The Simon Heng Column

When I became disabled, I was clear about my attitude towards the
accessibility of buildings and services. If a shop or a commercial
service was inaccessible to me, then I assumed that the
organisation didn’t want my money, so I’d take my business
elsewhere. It was quite simple: I would (metaphorically) vote with
my feet.

It seems that about one in eight people in this country have some
kind of disability, and each of those has friends and relatives. If
each of them behaved in the same way that I did, and encouraged
others to do the same, market forces would eventually force
businesses to pay attention or risk losing trade.

This strategy won’t work with public services: there is, after all,
only one library, one Benefits Agency in my town. Which is why I
became involved in service user issues to help enable users to have
influence over the kinds of services that they get and also to push
community services towards becoming accessible to the people they

The large retail organisations have already made huge changes based
on this knowledge. Rather than have “wheelchair friendly”
checkouts, they are all now wider. There are more blue badge
parking spaces. If you have a disability, many supermarkets will
detail a member of staff to help you shop, if you ask them. Big
businesses don’t make this kind of investment unless it increases
profitability. Even so, the Disability Rights Commission estimates
that there are still four out of five town centres and the same
number of retail businesses that are not fully accessible.

Although I would like to believe public services have an in-built
drive towards improving accessibility, there has always been the
inertia – or excuse – of limited budgets to slow down the pace of
change. The implementation of the last part of the Disability
Discrimination Act 1995 should prove incentive enough, but I’m not
holding my breath: organisations only have to make “reasonable”
adjustments, and I guess we will have to wait for test cases in
court before benchmarks can be laid down. It all takes time.

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.