From Ramps to Disabled Access Lifts: How the World Has Become a Friendlier Place for Disabled People
If you live with a disability, day to day life can be difficult. A person with mobility issues, a sensory disability or cognitive impairment is far more likely to struggle with the daily tasks that others take for granted, whether that’s making a long-distance journey on public transport or even just getting around their own home. Awareness around accessibility has been slowly growing over the past few years and is now a key concern for governments, local councils, public transport providers and employers. This spike in awareness is mostly due to the implementation of the Equality Act 2010, which protects people from discrimination in the workplace, as well as in wider society.
The Act is an overarching piece of legislation, protecting from discrimination against age, religion, sex and race, as well as disability. It applies to various contexts, from workplaces and schools to public services and consumer settings. Under the Equality Act, disabled people can make complaints about unlawful discrimination, however, the Act also encourages positive action regarding recruitment and promotion and sets out guidelines for business owners for how to treat disabled staff.
Despite all of this, there are still obstacles for disabled people in public spaces and many people with disability issues state that they still feel like second-class citizens in places like train stations, shopping centres and even just on the pavement. In this blog, we take a look at the different spaces in society where disabled people are continuing to face such barriers, but also where positive change is slowly being implemented, making the world a friendlier place for all.
As a disabled person, your home is probably kitted out to suit your needs with various mobility aids such as stairlifts, wheelchair access and bathroom aids. Your home is your safe space, however, stepping out into the wider world can feel extremely daunting, particularly if you don’t know whether the public spaces you want to occupy will be accessible or not.
Unfortunately, some public spaces were not originally designed with disabilities in mind and need to be altered as the awareness for disability rights increases. For example, these could include building ramps and wheelchair lift access where there are only steps or stairs, installing handrails on steep staircases and offering alternatives to visual signs to alert people of dangers or provide information. Disabled access and the Equality Act is about making opportunities equal for all and not restricting certain areas or spaces.
Whilst there is still a way to go, there are many devices in operation in public spaces that aid disabled people through their day-to-day activities. For example, most pedestrian crossings have plastic or metal cones underneath them which spin when it’s safe to cross, alerting blind or deaf pedestrians who can’t hear the crossing signal or see the green man.
Similarly, most car parks have disabled parking spaces which offer more space for drivers and passengers to get in and out of their vehicle. Disabled drivers or passengers can obtain a Blue Badge to inhibit them to use these spaces, either through automatic eligibility based on disability benefits or through an application process.
Unfortunately, these provisions for disabled people aren’t strict legal obligations and are individually managed by local authorities and businesses. However, the Equality Act at least gives disabled people the opportunity to speak up about a situation or context where they felt discriminated against and hopefully engender change for the future.
Some public spaces are more disability-friendly than others; healthcare institutions like hospitals, doctors surgeries and private clinics tend to have better disabled access as they’ve been designed with disabilities in mind. Yet, other public spaces like shopping centres and supermarkets are still catching up, and their disability access depends on the decisions of individual management. In an ideal world, public space must be made truly public for all, which means including lift access through multi-story buildings, installing handrails and ramps, using alternative communication methods such as braille and always providing accessible toilet facilities.
Disabled access on public transport has been a contentious subject for many years, with many people feeling restricted by the few disability-friendly routes and lack of provision in place. Despite the Equality Act, amending public transport to be accessible for all is going to be a long, drawn-out process, as original designs and infrastructure simply weren’t created with disabilities in mind. However, this is not to say that it isn’t slowly improving; awareness is constantly growing and providers are becoming more proactive about making transport a friendlier place for disabled people.
Buses have always been some of the most accessible public transport options, and newer models tend to include ramps or automated steps which lower to ground level, enabling passengers in wheelchairs to climb aboard easily and efficiently. Buses also feature space for wheelchairs and priority seating, making wheelchair users feel more at ease about travelling. London is one of the UK’s cities that is making more progress on their buses; since 2017, it’s been required by law that buses have disabled adjustments, including guidelines for drivers. Drivers must always allow guide dogs on board and must never ever ask a passenger to leave the bus based on a disability.
Trains, on the other hand, are a point of contention. Trains and train stations are still one of the most difficult forms of transport to use for people with all types of disabilities- mobility or otherwise. Shockingly, a study by a disability charity found that disabled travellers can’t access 40% of UK train stations, either due to design, infrastructure or lack of staff. Disabled travellers often complain of feeling like an ‘afterthought’, with the limited disabled provisions in place being temporary fixes that are costly and time-consuming for both parties.
Train stations must continue to improve areas such as car parks, waiting areas, signs and information, toilets, and even the digital processes through which tickets are bought in order to be inclusive. Train providers should also develop the awareness and knowledge of their staff, enrolling them onto courses such as those provided by the National Disability Authority (NDA), resulting in a more open and helpful approach to disabled travel.
The London Underground is another space in which disabled travellers struggle, with three quarters of TFL stations and almost half of overground stations leaving accessibility gaps. However, it’s not all bad news. Recent calls for better disability arrangements have meant that disabled travellers can now get detailed advice about the accessibility of their journey and be given an alternative route. They’re also eligible to ask for a mentor to accompany them on their journeys.
Just like the public spaces that we occupy, the places where we go to work every day must be inclusive and accessible too. The Equality Act 2010 dictates that people shouldn’t feel discriminated against at work, and workplaces must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for disabled employees.
Reasonable adjustments mean amending a workplace in order to accommodate the needs of employees or potential employees; this can be physical alternations like installing disabled lifts, ramps and doorways, but also means offering alternative working conditions such as flexible working hours for disabled staff. However, it is worth noting that these requirements aren’t necessary to carry out in anticipation, i.e. they can be carried out once a disabled person is employed or applies for a role. So, whilst the Equality Act is making progress, it could be argued that this lack of strict regulation still hinders disabled people from being treated equally. Clearly, there is still some way to go.
One space in which the world has most definitely become a friendlier space is within the education system. Under the Equality Act, it’s against the law for a school, college or university to treat disabled students unfavourably and these pupils must have the same opportunities as their classmates throughout their academic careers. Disabled students mustn’t be both directly nor indirectly discriminated against, for example, students shouldn’t be refused admission based on a disability, or be prohibited from going on a school trip because of a mobility or cognitive disability.
Just like the workplace, schools have a duty to make reasonable adjustments and this includes both mobility aids such as wheelchair stairlifts and disabled loos, as well as support from specialist staff who are dedicated to helping students with special educational needs. However, unlike in the workplace, the adjustments made must be anticipatory, in that arrangements must be made in advance of any disabled students entering the institution, rather than implementing adjustments upon application of a disabled student.
Euro Lifts: Supporting the disabled community in the South West with quality disability aids, walking aids and home lifts
Here at Euro Lifts, we understand just how difficult day-to-day life can be for someone with a disability or mobility issue, which is why we’re committed to making both public and private spaces more accessible for all. Our quality range of mobility aids, including wheelchair lifts, stairlifts and patient and bath hoists, are all designed to make moving around smooth, safe and simple for people who would otherwise struggle. All of our products are independently approved for quality and safety and our team of technicians boast the skills and experience to create some of the highest quality products on the market.
As well as disability aids, we also offer an extensive range of other types of lift, including goods lifts, through floor lifts, step lifts, scissor lifts, escalators and more. Further to this, our team are also on hand for lift maintenance services including site surveys, testing, lift repairs and refurbishment. When it comes to lifts and automation, there really is nothing we can’t do. So, whether you want to make your workplace wheelchair friendly or you’re in need of a stairlift for your own home, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us today.