from pseudoachondroplasia and joint hypermobility. Donna was a regular on the show between 2014 and 2018 and was a popular character with complex storylines.

James Moore is an actor and disability rights activist with cerebral palsy who recently won a National Television Award for Best Newcomer for his portrayal of Ryan Stocks on Emmerdale, another popular British soap.

Fans have been sharing their excitement of James winning the award with many calling him a ‘legend’ and an ‘inspiration’ on social media. James said; “For Emmerdale to take on someone with a disability shows the progression we need in this day and age.”

While moments like this show there is progress being made, the British TV industry still has a long way to go in becoming truly inclusive and making this more of a norm. In 2018, a report by the Creative Diversity Network showed that disabled people make up between just 5.6% and 6.5% of on-screen talent (depending on genre). With 13.9 million people living with a disability in the UK, these figures show they are not yet being fairly represented on screen.

Inter-abled couple break down disability stigma with YouTube channel

January 2019

A disabled man and his non-disabled girlfriend have used their popular YouTube channel to help dispel the stigma surrounding their relationship.

Shane Burcaw who has Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) and uses a wheelchair, and Hannah Aylward have been together for three years.

The couple began their YouTube channel six months ago and have gained a huge following on the social media platform now broadcasting to more than 166,000 subscribers (and counting). The intro to their channel reads: ‘Once upon a time, a boy with no muscles fell madly in love with a beautiful girl who had plenty of muscle to spare. The townsfolk gasped with horror at the sight of their disgusting inter-abled relationship, but they didn’t care.’

In one of their popular videos, Shane said: “I just really want to dispel the idea that Hannah is locked here in the apartment with her nurse scrubs on taking care of me…it’s not like that. We both have our own lives and that’s what’s cool about our relationship. We are just supporting each other in our own lives and then doing stuff together as well.”

Hannah adds that when people see them in public, they assume she is Shane’s carer. She said: “Strangers assume I’m not his girlfriend. When people at a restaurant see us acting like a couple, people have come up and been like ‘this just warms my heart, this is so beautiful.’”

When asked about the motivation for setting up their YouTube channel, Shane said; “It came from the annoyance at how people out in the public are so rude about my disability and our relationship. People will talk slowly to me – they always assume I’m a child, and even when they learn that I’m an adult that can talk, they still direct everything to Hannah as if I can’t make decisions.”

“So I think our purpose…was to just show the world that having a relationship with someone that has a physical disability is not like this bizarre impossible thing. It’s very normal.”

Following their successful YouTube channel, the couple have been inundated with positive comments and in particular they’ve received solidarity from other inter-abled couples who identify with the issues they discuss in their videos.

See Shane and Hannah’s YouTube channel, Squirmy and Grubs, here.

Wedding dress shop praised for featuring mannequin in wheelchair

January 2019

A disabled woman has praised a wedding dress shop in Portishead, Bristol for featuring a mannequin in a wheelchair in its shop window.

Beth Wilson, who has used a wheelchair for the past five years, spotted the window display at The White Collection Bridal Boutique while out shopping and shared a photo on Twitter which has since gone viral. Social media users and news outlets across the world have praised the wedding dress shop for its inclusive display which is not often seen on the high street.

While there have been many moves in recent years to make society more inclusive for disabled people and wheelchair users, there is still a long way to go but shops such as The White Collection Bridal Boutique are showing how simple it is to do.

Beth said; “I think most disabled people experience inaccessibility often when they go out – I know I do. Pretty much every time I go anywhere. The world isn’t designed for us.”

“This is the first time I’ve seen a wheelchair in a shop window like this (mobility shops not included) and it was so surprising to see and made me feel represented.”

According to disability charity Scope, there are approximately 13.9 million people in the UK who are disabled. Unfortunately many may feel they are ignored by many brands and the media as they don’t often see themselves represented.

Laura Allen co-owns The White Collection Bridal Boutique with her sister Sarah Parker. They said the decision to include a wheelchair in their window display was a simple one – “we didn’t really think too much about it.”

