The Fragility of Accessibility: More than just an Inconvenience

Michael Clinton, MSc. Managing Director, Initiative Homes, 20 January 2016

Accessible, affordable sustainable homes – that is our tagline. I was reminded recently about the importance of accessibility, but also of its fragility by a couple of tweets associated with the #dontblockthedrop campaign from the DisabledGo website. The tweets were pictures of drop curbs blocked by cars and vans.

The problem is a drop curb is a vital part of a journey for a disabled person in a wheelchair or mobility scooter, not to mention parents with baby buggies or prams. You’d be surprised, when I pipe up about the subject, how many new parents admit to suddenly being aware of drop curbs, especially when they are blocked! However, where a young and probably fit parent can tackle a curb in relative safety, there is no such option for many wheelchair users or indeed mobility scooters.

So what happens when a wheelchair or scooter user finds either a blocked drop curb or indeed NO drop curb, not an uncommon occurrence? Well often it means the end of the journey if no alternative can be found around the blockage. I know of disabled people who have missed medical appointments because they could not get passed a parked van or car. But here is a thought, what if the journey was the return journey? What if the person in the wheelchair was trying to get home after buying food? How long before they could get home?

So what has this got to do with building houses? Well developers don’t just build houses, they build roads, pavements, cycle paths, shops, community centres all as part of their house building programmes. How many new sites have you seen where there are steps into the house? There is a new development on my journey to work where some of the new homes have level access. Great! But the path from the front door leads straight to the road, there is no footpath along the street, just a 3inch curb down into the road! That is a very short 6 foot journey in a wheelchair..!

This is not just about disabled people being inconvenienced. It has real cost implications for the individual and the country. For the individual what chance do they have if they cannot guarantee being able to get into work reliably, but before that comes finding a job. How often do you hear people, particularly politicians, say get on yer bike and find a job!? I have done that and found myself nearly crawling on all fours up a flight of four steps, just to knock on the door! On that occasion I drove to the potential employer, but if I had to use a wheelchair I would probably not even got as far as the four offending steps! So no job! That is a hell of a price to pay because someone didn’t think about accessibility…

But what of the cost to the country? Putting aside the fact that disabled people can be just as innovative and creative as any other person, there is the problem of vulnerability. Last year bed blocking was in the headlines. Vulnerable people medically fit to be discharged, but unable to leave hospital because their home environment – and that includes getting food in, journey to the shops, drop curbs – is unsafe. So they have to stay in hospital until either they can safely cope or a care support package can be put in place. Wouldn’t be easier if more of the built environment was accessible?

This is where we believe responsibility comes in. Not just individual responsibility but also corporate responsibility. It is time that we thought about the impact of our decisions, whether it is parking across a drop curb, or failing to provide reasonable access on our new developments. Why? Because such lack of responsibility taking pushes the cost onto the country and worst of all onto vulnerable people.

Here is a little experiment for you. Next time you go walking through town on an errand or even to work, look for the dropped curbs. If they do not exist or are blocked, stop for a moment and think about what that would mean for the rest of your day if you could not complete your journey. Please do try it.