Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Disability Access Day

Following on from my stunning achievement in upsetting all wrong-thinking people on the subject of The Undateables last night I am about to court yet more controversy.

That’s because I learned earlier today that next Saturday, January 17, is Disability Access Day. That’s actually quite a poignant date for me. It would have been my old mate Martin’s 39th birthday had he not passed away in mid-August of last year. He was never in my league as a nay-sayer and all around nihilist so I have no doubt that he wouldn’t have had a problem with Disability Access Day as a concept. But I’m afraid that predictably and rather yawnsomely, I do. Now, before I hit my seething, sardonic straps on the subject let me first explain to you what this means and then try and offer something resembling a balanced view on it. Disability Access Day, according to its website, is ‘all about getting out and visiting a venue that you have never been to before – whether a cinema, coffee shop, sports centre or anywhere else’. Over 200 companies have pledged their support to the event and several places of interest such as Buckingham Palace, the Houses Of Parliament, Cutty Sark and the National Theatre are offering free tours or tours that have been specially adapted so that they can be enjoyed by people with a whole range of disabilities and access issues. All well and good. What is not to like about that? What could even I, the man with the most poisonous pen in the North of England when it comes to disability issues, find to object to?

Strengthening the event’s appeal is the fact that it is being run by a group of disabled people and their family and friends who are based in Scotland. Now clearly that is well intentioned and these people have obviously identified a glaring, gaping hole in the world where disability access should be. Recognising that not all disabled people have my abilities I am sure that there are some people out there who will find this initiative beneficial. In fact this has been made perfectly clear to me in no uncertain terms. But equally some disabled people might find the invitation to get ‘out and about and visit a venue that you have not been to before – whether a cinema, coffee shop, sports centre or anywhere else’ faintly offensive. As if we hadn’t thought of it before or had never had the brains to explore ways of doing so until someone thought of Disability Access Day. There is merit in what this group are trying to achieve here, but I would argue that they are not the first to discover that there are problems with access on pretty much every corner. It’s just that some of us choose to address them by drunkenly climbing up the stairs to a nightclub on our backside or shouting abuse at taxi drivers who ‘don’t do wheelchairs’, while others choose to organise initiatives like this which in a just world would be entirely superfluous. You pays your money and takes your choice as to which you think is the approach with the most impact. Oh and by the way, free tours? I’ve paid to visit several of the places listed on the website for Disability Access Day and am hoping that on that basis I qualify for a refund. I’ve been financially punished because I know how to use Google and didn’t rely on some very well intentioned people to make the arrangements for me. The injustice.

The website also promises that you can ‘try an accessible bus’. I’m not sure exactly what this means. Hopefully it is geared towards helping the people with access issues who have hitherto been too affected by their mobility problems to give it a go for themselves. I didn’t know those people existed until today so I think we can say that we have all learned something from Disability Access Day already. Perhaps that itself is justification for it and suggests that I should shut my metaphorical cake-hole. Presumably anyone ‘trying an accessible bus’ at a specially arranged event like this will not find that the only accessible space available is already occupied by the lady from across the road who is eight months pregnant and who is already pushing a twin buggy.

So it’s the need for such a day in the first place and the back-slapping that is going on as a result of it, that’s what I object to. Although with a heavy heart I am prepared to accept that actually there might well be a need for it, and on that basis congratulate the people involved for trying to do something which they say will raise awareness and have some sort of lasting effect. I just feel very sceptical about that particular outcome. Clearly the 200 companies involved should provide access as a matter of routine and not be shouting out ‘look at us, we’re helping out on this particular day’ in what seems to be in grave danger of becoming some kind of self-indulgent disability access dick measuring exhibition. I very much hope that some of the 200 companies who are involved are potential places of employment for disabled people, because that is where arguably the biggest access issue resides. We’ve all turned up for job interviews only to find that there’s a flight of 27 stairs to be negotiated. It’s all very well making it easier for disabled people to pop into their local Costa and spend £3 on cup of boiling hot water and a tea bag but wouldn’t we all be better off if we could eliminate the very notion of inaccessible places of employment? Wouldn’t that truly enhance our options and subsequently our lives? And not just for one day, but forever? Perceptive types among you will have noted that January 17 is a Saturday so my feeling is that many places of employment will dodge this particular bullet and access to their premises will not improve even for one day. I can’t include my employer in that as it has always provided excellent access and is as good an employer for people with disabilities and access issues as there is in all of the UK. It’s such a shame that I’m not allowed to name them here and so they won’t actually get any credit in the eyes of the few hundred people who might stumble across this piece.

I really do regret that despite my best efforts, I appear to have failed to be overly positive about Disability Access Day. I just can’t get past the idea that it is yet more lip service in the tricky sphere of disability awareness. As with the gruesome Undateables, other minority groups would not countenance it. When is black access day or gay access day?

And why, why oh fucking why, isn’t every day Disabled, Black And Gay Access Day in any case?

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