By Declan Carey
I WISH I could say I felt shocked when Israel’s energy minister Karine Elharrar, who uses a wheelchair, couldn’t attend COP26 this week because the venue was not accessible to disabled people, but this type of scenario happens too regularly in the UK to warrant it.
The truth is many of us have to navigate inaccessible venues on a daily basis and these struggles are never reported or heard of.
This is evident in the vast number of stations on the London Underground without step-free access, taxi firms which charge disabled people more for using a larger vehicle to accommodate wheelchairs, or any number of buildings like the one used for the climate summit which had no consideration for disabled visitors.
Progress in any area comes slow, but particularly so for disabled people in Britain who have been campaigning for improved quality of life for years without key issues ever really being addressed.
That doesn’t mean those campaigns were for nothing – without them we wouldn’t have legislation like the Disability Discrimination Act (1995) which made it unlawful to discriminate against disabled people for the first time in the UK.
But an international visitor arriving to the UK for what could be the most significant conference of the decade not being able to access the venue is shoddy, insulting, and a spit in the face to all disabled people who have had to put up with this rubbish for far too long.
I don’t use a wheelchair myself, but I am disabled and rely on public spaces being accessible to use them. The fact that we are still having to make this point is tiring, but it also shows how years of disabled people being ridiculed creates an environment where we don’t matter.
As Kamran Mallick, the CEO Disability Rights UK, pointed out in a recent blog post, climate change disproportionately impacts disabled people yet the British government’s Disability Strategy doesn’t even address the issue.
He writes: “Poor access has become the background noise of our lives. We need to turn up the volume, turn it up enough so that non-disabled people can hear it.
“Not just when it happens to a Disabled minister or Paralympian but every time it happens.
“If Disabled people are not at the table when the climate crisis is discussed many of us will die. If Disabled people are not engaged in the changes that need to happen then those changes will fail. Include us – you need us.”
One of the reasons why disabled people in Britain find ourselves in this situation is that we are still underrepresented in fields such as government, law, and journalism.
Without representation in these areas, we exist in this country as a voice which sometimes shouts loud enough to demand change, but a voice which can often be ignored with little consequence.
I hope the COP26 accessibility farce is enough to embarrass the government to look more closely at the issue.
I don’t feel like that will be the case, and for now disabled people will need to continue campaigning for the basic rights which we are still being denied.
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