For many disabled people we can sometimes feel like that joy and good will passes us by. I’m always shocked at the awful stories I hear when people contact me about their experiences with the benefits system, social services and local councils as well as when they try to do everyday things, like visit shops and use transport. As it’s meant to be a happy time of year I thought I’d tell you something that might cheer those of you feeling less than festive up a little.
Throughout my life I’ve experienced an attitude that disabled people are troublesome. Our desire to live a normal life makes everyone else’s lives difficult. I found that I was made to feel I should just accept things as they are and be grateful for the little changes there has been. Whether it was a few disabled people on our TV screens or a few changes in the accessibility of the world around us, I met just too many people who wanted praise for doing very little. Recently that seems to have changed.
It started at a meeting at the BBC. I met with one of their senior managers with a focus on inclusion, diversity and representation. I’ve had so many of these types of meetings over the years but this one was different. No talk of a talent search or tokenism. Just an earnest desire to learn and to make things better. Not just for more disabled faces on screen, but behind the camera and in management. I left that meeting wheeling on air as I hadn’t heard so many positive things from a media company in 29 years of working in the industry.
Then I went up to Derby, where I am working on the redevelopment of the city’s historic market hall for a meeting with the team involved in the project. I’m the external access advisor and I’m training all involved on inclusive universal design practices. I’m used to sitting in on these kinds of meetings and feeling like an unwanted guest at a party. I knew the council was very keen to make the project fully inclusive but the room was also filled with architects,
heritage experts and the people involved in the running of the market, which can pose problems sometimes. However, again I was so wrong as everyone was so passionate about not only building access into the project but making everything as inclusively accessible as possible. There was a real desire to change the rule book and build
something that showed the way for the future – in a listed building no less! Not just for disabled shoppers, but for disabled people who want to work or open stalls in the market. This time I flew out of the meeting feeling like I could touch the moon.
Recently my wife Diane and I took a trip to the newly opened Coal Drop Yard, in the heart of London’s Kings Cross area. This is a really historic area of London with loads of listed railway buildings. It used to be home to some major nightclubs in the 90s and I knew it well, as I used to DJ and party there throughout the rave era. It was not good on access. Yet as we wandered around we were blown away by the super duper access they now have. Everywhere we went it wasn’t just accessible, but done in such a way that made you experience the space like everyone else. Inclusive.
It was a dream. During our short visit we saw lots of other disabled people, all out with their families and friends, also enjoying the ease of such an inclusive space. I then heard that the amazing Tracey Proudlock and her company Proudlock Associates were the access consultants on the development. Obviously the developers had listened to her advice and this had paid off for all.
I really think we might finally be getting through to the people with the power to make change. I go into 2019 feeling more positive than I have in a long time. I doubt we will see change quickly but I wonder if 2020 might mark a time when we begin to feel welcome and accepted once we venture outside our front door.
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