In the UK, there are currently 13.9 million disabled people. Out of these, 1.2 million are regular wheelchair users. With 20% of our population having reduced mobility, we should be better at supporting them.
It is presumed that services have improved. Disabled rights were highlighted with the introduction of the new Equality Act in 2010. The act states:
The Equality Act 2010 sets out when someone is considered to be disabled and protected from discrimination.
Yet daily, people with disabilities are discriminated against by public services.
Many wheelchair users face delays in getting their chairs.
70% of wheelchair users, waiting more than three months for a chair. 30% face a delay of more than six months, with 15% waiting more than 12 months.
Those are horrific figures. When you consider users, they will be relying on their wheelchairs for their basic daily living.
Once these people get their wheelchair, real discrimination starts.
Take a trip to our capital city.
I took a trip to London with my little girl. She was, at the time, ten months old. Although she had started walking, she needed to go with her pushchair. Like an idiot, I presumed it would be fine; we could get everywhere we wanted with a pushchair.
After all, we were going to the city that hosted the Olympics and Paralympics in 2012.
We took a simple trip to London. Onto the underground, leaving at South Kensington, to The National History Museum.
When we arrived at South Kensington, we asked a member of staff where the lift was. The man laughed at me. There were no lifts. Our only option was to carry our little girl and her pushchair up the stairs. Not a problem for two non-disabled people.
Now imagine you were a wheelchair user getting off the tube at South Kensington. How do you get up the stairs? The simple answer is you don’t.
When I looked into this and did some quick math, I discovered only 36% of tube stations in London have lifts.
Stations are not the only issue for wheelchair users in London. Two museums in the area have parts that cannot is accessed if using a wheelchair. Both need considerable detours to reach lifts, to be able to access higher floors. Lifts are placed sporadically, and there are not enough.
In a city that hosted the Olympics, we should be doing better. Instead, we have used public money for water fountains in London. Ironically, when the money could have been used for more accessibility, some wheelchair users will struggle to use the new shiny water fountains.
What do wheelchair users think?
After this experience, I had the opportunity to speak to a wheelchair user. She told me a story of being stuck on a train in Sheffield for two hours. No one came to help her off with a ramp, even though she had contacted them before her journey.
I asked her about the new trains the government had spent public money to build. She chuckled and told me that even new trains need a removable ramp to access the carriages. Advancements in technology meant retractable ramps could have been added but were not.
She told me of an available website to help you plan your journey if you need access. Wheelchair users need to plan their visits to leave the house. The UK does not have sufficient access arrangements for people to go out.
As a nation, we have moved on from the day of wheelchair users having to travel in the guard carriage. However, we have not come far enough.
The media has improved Mental Health awareness. Celebrities have lent their voices to this worthy course. Hiding in the shadows is the plight of our wheelchair users.
We as a nation need to do more to accommodate 1 in 5 people. Disabled people deserve the same rights as all citizens in the UK. Yet, shockingly, London is the second most accessible city in the world. The first being Sydney, Australia. The Sydney Opera House has full accessibility and offers level access seats, wheelchair locations, and companion seating.
I can only imagine the problems of wheelchair users in other countries face. So be brave and step into a wheelchair users life for one day and experience their daily struggle.