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Cheers -  and no cheers  
                             September 2004

Photograph of Mary Dixon founder of yourlevelbest.comCheers - and no cheers

Pubs are a bad joke in website's survey on disabled access

by Kendra Inman

Wheelchair users in search of a swift half will always be welcome at one Cornish pub. "We are fully accessible," says the landlady confidently. If nature calls, "there are always three strong men here to carry you down".

Mary Dixon, a wheelchair user, describes responses to her survey of pubs, restaurants and snack bars around Britain as both humiliating and hilarious.

 

In answer to the question, "Do you have a wheelchair-friendly entrance and a disabled toilet?", wheelchair user Mary Dixon was told by a south London pub: "Give us plenty of notice so we can move all the tables and unlock the side door." This perhaps was one better than the pub in Northumberland that replied:
"There's a perfectly good public disabled toilet in the car park over the road."

Dixon, who has multiple sclerosis, conducted the research for her website, www.yourlevelbest.com, which has a directory of pubs and restaurants accessible to wheelchair users.

By October 1st, every business will have to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act and make changes to ensure Britain's 8.6 million disabled people can use services. Dixon's survey reveals that many are unprepared for the new rules.

"Well-meaning proprietors do not see the importance of access to the toilets, which is often difficult or impossible," she says. "A common response was, 'Disabled ladies could use the gents. I'll clear the men out'."

She found information often hard to come by. Some chains provided lists of accessible branches; others failed to, or ignored her requests.

The website lists 3,000 destinations, mainly in England and Wales, and additions are made each week.

Tourist hotspot Brighton does well, with 22 accessible destinations; the wooden spoon goes to the Scilly Isles "with only one - and that at the top of a steep hill," says Dixon.

Pubs came out worst. "Many had been recently refurbished, but the improvements still took no account of access issues and disability discrimination laws," Dixon says.

The website grew out of Dixon's frustration at being excluded from many pubs, teashops and restaurants while on holiday. The pleasure of visiting new places was often overshadowed by anxiety about whether her chair would get through the door.

If the website thrives, she says, it will allow disabled people to visit areas and businesses where they know they'll be welcome. And the prospect of being manhandled downstairs to use the loo will be a thing of the past.



This feature is adapted from one originally published in The Guardian Wednesday October 29, 2003

 


   

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