Okay, so this isn’t a ‘How-To’ guide. It’s more of a ‘How-To Not Remove Human Rights’ type situation.
Often, if I’m out and about with a friend or family member who is able-bodied, they begin to notice the inaccessible inequalities that they are surrounded with. Able-bodied people, it’s not your fault. It’s not something you have ever had to notice. However, it’s like one of those magic eye puzzles; once you see it, it cannot be unseen. Those little steps that seem a few centimetres tall might as well be Trump’s proposed wall – that’s how big of an impact these steps have. Lift out of order? You’re out of here, because there’s no other way for you to get in. Disabled toilet out of use? Just use the regular ones! However, you won’t be able to fit your chair through the doors, or into the stalls. You could leave it outside, risk theft, damage to the chair and to yourself as you struggle. You can struggle even more as there’s no bars to help you get up or down, no cord if you fall or need help.
The fact remains that what is a minor inconvenience for able bodied people can literally be life or death for disabled citizens. These broken lifts and toilets, steps and small doors are a glowing neon sign that says ‘You don’t belong here. We don’t want you here.’
So, why is it still allowed to happen?
The Equality Act 2010 states that everybody has a responsibility to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ if you’re at a ‘significant disadvantage’ because of your disability. This means everyone: education buildings, places of employment, housing, public spaces (like shops and cinemas) and even private spaces, like golf clubs and working men’s clubs. An example that they give is that if your first language is British Sign Language and you’re arrested, the police have a duty to make the adjustment that you receive a translator.
Here’s an example from my day to day life:
Wanting to go to the cinema, we head to the Odeon in our city. Upon reaching the doors, we realise that not only is there no button to help open the door, but there’s no actual ramp to get up to the door, only a flight of steps. Reports of the inside are no better, with more stairs to reach the screens and no lifts available (well, if you needed a lift, you wouldn’t have made it as far as the inside of the building anyway!).
Have the Equality Act’s ‘reasonable adjustments’ been made? Quite frankly, no. There is space for a ramp, space for a lift, or if not, space to make an accessible way to the downstairs screen. This is surely unlawful discrimination, right? Right? Wrong!
This building is protected under the Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas Act 1990 (LBCA), which effectively makes it untouchable. This act overrides the Equality Act, meaning that discrimination towards disabled people in listed buildings is legal.
Although there are many, many buildings that are listed, let’s remain with this cinema for a moment. On the website Historic England (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1064759) , the Odeon cinema is recorded as having ‘special architectural and historic interest’, despite being built in 1934 and never having been anything other than an Odeon cinema. I am possibly missing the point of what is so special about this particular building, which is why it staggers me that it is protected by the LBCA Act.
A consultation from Heritage House (who have ‘more experience, qualifications and technical expertise than any other Chartered Surveyor in the country’) costs £950 for a full day, during which they are able to tell building owners, if making adaptions, how to keep them within the building’s original style and material (https://www.heritage-house.org/stuff-about-old-buildings/consultation-services.html) (other heritage sites are available!). The cost of installing a commercial ramp to the size and style that would be required for this particular building is approximately £2,900, including additional building work (https://gradedtradesmen.co.uk/price/how-much-does-a-wheelchair-ramp-cost). Planning permission in England for adaptions to make buildings accessible for disabled persons is exempt from the usual planning permission fee (https://ecab.planningportal.co.uk/uploads/english_application_fees.pdf) which is one of the few legislative benefits for those with reduced mobility that I have seen so far. Even if the additions weren’t solely for the benefit of the disabled citizens of the area, listed buildings are also exempt from planning permission costs. Therefore, it is actually feasible for a company that, in 2018, made over £162 million gross sales profit, could find as little as £3945, or 0.002% of their profit to make not only a building accessible, but art, music, drama and the unquantifiable necessity of the expansion of horizons.
I’ll leave Odeon alone now.
The matter at hand is that cases like this exist all over the country. Buildings can be listed as:
- Grade 1: Buildings of exceptional interest, of the highest significance
- Grade 2*: Particularly important buildings of more than special interest
- Grade 2: Buildings of special interest, warranting every effort to preserve them
One man’s ‘special interest’ is another woman’s special exclusion. Let my final words be this: If you have a business, take note on how you can change your space. If you ever visit a business and think, wow, this would completely shut out people, tell them how to change and improve their business. If you want to be an ally for disabled people who, in the 21st century, are still legally able to be treated as second class citizens, take your notes too. Change is possible on a large scale if people begin to take notice and ask for it. Me personally? I’m going to become Odeon’s new best friend. Watch this space!
P. S. A recent success story was had in Canterbury’s lovely new café, Stag. After seeing my issues at getting in because of a step meaning I had to drag my own chair in, the owner, right then and there, ordered a ramp for the door. Now, every time I want a coffee, cake, or delicious food, I head over to Stag and use their wonderful ramp. Treat your customers right and we will drag every person who ever says ‘Let’s grab a coffee’ to your business!
If you succeed in getting a business to change its accessibility, let me know or share it on Instagram with the hashtag, #LetUsIn and tag me @lcyhnnhdvs