Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Paralympic Hopeful Highlights Disabled Access Problems

Aspiring Paralympic swimmer, Rebecca Lawes has teamed up with Cambridgeshire County Councillor, Kilian Bourke to highlight the problems faced by the disabled travelling around Romsey in Cambridge.

Together they negotiated dangerous pavements with uneven slabs and grooves and other trip hazards, with Rebecca's parents giving Kilian tips on how to handle a wheelchair.

They identified a series of accessibility problems that are not ordinarily evident to fully mobile pedestrians.

They found that dropped kerbs often led directly into deep ruts on the road's edge, which were almost impassible for those in wheelchairs.

“It was extremely difficult for me to manoeuvre Rebecca’s chair over these humps," said Kilian, "so I can only imagine how hard it would be for a wheelchair users on their own."

And in Mill Road, they found several pairs of street lamp columns immediately beside each other making it difficult for anyone in a wheelchair to pass.

“It’s like a slalom ski-course for those in wheelchairs,” said Kilian, who represents Romsey on the county council. “They can’t get through the gap between the street lights, so they have to veer left and right, as if it were the Winter Olympics.

“The county council will soon be fixing this situation, which is a result of its disastrously managed PFI contract, but in the meantime the extra columns have been left there with no regard for accessibility.”

In Coleridge Road, Cllr Bourke and Rebecca found some of the surface of the pavement had broken and the wheelchair had to be tilted onto its back wheels to get over the shattered surface safely otherwise divots in the surface might have caused the wheelchair to tip forward suddenly.

They found that pavements in Mill Road were of variable quality. Sections outside the Post Office and Black Cat Cafe and along the Broadway, which had been improved last year, were acceptable; but shop frontages were generally badly maintained, and there were many uneven paving slabs, channels, grooves and other trip hazards to contend with.

Kilian said: “It seems to me that the county council’s maintenance standards for pavements are designed with able-bodied people in mind, not those with mobility problems.  This policy should be adjusted.  At the very least, the most heavily used footways ought to be maintained to a higher standard.”

Cllr Bourke is pushing for dedicated county council funding to be introduced for improving disabled access, followed by a rolling programme of the most urgent improvements.

At present, just £30,000 is spent on general accessibility, one ten thousandth of the council’s total £848 million budget.

“This means that little work is done specifically to improve disabled access, and improvements often have to wait for other road and pavement projects in the same area before the work is carried out, which can take years,” said Cllr Bourke.

You can read more about Councillor Bourke and Rebecca's fact-finding trip here: http://kilianbourke.mycouncillor.org.uk/2012/09/02/disabled-access-from-rebeccas-point-of-view/