Disability Sports Ambassador

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

10 Comments have been made

DavidG says:

To ‘worthless without delivery” I’d add ‘worthless without enforcement, and deliberately so’.

Selene says:

It sometimes the everyday [horrible] things that grind us down the most, I think. They represent the big picture that those with a disability are not, fundamentally, included. Enjoyed your post, thanks.

Sally says:

Thank you Geoff … good to read you at BADD … may I suggest you copy this to the Paraolympic and Olympic organisations and Boris ?

truly. and the more people who speak out and write letters, the better.

your voice will make a difference.


Moose says:

Argh! I’m so sorry to hear that things are just as bad in the UK as they are in the US.

It’s the same handwaving over here. “Look how great we’re doing” without any clue what accessibility really means. It’s disheartening, at best.

Thank you for your post.

Chris Barnes says:

Makes me want to weep, gnash my teeth or punch someone BUT your way is best by writing about it and as others have suggested sending it on to Coe, Boris and others…..

This is an excellent post that just highlights the small things that people with disabilities encounter every day. In many cases a small amount of awareness can turn a situation from one where a disabled person is considered to be an inconvenience, to one where they become an interesting human being worth interacting with. If truth be told, most of us are pretty independent and given a small amount of help aren’t really an inconvenience at all! Without sounding like we are trying to advertise, please visit our website and please consider passing on our details if you think we can help.
Thank you and many thanks for a great post.

Kirsty Shepherd says:

Saddens me to read but so so true a fight im having on a daily basis, my 11 year old son has Cerebral palsy and the organizing that has to go into daily getting around is a nightmare, and I can only imagine as he gets older and heavier will get harder even simple things like needing an electric wheelchair for sports and high school in September is a huge nightmare local PCT will not supply, so my fight begins trying to get funding from charities but again the recession has affected them, and there waiting list are years long , anyway it is really helpful to read your blog with thanks Kirsty and Nicki x

catherine harris says:

good on you mate. It makes me so mad at times. Recently I have supported two wheelchair users one on a trip to cardiff where the guys at the station ticked us off when we wanted to go home early so not on our booked slot. And on a morre recent trip to london where we went out as a group and had two wheelchair users with us. It caused such a kerfuffle as we were told (by their rules) that we could only book one wheelchair slot. they complained that we had more than one wheelchair user. the accessible toilet on the train was out of order . why should people with disabilities even have to book in advance , its 2011 for goodness sake! I think what really made me mad though was in 2011 the underground is not wheelchair user friendly why not forgoodness sake!

Mark C says:

So sorry to hear about your experience and hope that had I been there would not have stood by without intervening.
Best wishes to you.

Comment on this article


Find more in the full archive

About Geoff Holt

An ex-professional yachtsman with many ocean crossings under his belt, Geoff Holt was paralysed in a swimming accident in 1984....

Read more about Geoff...

Join Geoff

on water

The story of Geoff Holt's Personal Everest Solo Round Britain challenge. Order online or find out more.

Geoff in the news