As of the time I write this blog (on the 19th of July 2022), the UK is undergoing one of its most intense heatwaves ever, with temperatures surpassing 40 degrees for the very first time on record. Although we have seen a rise in temperature in the summer months for the best part of a decade now, the insurmountable wave of heat, which started to hit real hard across the weekend, is widely regarded to be a result of the ongoing global climate crisis.

British people tend to enjoy complaining about the weather as a general pastime, but there is a legitimate cause for concern across the country when it comes to the unprecedented temperatures we are all trying to beat today. Many of the most affected by the heat are demonstrably disabled people, and though the sun’s rays are naturally dangerous to anybody who faces them unprotected, the hot weather is also a genuine accessibility barrier and concern.

Heat like this might be a minor annoyance for some of us, but for others, it can be lethal. We hope to shine a light (no pun intended) on some of these issues today, and highlight advice so that we can keep safe over the next few days.

When it comes to physical disability, there are many causes for concern that might not be obvious to most of us. One of which is that blind people who would normally use guide dogs to get around are suddenly unable to do so. Naturally, anyone with sense understands why it is unwise, bordering on unethical, to walk a dog during extreme heat, but this implies severe consequences for blind people who rely on guide animals to get around. The access concern is the consequently restricted navigation and movement. Consequently, Guide Dog UK is advising that users of guide dogs test the pavement by placing their hand on it, and that if they find it too hot to handle, then it certainly will be for their guide dog. Although this protects the dogs, this offers no solution to the problem of restricted access that guide dog users face.

Another unfortunate victim of the heatwave is people with MS, of which there are 130,000 in the UK. Due to the fact that this condition prevents messages from the brain and spinal cord from reaching other parts of the body, the MS Society has reported that people have experienced fatigue, muscle spasms, and changes to vision. This is yet another example where extreme heat leads to an imbalance of equality of access. In response, the MS Society is recommending that disabled people expose themselves to cold water frequently, either by running their hands under taps or simply having a cold bath. Wearing a cooling vest is another highly recommended and more practical solution.

In fact, cooling vests are a great way to beat the heat for people with a multitude of disabilities, including mental disabilities, such as Anxiety, Parkinson’s (which can cause mental health problems, in addition to tremors), as well as Bipolar disorder, and Schizophrenia.  This is because cooling vests have slots in the front and back where cool packs -which freeze at 14 to 16 degrees – are inserted to keep people cool, that might otherwise struggle with mental health maintenance due to the lack of sleep, agitation, and effects of medication that occur during exposure to these high-temperature weather conditions.

Furthermore, about 7.3 million people (17% of the UK population) take antidepressant medications, and because SSRIs are notorious for causing dehydration, extreme weather conditions like these are undoubtedly exacerbating this effect on users. Little can be recommended at this time beyond opening windows and closing curtains, which is yet another a troubling access concern. As an inconvenience to some of us, others are finding it impossible to leave their home and go about their regular day. Solutions must be found in order to identify, like Covid-19, how we can adjust our lives to live with this seemingly inevitable global warming crisis.

Rethink Mental Illness is strongly advising that anyone that experiencing a mental health dip as a result of the heatwave should book an appointment with a doctor, who might be able to recommend an alternative medication or facilitate further assistance to maintain their mental health.

As well as carefully following health advice, including that recommended by the government recently, one solution to the problem we must build towards as a society is recognising that vast improvement to building infrastructure is a necessity if future UK summer temperatures are to further exceed 40 degrees.

As much of the UK population lives in houses or flats designed to keep the heat in, a redirected focus on building homes that regulate temperature should be more commonplace, while air conditioning units, which are a common staple in American homes out of necessity, must become more affordable to UK citizens. Really it only takes a quick google to realise that the poorest of our population are disabled people to understand the severity of this need. If we are to experience heatwaves like this regularly in the future, action must be taken now to prevent significant damage to the health of disabled people.

Direct Access is more than ready to do our bit towards this. As The City of London Corporation has recently confirmed the appointment of our Consultancy team as Access Consultants for all the district’s housing estates, which together amass a total of 2,900 homes. Spanning all the public spaces within these estates, including parks, car parks, pathways, and gardens – we will ensure that our audits meet best practice standards of access, including proper regulation of temperature so that disabled homeowners can avoid dreading the hot summers and the multitude of issues that come as a result.

If you own a facility or are part of an organisation that is considering your accessibility, get in touch with Direct Access today. Our Consultancy team will ensure that you take the steps to not only do the right thing within your budget but open the door to the social and financial benefits that come only as a result of creating an accessible and inclusive environment for disabled people.

Click the button below to view our Access Consultancy services options, or get in contact with a member of our team today using the online form below.

We are here to help. Because for us, access is personal.

Written by Michael Miller


Direct Access Consultancy Limited
Room 2, Regent House
Princes Court
Beam Heath Way
Nantwich, CW5 6PQ.

Tel: 0845 056 4421.

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