Access in the community is not always straightforward…
You’ve decided you want to see some of your friends, you’ve worked out what you’re going to do, where you’re going to meet them and how you’re going to get there. You start to get excited, looking forward to having a laugh with your mates and having a much need break from home.
For whatever reason, you can’t get to where you want to go as easily as you thought. The road crossing isn’t working. The buses aren’t running on time. But you decide to carry on and manage as best you can.
You get to where you want to go, but you and your friends are told that you can’t do what you planned. The person explaining this speaks loudly, drawing attention from those around who just stare. It’s frustrating and embarrassing.
If only the crossings had been working, if only the buses had been running on time, if only there hadn’t been a problem with what you had chosen to do.
Imagine if little problems like this keep on happening, day after day. No matter how well you plan in advance, just one little thing happens, your day ends up just being that little bit more difficult, and you can’t do what you wanted to do.
Eventually, you begin to accept that problems will arise and there’s nothing you can do. You grow increasingly wary about going out, and maybe you decide to not even bother…
The reality of barriers for young people in Wales
Every day, thousands of young people across Wales face barriers to getting around, to access in the community – to services or activities that they want or need. The School Council at Crownbridge School, supported by the Lottery funded Little Voices Being Heard project, conducted research into accessibility within their community. Facing many of these barriers themselves, they were keen to look into all the obstacles around their community and what they could do to raise awareness of them.
What did the Crownbridge School Council find?
Cars parked on pavements, blocking their way. Cracked, uneven pavements that make it more difficult to use. Drop kerbs on pavements not matching up, making it more difficult to cross roads. Buses that are difficult to get on and off with a wheelchair or other aid. Non-disabled people parking in disabled bays. Buildings without ramps leading to their doors, or with narrow doors and corridors, which are hard to navigate. All these are barriers to access in the community.
The Crownbridge School Council found these and many other barriers to getting around in their local community. These barriers may go unnoticed by many people most of the time, or cause only a minor inconvenience. For disabled people, these hurdles can have a big impact on day to day life, making going to the shops, seeing friends, and doing lots of things taken for granted by non-disabled people, much, much harder.
What does the law say?
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) includes 2 important rights for disabled children (which includes children and young people up to the age of 18). Article 23 says that you should be able to have a full and decent life and that you should be able to participate actively in the community. Article 2 says that the UNCRC applies to all children without discrimination. Wales has made the UNCRC law through the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011 (the Measure), which means Welsh Government has to consider the human rights of children in everything it does.
While the UNCRC and the Measure give disabled children and young people in Wales important rights, there are other laws which help protect all people (not just children, and not just those who are disabled) from discrimination.
The Equality Act 2010 aims to protect everyone from discrimination, including disabled people. It provides legal rights in lots of different situations including using services like public transport, or if you want to go somewhere like a cinema, a swimming pool or a bowling alley. You shouldn’t be treated differently because of a ‘protected characteristic’. Disability is included as a protected characteristic. The people and organisations providing services have to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to make sure you have access in the same way as others.
As well as protecting disabled people from discrimination in day to day life, the Equality Act also says that ‘public bodies’ like Welsh Government and Local Authorities, have to think about how they can make life fairer for everybody. As an example, from the research carried out by the Crownbridge School Council, this might include a Local Authority thinking about how broken pavements make it more difficult for someone using a wheelchair to get around – and what it should do about it.
You can complain to your Local Authority about things like broken pavements. If things don’t get better, you could think about taking them to court. If the problem is with a service provided by a ‘private sector’ organisation – something like a shop or a cinema – then there is also a process you can follow to take them to court. There are other ways you can highlight the problems you are facing, too. You could write to your Assembly Member or your Member of Parliament, or your local councillor, or talk to the Children’s Commissioner.
Breaking down Barriers to access in the Community
No one should be excluded from participating in community life, or accessing the key services they need. The UK and the Welsh Government have recognised this in the laws we’ve mentioned in this blog. Although these rights and laws are in place, it’s true that things are still a long way from perfect, and there are many barriers still to be broken down in society – but there are things you can do to highlight those barriers so that the people and organisations responsible take the action they need to make your life easier.
Special thanks to Crownbridge School Council, whose work inspired this blog.