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Is access improving in the UK?

By Emma Bowler

We asked former BBC programme maker and disability writer Emma Bowler "Is access improving in the UK?" - read her thoughts below.

Emma Bowler in countryside

It’s hard to answer this question with a resounding “Yes!” but I think it is fair to say that access is improving, albeit slowly, across the UK.  I think this is due to a gradual cultural shift that is being stimulated by a number of different factors.

Major sporting events such as London 2012, the Invictus Games and Rio 2016, have all helped to increase the profile of disabled people, highlighting their predicaments as well as their achievements.

In these times of continuing austerity I think there is also an increasing recognition of the spending power of disabled people – an estimated £212 billion a year!  If you run any sort of business it doesn’t make sense not to want a slice of that very large pie. 

Finally, in this age of social media scrutiny and review culture it feels like it is becoming less acceptable to exclude disabled people and it is almost starting to feel like places that are making an effort are almost falling over themselves to promote their accessible features.

This was really apparent when I was doing some research into live music festivals and Christmas Markets recently.  All of the websites I looked at had a separate section detailing access provision – from parking to toilets, ticket discounts to wheelchair access.

Tourist attractions are also increasingly keen to promote the fruits of their access labour and there are plenty of examples of innovative access ideas in the Rough Guide to Accessible Britain .

For example the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry has multi-sensory vibrating plates so visitors can feel sounds, Lincoln Cathedral has a foot operated audio guide, there’s a static motion simulator for visitors to experience lights and sounds at the National Railway Museum in York, and locally to me there is an impressive range of accessible bikes for hire at the Haldon Forest Park in Devon.

One particularly impressive example of ‘promoting your access wares’ that I came across recently was The View From The Shard - where you can view London from the top of the tallest building in Western Europe.  They don’t just list their access provision they show it to you in a very slick four minute video .

Access to trains, planes and buses is slowly improving too, as is the choice of places to stay.  They don’t always get it right, for example, I stayed in an ‘accessible’ room in a hotel recently which had a bath…

But I think this is where reviews come in handy – a bit of diplomatic naming and shaming can highlight what needs to be done and hopefully this will stimulate further improvements.

There’s a long way to go but it certainly feels like some places are trying to woo disabled visitors and customers – so why not make the most of it and get exploring?

By Emma Bowler

Emma Bowler


For more ideas on getting out and about in your Motability Scheme car, head to our news section