Accessibility is an issue even for our leaders

At Direct Access, our mission is to guide people towards creating an accessible, disability-friendly society through education and action. However, at the same time, we appreciate that creating a just and equal society for disabled people takes time, patience, and money to adapt to the challenges. Over the years, we have guided many businesses, charities, schools, office blocks, museums, and world expositions towards equal access environments that cater to the needs of disabled people. Though many of them were not aware of the issues these facilities presented for disabled people, one thing we can say they do have in common is the knowledge that change was required to begin with – whether for their own financial benefit or simply because it was the right thing to do.

It is for this reason that we are shocked to learn of the BBC’s report that this month’s COP26 summit, a gathering of world leaders on the topic of one of society’s most pressing issues (climate change) was not accessible for Minister Karine Elharrar, who is a wheelchair user. The UK’s Environment Secretary, George Eustice, said the incident was “deeply regrettable” and the government had apologised to Ms. Elharrar – who has muscular dystrophy.

Any great cultural shift in our society is only implemented by people with influence leading by example, not only are we appalled that the conference grounds chosen for the summit did not meet accessibility guidelines, but that the UK’s environment secretary, George Eustice, dared to blame Mrs. Elharrar, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “What would normally happen in this situation is that Israel would have communicated that they had that particular need for their minister. How can we expect regular business owners and local organisations to take responsibility for their facilities’ lack of accessibility if our own leaders refuse to do the same and jump to blame the person with a disability? To George, we say, the UN’s choice of venue should have had wheelchair access, to begin with.

Our Senior Access Consultant, Tom Morgan, who is himself a wheelchair user comments; “I am sure that many disabled people know exactly how Israeli Minister, Karine Elharrar, felt when she could not attend the COP26 summit on Monday.  I think she used all her considerable diplomatic skills to tweet that it was “sad” the UN “does not provide accessibility to its events”.  Regardless of the size and complexity of an event, it is essential that suitable accessibility arrangements are in place to meet the needs of disabled people. In 2021 disabled people should be confident that they can access and participate fully without having to declare their needs and requirements beforehand.  Don’t place the burden on disabled people to make you aware of their requirements place the emphasis on providing accessibility in the design and management of the built environment.”

Direct Access is a disability-led organisation and as such we are proud to offer advice, audits, and our award-winning access consultancy so that scenarios like these are never allowed to happen. If you wish to boost the accessibility of your organisation’s facility for disabled people, get in touch with us today. 

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