DISABILITY TODAY by the Eastbourne Access Group
Are We Making Progress?
It is 2020, 30 years after the publication of The Social Model of Disability was published and 20 years since the Equality Act became law but what has changed in that time? The model says that ‘People are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment or difference’ and the Equality Act emphasises this by stating ‘People with disability should not be treated any less favourably than people without’. Barriers can be physical, like buildings not having accessible toilets, or they can be caused by people’s attitudes to difference, such as the assumption that disabled people cannot do certain things for themselves.
Why then are we having the same difficulties decades later? Businesses will often cite cost as a factor for not complying although this is not an acceptable excuse and why a phrase called ‘Reasonable Adjustment’ has been incorporated in the legislation. It is an uncomfortable truth that the government’s ‘Jewel in the Crown’, the NHS, does not follow the guidance either and for this there can be no excuse.
As a permanent wheelchair user with MS, I have encountered barriers that are not unique to me and continue to frustrate other disabled people, not exclusively wheelchair users.
I am unable to transfer from my chair to an examination plinth without lifting or hoisting equipment but very few doctor’s surgeries or health centres have these facilities. I am sure many other patients are denied proper and thorough examination because they cannot get onto an examination platform or couch. Intimate examinations for cancer and other life-threatening conditions are left undone because of this, with the patient being distressed feeling if it was their fault the examination did not take place. Scans need access to parts of the body unreachable if the patient is seated or too frail to get onto an examination platform themselves and manhandling of a patient is unacceptable for so many reasons. Has anyone found an answer to this dilemma? Is there a consulting room or clinic that has these facilities to hand? I have tried many times to explain my situation at the time of booking an appointment only to be frustrated on arrival to find that there is no provision for lifting on the premises. The distress and anguish felt by patients some of whom have already struggled to overcome the anxiety of facing crucial examination is nothing short of emotional cruelty, heightened by their feeling of inadequacy for failing. Where is the Duty of Care so prominently emphasised in the Equality Act of 2010?
I am not targeting the medical professionals in any way, but I do think there is lack of understanding in the system. There is certainly truth in the statement “You’ve got to live it to truly understand it”.
To further emphasise this I ask, why are there pedal bins in toilets designed for wheelchair users?
Written by Ian Westgate
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