“We are delighted that our window display is getting such positive feedback.”

To date, Beth’s tweet has had more than 8,100 retweets and 36,000 likes and has been picked up by media outlets across the world.

It’s fantastic to see the reaction this has had and we are delighted to see The White Collection Bridal Boutique are leading the way in providing an inclusive experience for wheelchair users and disabled people. We hope to see this becoming the norm rather than the exception in the not too distant future.

Councils failing to tackle blue badge abuse as number of thefts rise

January 2019

In a report published at the end of last year, it has been revealed there has been a significant rise in blue badge theft and worryingly most councils are failing to prosecute motorists for misusing these permits.

Of the 152 English local authorities surveyed, 94 (62%) did not pursue anyone for abusing the blue badge scheme. Similar research conducted two years ago found 40% of councils were failing to clamp down on this issue suggesting blue badge abuse is getting worse. Sadly, almost every case involving the 1,215 prosecutions that were investigated last year involved drivers using someone else’s blue badge. Shockingly, the number of blue badges reportedly stolen has increased by 45% in the past year.

Phil Talbot of disability charity Scope said; “Stealing blue badges isn’t a crime without consequences. They are a vital lifeline for those who genuinely need them.”

Blue badges are available to adults who are disabled or have a health condition that affects their mobility (or for those who care for a child with these conditions). The scheme allows blue badge holders to park free of charge in pay and display bays and for up to three hours on yellow lines. Blue badge holders driving in London are also exempt from the congestion charge. Blue badges are used by approximately 2.4 million disabled people in England. Those who are convicted of misusing a blue badge face fines of up to £1,000.

The reasons for the disparity in convictions and prosecutions from councils can be due to the different levels of pressure on parking in the area but is also as a result of councils’ tight budgets. Following various spending cuts, councils are finding their available budgets are significantly lower than in previous years. Councils have tough decisions to make when it comes to effectively allocating their budgets every year. This, coupled with the time-consuming and expensive nature of pursuing these perpetrators, sadly leads to many going unchallenged.

Last year, the blue badge scheme was adapted to allow people with hidden disabilities to be eligible for blue badges. These changes mean people with conditions such as autism and dementia could be entitled to parking permits. Approximately 75% of blue badge holders say they would go out less frequently if they did not have their blue badge.

Luton Airport Improves Disabled Facilities Following Threat of Legal Action

November 2018

We were so pleased to hear that Luton Airport has ‘improved their disabled facilities’ following the threat of legal action from Justin Levene, the paraplegic athlete who was forced to drag himself through the arrivals terminal at Luton Airport last August.

Last August, Justin Levene’s self-propelling wheelchair was left behind on a flight leaving him with no other choice but to physically drag himself through the airport terminal. Although Justin Levene was offered a rigid high-backed wheelchair, this was not suitable for his needs and he worried about the possibility of getting pressure sores as a result of using this wheelchair.

As his story hit worldwide headlines, Luton Airport has come under pressure to drastically improve their disabled facilities. The Airport now has 10 self-propelled wheelchairs which are based permanently at the Airport. Luton Airport now also has a loan replacement system which enables it to lend people equipment (such as wheelchairs) free of charge in addition to organising and funding the returns process if a wheelchair or similar equipment is lost or damaged. A further improvement is where it has notification ahead of time of a requirement for specialised mobility equipment, it now has an arrangement with a local disability resource centre who can assist in sourcing this equipment.

Justin Levene, an international wheelchair athlete, trainer and mentor to disabled athletes was pleased with the outcome explaining he was never looking for money but was trying to get a change in policy.

Although Justin’s story began as a shocking experience at Luton Airport, it has been fundamental in raising awareness of issues around the mobility needs of disabled travellers. Unfortunately this isn’t the only case of a disabled person being left disappointed and let down with their experience on public transport and it’s a shame Justin had to go through this humiliating experience to get his story in the public eye. However it has brought about a vital change in policy that will improve access for disabled people and hopefully encourage other organisations to follow suit.

Read the full story here.

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