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Campaign to Promote Accessibility Labelled ‘Damaging’ by Leading Disability Activist

Disability United writer Raya Al-Jadir caught up with both the team behind the ‘Ramp It Up’ campaign and activist Ju Gosling to learn more about the campaign and the objection it faces.

First up, Agnes Emri – Mapping for Change Communications Officer

1. Can you tell our readers what the Ramp It Up Campaign is?
The campaign is intended to promote accessibility in the UK. We’re calling on communities to help their towns and cities become more wheelchair friendly by encouraging shops, restaurants or any building open to the public to use portable wheelchair ramps if more permanent solutions cannot be made. Throughout November, business owners and their customers are invited to nominate establishments for a portable ramp which is ideal for bridging 1 or 2 steps. They can then encourage their communities to vote for their entries as the winners will be chosen based on the number of votes they receive on Mapping for Change’s contest page. 10 winners will be announced on December 3, timed to coincide with International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

2. Some disability activists regard this campaign as a backward step in the fight for equality – seeing the gifting of a ramp as a sign of undermining the right of people to access buildings which is a legal requirement – how would you respond to this?
Unfortunately, despite the requirement for service providers to make their services accessible to all, many businesses still remain inaccessible to people with limited mobility. In many cases, it is less about affordability and more about the lack of information or awareness. Some shops with just one low step up from the pavement do not think of it as a barrier to disabled people. The fact is, a portable ramp can make a huge difference in these cases. Instead of having a group of people struggling to get a wheelchair user through the door, one person lays it down and the customer can get in faster without needing assistance. Through the Ramp It Up campaign we want to give the opportunity to win ramps for businesses who may have been postponing buying a ramp, or may not have given it a thought yet, or who for whatever reason cannot afford it. We are concerned that there is still some way to go in terms of making all buildings accessible. The motivation behind the campaign is as much about increasing awareness about the barriers presented on a daily basis to people with limited mobility as it is making 10 business wheelchair accessible. The campaign is part of a much broader effort underway and linked to an EU wide programme; MyAccessible.EU. If nominated businesses are not among the 10 winners, we will provide them with information on where to buy one and hope that this motivates others to improve access to their establishments.

3. Gifting a ramp to a business will enable disabled people to access that one business, but how can other businesses be encouraged to think about access?
Of course, the campaign is not a solution to the problem but hopefully goes some way in getting business owners to think about how to improve accessibility. The spending power of disabled people in the UK is estimated at more than £200bn, so it really is a smart choice for businesses to open up their premises, which is something we hope to stress. Nominations are shared on social media and circulated around the friends/followers/fans of the participants, reaching more business owners who may then give portable ramps a thought even if they do not sign up for the contest. Once the ramps are delivered, seeing that one business is using a ramp on the street might encourage other business owners to follow suit.

4. How can someone nominates a business?
You can nominate a business via the entry form on the contest’s page. Upload a photo that represents the business and add the name and address of the establishment. It is also possible to nominate on Twitter by tweeting a photo of the business, adding its location and using the hashtag ‘rampitupUK’. All entries appear in the submissions gallery where people can vote and encourage others to vote for their nominations. You do not need to be registered on Facebook in order to nominate or vote.

5. What does the average ramp cost?
The ramps are inexpensive compared to the spending power of wheelchair users. The 120 cm portable ramp’s price is around £100 so it is definitely a good return on investment.

Next we got the lowdown from Ju Gosling – artist, writer and activist, Artistic Director at Together 2012 C.I.C. (Disability Arts, Culture and Human Rights) , Co-Chair of Regard, the national LGBT disabled people’s organisation

1. Why do you have reservations about this campaign?
The campaign would have been useful for wheelchair users in 1985, but in 2016 it is really damaging instead. All service providers have been obliged since 1999 to provide a portable ramp if their premises can accommodate it, and since 2005 businesses should have adapted their premises to accommodate permanent ramps wherever possible. Giving businesses the impression instead that ramps and other reasonable adjustments are optional undermines all of the progress we have made since the Disability Discrimination Act was passed in 2005.

2. What do you think needs to happen instead to make businesses understand what they should be doing to make their premises and services accessible?
I believe it’s the job of local and national government to ensure that businesses and other service providers understand their obligations to disabled people, whether this is the provision of ramps, induction loops or other adjustments to ensure we can benefit equally. Where public funding is going to third parties, as with UCL, funders should ensure that their work is promoting a rights-based approach. It is particularly concerning that UCL are promoting what is basically a Charity Model approach instead, when UCL are developing an entirely new branch in East London as part of the London 2012 Legacy.

3. If someone finds a local business that isn’t taking accessibility seriously, what should they do?
It’s always worth trying to make direct contact with the business first, but often this meets with indifference or lack of response. A local Disabled People’s Organisation or local authority disability lead may be able to help get the business to take this more seriously; otherwise the Equality and Human Rights Commission operate a helpline, and some national DPOs may also be able to help. For example, Attitude is Everything tackles discrimination in the live music industry.

By Raya Al-Jadir

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