Across the UK there are approximately 11 million people with a limiting long-term illness, impairment or disability. The most commonly-reported impairments are those that affect mobility, lifting or carrying. Understandably the prevalence of disability rises with age. Around 6% of children are disabled, compared to 16% of working age adults and 45% of adults over the State Pension Age.
Recently I was contacted by a local constituent who was blind and was experiencing difficulty with a particular crossing at Pool because there was not a pelican crossing on a difficult four way junction. I met the constituent and agreed to take part in a sensory walk organised by Guide Dogs for the Blind. This is where a blindfold is placed on you and you try and manoeuvre around busy roads and junctions without your sight but with the help of a local volunteer. It certainly helped to understand how seemingly small obstacles to most of us can be a real barrier to those suffering an impairment like blindness.
In the past we haven’t always designed our streets and towns to be inclusive and accessible, but in the last few decades this has begun to change. The provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act in the late eighties have been a catalyst for improvement. The Council have worked hard to improve the safety of our roads and pavements especially around crossings with the use of tactile paving. Moreover, in our towns and especially with new developments we have seen accessibility improved. This is particularly the case in places like Heartlands where extra work has been carried out to make the buildings accessible and pavements friendlier for all who use them.
Before the summer recess, the International Development Secretary, Penny Mordaunt MP, became the first minister to use sign language in the Commons. This was to mark the start of a global disability conference that was taking place in London to discuss the global effort to advance disability inclusion not just for those in the UK but also for some countries’ most vulnerable people.
However, as always, there is still more to do. Further work is being undertaken to help improve the access that vulnerable people have to Changing Places toilets. Over a ¼ million people with more severe disabilities need access to changing places toilets to enable them to get out and about and enjoy the day-to-day activities many of us take for granted. The Changing Places Campaign which launched in 2006 has done fantastic work raising awareness of this issue in recent years and I know that the Government has worked with Changing Places and other charities, to improve the provision of accessible toilets.
In 2007 when the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government became involved, there were only around 140 Changing Places toilets in the UK. By 2017 this number had risen to just over 1000 and guidance on Changing Places was introduced into the Building Regulations in England in 2013.
In the last ten years we have made progress in improving accessibility for those with disabilities to improve their lives but there is still a long way to go to make society more inclusive.