Tuesday, 3 May 2011

On accessibility and the Big Society

Those of us who are unable to work due to disability or illness are in the middle of a change from Incapacity Benefit (IB) to Employment and Supprt Allowance (ESA). Under the old IB test, one thing considered was whether you could walk, and if so, how far. The ESA test replaces this with the activity of "mobilising" with or without a walking stick, manual wheelchair, or other aid.

So, it seems, the Government is assuming that the environment is now so accessible, and technology so advanced, that mobilising using a manual wheelchair is no different from walking. But is this really the case? And even if it is, are currently able-bodied people getting in the way of disabled people using it?

Being part of the mainstream isn't so easy when a major music venue (*cough* Brixton Academy *cough*) has this as its idea of accessibility..
And to be frank, inside wasn't a whole lot better.

At least they'd made the attempt though. All that's required is that service providers make "reasonable adjustments". What is "reasonable" depends (among other things) on the cost of the adjustment and the size and resources of the organisation. The small pharmacy I use has a step at the entrance, and it would be difficult to have a ramp: so they've installed a doorbell at the door, meaning that I and others who can't get in can summon someone to help us. Clearly it's not ideal transacting my pharmacy business on the pavement, but I think in view of the size of the business and the costs of installing a ramp, the adjustment they've made is reasonable.

And what of the Big Society? Insofar as anyone can work out what the phrase means, part of it seems to involve people taking an active role in their communities. Even if people don't want to get involved in voluntary work, you would think that the bare minimum would be having a tiny bit of consideration to make sure that others are able to move around.

Apparently not.
I have a marked disabled bay outside my house - not a blue badge bay, just a bay marked in white paint with the universal disability sign. Because it's not a blue badge bay, it's not legally enforceable. It's a kind of "look guys, there's someone disabled living here, so howsabout leaving the space free, yeah?" bay. It depends on people's goodwill and consideration for others.

Except that those seem to be qualities in short supply. Few of the houses in my street have off-street parking, and even among those that do, many have more than one car. So parking spaces are in high demand. If I happen to be out (It does happen. Occasionally) I can guarantee that the space will be filled when I get back.

My car is modified to be wheelchair accessible. It's great - totally designed round my needs, completely accessible. I get into it up a ramp at the back, and have a large sticker in the back window saying "Wheelchair access needed - please leave at least 3 metres space". Yeah, you can guess what happens. Parked right up to the bumper.

Then there's drop kerbs. The other day, I made it out as far as my local shop. Came out, up the hill to the junction. But someone had parked across the dropped kerb...so back downhill, right to the shop again, down the drop kerb there, back up the hill in the road, and finally across the junction. Now fortunately I was using my power wheelchair so going three times the distance someone walking would have to was no extra effort. But an environment so accessible that using a chair is no different from walking? Uh...no, I don't think so.

You know when you read in the paper about some elderly person being picked up by the police driving their mobility scooter down the hard shoulder of the motorway? Well, I don't reckon they have confusion at all. I think they're just trying to find a drop kerb that mobody's parked across.


  1. Great post, Funny about chemists my two local ones both have big step, so have to do the bang on window and let them bring stuff for you to pick or send carer if she can.

    I can go miles in my power chair- but the horizon is only as far as the nearest drop-curb.

  2. Thanks Erika - and great line about horizons! x

  3. This ability to mobilise business is all a bit hazy. I, like you, have MS. However, I am stil walking a fair bit, but I can't walk very far, or for very long. So the answer is for me to use a wheelchair, right? Wrong! They say that MS is a ''use it or loose it condition'' (I know what they mean, but it ain't quite that black and white). The point being, for as long as I can walk, I need to stay fit and strong enough to be able to walk. I am happy to use wheelchairs on the occasions where I have to and it benefits me, airports for example, where you have to walk miles and at speed. But in terms of switching to a wheelchair so that I can ''walk'' further? That will make me less fit and strong (yes, even less!), more disabled and more dependent.

    The Government is trying to put a nice face on all their reforms by telling us that ''it's for your own good'' and to make us ''more independant''. It's not! It's removing our support systems and making us more dependent and second class citizens. Cheers Dave!

  4. PS Fantastic blog, where did you get the idea from?? ;-)

  5. Wonderful as ever Margo and i so get what you mean about dropped kerbs, spaces etc...as for that ramp ......you'd be braver than me to go up it..i have visions of it tipping up as it seems to just float...(wonder how that fits into their liablitly insurance ?). I think we should all be armed with our cameras and gather the evidence.

  6. That's actually a good idea Kitty. We (and by ''we'' I mean Margo) could set up a website called ''ability to mobilise'' and post photos of ramps too steep to climb and people parked on drop kerbs. Paint a picture of The Big Society from a wheelchair?

  7. Great idea sarah, I think they should only sell ramps that come with 2 big burly rugby playing (good looking of course) blokes who are able to push you up some of these ramps,if you cant easily skateboard up it then we have no chance!

  8. I love reading your blog Margo, as a reasonably abled MS sufferer, i find your take on your illness a real breathe of fresh air, when everyone i know seems to think i will be a vegatable in the next 6 months.

  9. I believe it is actually possible to get a designated blue-badge space in front of your house - there is one in front of a house very near me in fact. (However, it's not reserved for you, so anyone with a blue badge can use it.)

    By the way ... that isn't a motorway (it's the A27 at Shoreham) so I think that guy is actually legal.