Recently, a Party member campaigning to be elected as the local Liberal Democrat candidate contacted me to attend a coffee morning to meet him. Certainly, I said. I must check first though; I assume that the premises are wheelchair accessible? They were not, and the reaction of the candidate when I contacted him was little more than a shrug. This is unacceptable; not least because this candidate bases his entire persona and candidacy on LGBT rights.
Frankly, I am completely fed up. Over and over again, I find people campaigning for justice for survivors of sexual assault, the LGBT community, immigrants, and so on, but they do not consider disabled people. Nearly half of disabled people feel excluded from society, and one of the direct causes of this is architectural barriers. This situation is unacceptable and cannot continue.
Then, last Monday evening I attended hustings to support a candidate, and I was pleased to do so. With the Liberal democrats, I expected that full accessibility would be in place, as a matter of course. This is why in fact I joined the Liberal Democrats; for the emphasis that the Party places on liberty and on eradicating ignorance and conformity. Those are Liberal Democrat values, after all.
I was extremely disappointed, therefore, to find that there was a huge step and it was impossible for me to access the Church hall. Other members came out, and, whilst they imagined they were being kind, I was astonished and insulted at their ignorance. Members offered to lift me over the step. No; this is impossible. Not only do I have no desire to make a spectacle of myself, but it is humiliating, removes independence, and it is unlawful, under the Equality Act 2010, that access is not in place to start with. I also have no desire for other members to hurt themselves as a result of the organisers’ negligence.
This has to be said, and this situation needs to end, urgently.
I insisted that an accessible entrance was cleared and admit to being pleased that my favoured candidate won, as my encounter with the previous candidate had left a taste of hypocrite in my mouth.
Let me state this very clearly: I am a former lawyer, I run my own business, and I have a spinal cord injury. I am an active member of society and no one should consent to being patronised, humiliated, and treated as less of a person in this day and age.
The Liberal Democrats should be leading for societal change in this area.
When the Liberal Democrats book a venue, they must book that venue so that all members can attend. Organisers check lighting and electricity; as a matter of course, they must also check accessibility. To do otherwise is prejudice and discrimination exemplified. I also note that I have concerned myself with only one feature of accessibility; there is a lot more to do.
Upskirting and cannabis legislation are all very worthy causes I’d suggest, however, that tackling the exclusion of half of society is critical.
* Alexandra Singer is a member in South Manchester and campaigns on access issues.