Dear Mr Cameron
Making Great Barr great for Disabled People
My name is Aideen Blackborough and I have had Cerebral Palsy since birth. Although I have some mobility, I use an electric wheelchair to get from A to B and rely heavily on my wheelchair in order to maintain my independence. In 2011, I gave up a full-time management position in a charity in order to focus on building my own training business which specialises in Equality and Diversity issues. Being disabled, it’s something very close to my heart and I set it up not only to try and earn a living, but to try and make a difference to other people’s lives.
In May 2012, my husband and I relocated from Reading to my childhood home of Great Barr in Birmingham. Upon returning to the area, I began to notice how inaccessible the local area was for disabled people and after doing a considerable amount of research, I launched a campaign to “Make Great Barr great for Disabled People”.
At my own expense, I compiled the enclosed report and despite being pregnant with my first baby, I hand delivered it to the 81 retailers in the area, as well as sending copies to Sandwell Council and my local MP, Tom Watson. I offered the retailers help and support to become more accessible; an offer which none of them accepted. In fact, the response from all parties was extremely disappointing. Just one of the 81 retailers responded to say that their head office would look at the report and it took Sandwell Council six months to respond.
In a letter dated 18th September, the Council requested the details of those retailers who were considered to be completely inaccessible, “in order that we can write to them reminding them of their duties under the Equality Act.” I subsequently provided this information to the council but in their next letter, dated 20th December, the council did a complete U-turn by stating, “Unfortunately, the council does not have sufficient resources to send follow up letters to those premises that have not responded to your report.”
The Council have passed the buck to me and they seem to think that I have the time and resources to do this work for them: “…the council’s Access Officer in our Street Scene Directorate is happy to email you a guidance document that may be of use to you which sets out the responsibilities of premise owners under the Equalities Act…” The retailers have already ignored my initial letter and report so even if I did circulate this guidance document, it is unlikely to have any impact. The very fact that the council has the guidance document is indicative of the fact that they should be sending it out to local businesses.
It is clear from my report that the Equality Act 2010 is being totally ignored by local businesses but the council is totally unwilling to do anything about it. Their responses thus far have focused on the fact that Building Regulations and accessibility requirements can only be reinforced with new buildings which require planning permission. However, the council have totally overlooked the responsibility that all businesses have to make reasonable adjustments so that disabled customers can access their goods and services. As I am sure you are aware, the majority of reasonable adjustments do not require businesses to make major structural changes. I think it is about time that the Equality Act was properly enforced rather than being a piece of legislation which is merely paid lip service.
A year after launching my campaign for better access, I was so frustrated with the Council’s lack of interest that I decided to write to the Minister for Disabled People, Mr Mike Penning. I had asked him to clarify who is responsible for enforcing the Equality Act and if he would kindly help my campaign. Almost three months on, I am still awaiting a response from him and it seems like nobody cares about the rights of disabled people. I feel like I am fighting a losing, one-woman battle but it is just not in my nature to give up.
It is completely unacceptable that twenty years on from the Disability Discrimination Act, I am still fighting for access for disabled people. Having moved around the UK, and travelled extensively, I know that Great Barr is not the only town that has poor disabled access and if I had the resources, I would compile another report highlighting the national issues regarding disabled access.
I understand that in the scheme of running the country, this will not be a major priority but I am writing to you as nobody else is listening to me. I feel really strongly that disabled people should be encouraged and supported to participate in society as much as possible but if such barriers continue to exist, disabled people will sadly continue to be isolated from the rest of society.
I hope that you may be able to find some time to consider my enclosed report and advise me on how I can take this matter forward.
Thank-you for your time.