Today as I start to write we are 30 minutes away from the first Mental Health Minute. Simultaneously across radio stations, we will hear the voices of many different celebrities. These voices are raising the awareness of Mental Health issues.
The media has improved Mental Health awareness. Celebrities have lent their voices to this worthy course.
Hiding in the shadows, however, is another cause which needs as much publicity. The plight affecting our countries wheelchair users.
Last weekend I took a trip to London with my little girl. She is ten months old and of course in a pushchair. We took a simple trip to London. Onto the underground, leaving at South Kensington, to the National History Museum.
Up until this point, I was among the ignorant masses. I was under the impression that this would not be a difficult trip. As a nation we have made provision for our wheelchair users, a pushchair would not be a problem in our capital city.
“You can’t understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”
When we arrived at South Kensington we asked a member of staff where the lift was. The man actually laughed at me. There were no lifts. Our only option was to carry our little girl and her pushchair up the stairs. Not a problem for two able-bodied people.
Now imagine you were a wheelchair user getting off the tube at South Kensington. How do you get up the stairs? The simple answer is you don’t.
Only 36% of Tube Stations in London have lifts.
Stations are not the only issue for wheelchair users in London. Two Museum in the area have parts that cannot is accessed if using a wheelchair. Both need considerable detours to reach lifts to be able to access higher floors. Lifts are placed sporadically and there are not enough.
In a city that hosted the Olympics, we should be doing better. Sadiq Khan has used public money for water fountains in London. When the money could have been used for more accessibility. Ironically, some wheelchair users will struggle to use the new shiny water fountains.
There are 1.2 million wheelchair users in the UK
On our return journey, we spoke to a wheelchair user about access. She told us stories of being stuck on a train in Sheffield because no one came to help her off with a ramp. Shocking even with our new bullet trains we need a removable ramp to access the carriages. Advancements in technology means retractable ramps could be added to transport.
She also gave us the address of a website which helps you plan a simple journey where access is needed. A plan needs to be made when wheelchair users leave the house. The UK does not have the access arrangements for people to just go out and see where they end up.
As a nation, we have moved on from the day of wheelchair users having to travel in the guard carriage on trains. Have we, however, come far enough? I believe we have just scratched the surface of how we can help out 1.2 million UK citizens.
Be brave step into a wheelchair users life for just one day and experience their daily struggle. God forbid that one day you have to step into their life permanently.
Our government’s lack of funding means inaccessibility is what truly disables wheelchair users.