Approaching Rio 2016 Paralympics, Channel 4 released their trailer for the games – a phenomenal celebration of disabled people and their achievements. But how’s life for ordinary people with disabilities, living in the UK?
The UK’s equality watchdog has called out on British society, saying it doesn’t treat disabled people as equal citizens. Equality and Human Rights Commission chairman David Isaac told the BBC: “The everyday rights non-disabled people take for granted, such as being able to access transport, housing, restaurants, theatres and sporting events, are still being denied.” He calls for stronger legislation, saying the progress had stopped – which is a “badge of shame” on society.
A visually impaired writer, Seline Mills told the BBC that even though black cabs in London should be accessible to disabled people by law, that doesn’t stop them from driving away. Wheelchair users struggle to get into restaurants – often having to go through the kitchen, because that is the only accessible way.
The government said it was investing more than £115m to support disabled people into work and improve public services. The failures are not just the government’s fault, added Isaac. Businesses, concert venues and stadiums also have to improve their accessibility. There need to be changes in attitudes as well, said The Leonard Chesire Disability charity.
“Disabled people face a myriad of challenges, but a key one is the ability to safely get around. We have heard from disabled people, specifically wheelchair users and blind people, about taxi drivers refusing to pick them up or being overcharged for their journey.”
The watchdog’s reveal followed up on a House of Lords report from March, conducted to investigate the Equality Act 2010’s impact on disabled people. It criticised the government for “failing in its duty of care to disabled people”. The report highlighted the “transport nightmares” people with disabilities experience. Without being able to access public transport, they loose their independence.
Reality shows a rather sad picture. Just in the last 1-2 months, there were several cases of misconduct against disabled people. Last week, the BBC reported that Eurostar stores bicycles in disabled toilets on overcrowded trains. Even though Eurostar said it’s a temporary solution that happened occasionally, disability charities find it unacceptable.
New trains were introduced recently that could only fit bicycles which have been taken apart. Eurostar’s request to their passengers – not to carry assembled bicycles – was met with criticism. After thousands of complaints it was withdrawn, which left the company with the alternative solution to use disabled toilets as storage. They made sure wheelchair bound passengers are always seated near the accessible toilets but charities argue that not every disabled person is in a wheelchair.
Cyclists are not happy about this temporary measure either – they were surprised by the decision and said it was not acceptable. Alan Benson, chairman of Transport for All claimed the new policy disrespectful. “Disabled passengers must not be allowed to suffer as a result of extremely poor design of these multi-million pound trains.” A Eurostar spokesman told The Independent they are modifying their luggage space and their service is dedicated to support disabled passengers throughout their journey.
A case of discrimination was brought to the UK’s highest court last month. Doug Paulley was let down by a bus company in 2012 when a mother with a sleeping baby used the wheelchair space. The driver asked her to move but she refused so Paulley wasn’t able to board the bus. Chief executive of Mumsnet told The Guardian: “A lack of space on crowded buses can cause problems for those travelling with pushchairs, shopping and babies; Mumsnet users would like to see more flexible space for storage, but certainly not at the expense of wheelchair users.”
British Airlines are also criticised by equality watchdog for not taking good enough care of their disabled customers. Actor Athena Stevens has taken legal action, claiming her wheelchair was damaged during a working trip last year. Chris Holmes, disability commissioner on the Equality and Human Rights Commission says that British air carriers need to cover the full cost of damaged equipments.
The trailer for Rio 2016 Paralymics shows a different picture. It’s celebrating all the things disabled people can achieve – it doesn’t stop at sports, musicians, parents, office workers are also included. Joy fills us watching these moments and we can’t help but hum along with the song. But what do people who live with disability think of this celebration of “superhumans”?
The Guardian and The Independent both published opinions from disabled people’s point of view. Lucy Catchpole reveals mixed feelings – she is happy about the publicity and recognition but worried that it could backfire on disabled people. She raises concern about the slogans saying “yes I can” and “there’s no such thing I can’t”. Are able-bodied people going to find non-superhumans even more frustrating with their weaknesses?
“But then we come to people like me. The majority. The totally non-inspirational disabled people. What does “no such word as can’t” and “yes I can” mean for me? It means I am a failure. I can’t walk, and I accept that.”
James Moore goes even further, saying “As the Commission appears to recognise, if you have disabilities to contend with you’re not so much a superhuman as you are a subhuman.” He acknowledges Channel 4’s efforts, but he says that it’s way too little for disabled people to be “treated as they deserve. As humans.”