For most, it’s delight that the people you care about have chosen to spend time with you. Forming real, meaningful relationships with people is what life’s all about after all. But for disabled people like me, often a spontaneous invitation can come alongside a torrent of dread.
My first response when people ask me is that I have to “check my diary”. But this is sadly just a cover story – because the reality is that still, in 2019, many venues around the UK do not meet the simple specifications needed for them to be classed as disability-friendly. And before I commit to plans, I need to check the venue is accessible.
It really is a crying shame. As both a disabled person and businessman, I cannot understand why venues would not take the simple steps needed to become more accessible and welcome disabled customers into their establishments. After all, they’d make more money by doing so!
Disabled people deserve to be able to pick up the phone and make spontaneous plans with friends and family without experiencing fear, dread and access anxiety. There needs to be a common, universal system for disabled people to read disability access reviews on any venue they wish to visit. And luckily, a new social enterprise I have co-founded called Access Rating has the answer.
The Equality Act 2010 doesn’t go far enoughThe Equality Act 2010 states that changes or adjustments should be made to ensure that disabled people can access employment, housing, education, goods and services and associations and private clubs. This includes organisations and venues changing physical features and providing extra aids or services.
However, the problem is this – the notion of “reasonable adjustments” often comes down to what the individual or organisation deems to be acceptable. And even when reasonable adjustments are made, you cannot rely on them being used in the correct way.
I can recount countless times that I have gone to use a disabled toilet at a high-profile venue, such as a university and I have found them to be using it as a stockroom or worse, a cloakroom! It’s simply unacceptable.
It shouldn’t take yourself or someone close to you becoming disabled for people to consider how they can make everyday life easier for people with disabilities.
Able-bodied life is a blessing – but it isn’t an excuse for ignoranceThere are over 11 million people in the UK who are living with a long-term illness, impairment or disability (Gov.uk). That is a huge amount of people and even if you’re able-bodied, it’s likely you come across disabled people on a day to day basis. Perhaps even members of your family or close friends have both visible and invisible disabilities.
Life as an able-bodied person is a blessing that many people neither recognise nor appreciate. However, being able-bodied is not an excuse for ignorance.
It’s no secret that being disabled makes it harder to gain paid-employment which, in turn, becomes a catch 22 scenario. Because disabled people find it harder to find jobs, this means that countless industries are not benefitting from the help and advice that disabled people can provide when it comes to access anxiety. We are “experts by experience” after all.
It’s very difficult for able-bodied people to create a space where disabled people are comfortable when they haven’t experienced being disabled themselves.
But still, much more could be done to make sure that disabled people are consulted when it comes to planning and building new spaces and venues. It’s not hard to initiate that conversation with someone who is disabled.
Venues need to do more. But our friends, networks and connections also need to do moreI believe that the answer is opening up the conversation around accessibility. Together with two other disabled entrepreneurs, I have co-founded Access Rating – a social enterprise that aims to completely revolutionise the world of disabled access reviews in a simple, easy to use app.
In just 30 seconds, you can submit an access review of any venue around the UK, sharing your honest, impartial experiences of the venue from a disabled persons’ perspective.
The best part? You don’t even have to be disabled yourself to submit a review – reviews from able-bodied people who want to improve the lives of disabled people are welcome to also submit disability access reviews.
Sure, venues themselves need to do more and make sure they are accessible by default – because it is the right thing to do, not as a “box-ticking” exercise. But Access Rating will hold them accountable and pro-actively encourage them to do more when it comes to accessibility.
It encourages venues to have those difficult conversations with themselves around if they can truly call themselves accessible.
Only with this approach will we achieve real, tangible change for the 11 million people around the UK who are living with a disability.
Honestly, we deserve better. We deserve accessible venues nationwide. But above all else, we deserve to be able to say yes to plans without access anxiety.
Let’s work together to be rid of it once and for all. Find out more about Access Rating and get involved here.
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