No Disabled Access
The everyday occurrence of wheelchair users
As many of you may know, the internet has been abuzz after COP26 organisers apologised to a disabled politician who complained the international summit had denied her entry.
Karine Elharrar, Israel's energy minister, said she could not reach the SEC on Clydeside because the only options to get there from were to walk or board a shuttle bus that was unsuitable for a wheelchair.
She wrote on Twitter the other week:
“I came to COP26 to meet with my counterparts around the world and promote a common struggle in the climate crisis. It is sad that the UN, which promotes accessibility for people with disabilities, in 2021, does not provide accessibility to its events. Hopefully the lessons learned will be learned so that tomorrow green energy promotion, removal of barriers and energy efficiency will be the things I will deal with.”
Many have come out in support of Elharrar naturally, but many disabled individuals (like myself) have pointed out that this is actually a regular occurrence for many disabled people. Not just for important meetings or work, but in everyday life that is never discussed until someone goes through something like this.
I cannot tell you how many times that I have been turned away from a bus, taxi or train that refused to take my chair - despite booking a disabled taxi in advance, calling to clarify a train route that will be wheelchair friendly before a journey or waiting for a bus that should have a ramp. Nor can I recount on one hand how many places - restaurants, cinemas or pubs - that are supposed to be disabled friendly, barely meet the basic requirements for a costumer in a wheelchair.
For many disabled people, going out with a friend, family members, colleagues or partner has to be planned to the tiniest detail - making sure the venue is accessible, booking transport in advance and any preparations have to be made prior to the event… even if it’s a drink out or a trip to the cinema.
So imagine the frustration when you put in all that effort, all that planning and you are turned away for one reason… there’s so disabled access. The frustration this incites is definitely difficult to describe. Because this has happened a lot throughout my life, I’m definitely one to take it on the chin while being totally polite.
However, to say my disability hasn’t played a factor in my own career would be a lie. As a director, I’ve been on set for three shorts I have also written - all of which were filmed during the peak of summer incidentally. Truth be told, if I knew we'd be working on location I'd barely drink anything until I was back on familiar ground to where I could access all facilities. Not drinking on busy sets is definitely something I wouldn't recommend - in any circumstances, always keep yourself well hydrated when working - but that’s just one of the many examples where I was all too aware of the lack of disabled access.
What’s the point in getting angry? If you did every time you met an uneven pavement, no disabled entrance or toilet facilities - you’d be angry all the time. It’s definitely got better and this has happened less and less. Partly due to public facilities improving and partly because I always try to prepare for whatever may occur - be that for work or personal reasons, preparation is always key. That and society in general needing to be more disability. In regards to the COP26 event, The British ambassador to Israel, Neil Wigan, apologised for the incident.
"I am disturbed to hear that Karine Elharrar was unable to attend meetings at COP26. I apologise deeply and sincerely to the minister. We want a COP Summit that is welcoming and inclusive to everyone," Wigan said on Twitter.
Yet, I can’t help feeling a tiny bit of cynicism. In the past, I’ve seen news stories which discus the conditions for trying to use a wheelchair in a non wheelchair friendly environment. There’s sympathy, there’s outrage and there’s shock… and then people forget.
For real change to be made, it needs to be an ongoing discussion, not just a news segment or hashtag. To achieve actual change and equality, accessibility needs to be a concern at all times. To have that consideration and awareness alongside real actions behind the words, that’s when we’ll start to see change.