- Blogging Against Disablism Day (1st May 2011) Published under | 10 Comments
An open-letter to the community
Blogging Against Disabilsm Day
1st May 2011
To whom it may concern
The Equalities Act: Worthless without delivery.
I have spent more than half of my life paralysed from the neck down with no alternative but use a powered wheelchair. Since becoming disabled in 1984 at the age of 18, I have witnessed disabled facilities in the UK come a long way. But is it enough? Legislation like the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act (now the Equalities Act), has been the “stick” by which corporations, large and small, have woken up to the needs of disabled people. Some have been forced, but most have made changes voluntarily, keen to demonstrate their corporate social responsibility. Millions of pounds have been spent to ensure disabled people have equal access to jobs, to transport, to goods and services. Corporations boast about their CSR in their annual reports and websites.
But all of this good work in creating an inclusive culture can so easily be rendered worthless. Because, despite the investment, the accessible infrastructure, the hours of strategic planning, the entire premise of equality and inclusion is built upon one thing, and that is delivery. And that delivery is down to their staff on the frontline, many of whom lack even basic disability awareness training.
In the past month alone, I have witnessed first-hand catastrophic failures by staff which would leave their CEO’s weeping into their cornflakes. For example, the South West Trains guard at Waterloo Station who, after falsely accusing me of not having booked the disabled space on that train (did you know disabled people have to book at least 24 hours in advance to claim one of only two disabled spaces on each train?), then tried to suggest I could not board the train because my wheelchair had batteries, something which has not concerned other train guards for the past quarter of a century. I will also mention the OCS staff at Gatwick airport; they are charged with boarding disabled passengers onto flights. Despite many pre-notifications, they arrived so late at the aircraft door that it was too late to pre-board me and I had the indignity of being lifted in front of, and then dragged through, a plane full of 400 people, leaving my 8 year old son close to tears because everyone was staring at his Dad being man-handled. And then there is the De Vere hotel group who’s staff allow customers, particularly those with Bentley’s and Ferrari’s, to park in the designated disabled bays without displaying blue badges and refuse to ask them to move because “they don’t have contact details” for the drivers, who are guests in the hotel. I’ll finish this sample list by mentioning the London taxi drivers (so far three this month) who, despite displaying their “For Hire” lights, have quite blatantly turned them off when I have put my hand up to hail them. It doesn’t take a genius to realise they don’t want the inconvenience of getting their ramps out, particularly when it is raining. In a letter of response, Transport For London have defended their actions by stating it is permissible for cabbies to do this; the only time they cannot refuse a fare is if they are displaying “For Hire” whilst waiting on a designated rank. Remember that next time you are lucky enough to hail a cab in a street. I could go on. These examples provide no more than a snapshot of the discrimination disabled people face every day of our lives. It is endemic and is based on a fundamental lack of understanding of disabled people and their needs.
As a successful businessman and sailing adventurer, compared to the “can do” attitude I experience overseas, I sometimes wonder exactly how far we as a nation have come. And it saddens me. The investment of all that time and money by corporations is utterly wasted without competent and sensitive delivery. Disabled people are not looking for special treatment, all we expect is fair treatment. With the 2012 Paralympics on the doorstep, not only London-centric businesses, but so too the entire UK, need to ensure they are ready for the challenge. If not, then the Equalities Commission can not only wave a big stick, they have teeth as well.
Geoff Holt MBE