I went to the Broadstairs town forum last week, online of course. There were reports from local groups such as Folk Week and the nice people who plant flowers around the station and everything was very positive. But, unseen by any Zoom camera, the elephant in the room in all this cosiness was sitting in a wheelchair and weeping.
I went to make a fuss about the Broadstairs lift – yet again – and I did, as loudly as I could. But what we have to see is, this isn’t just a Broadstairs thing. All our towns need to start thinking about how they treat disabled people.
There are 14 million permanently disabled people in the UK and a rolling population of the temporarily decrepit made up of people breaking limbs, recuperating from surgery or, now, recovering from long covid exhaustion. They all need help with accessing the good things in life and they would all come and boost Thanet’s tourist industry if they thought they were welcome.
All our towns have high cliffs. All our towns have lifts. None are open! How are people to get to the bits of our towns they come for, the sea, the beaches, the harbours and all the good things that go with them – cafes, benches with nice views, shops, swimming, etc etc.
My friend with lung disease can’t get to the beach cafe she loves. My friend with Parkinsons can’t get to the Turner as the bus goes nowhere near and she can’t afford taxis everywhere. Many others can only get to a fraction of the things they want to get to simply because of problems of access.
I found out at the town forum that someone is planting a bed of purple crocuses to commemorate polio eradication. I’m someone who survived polio and am now living with the consequences and, ironically, if they plant these crocuses on the steep slope down to Louisa Bay, I won’t be able to enjoy them. So, on the whole, I’d rather have a lift, thank you very much.
Think about how a wheelchair or a stick user could best move around and enjoy our towns. But better than that, ASK THEM!
As part of Access Thanet I hear the heart-breaking stories of people who are suffering extra charges for their carers, food poverty because they have to fight for benefits and the attitudes that label them as scroungers for wanting more income or as a “tiny minority” if they want outrageous things like more dropped kerbs and ramps into shops and cafes.
We have infrastructure which, with work, could be great for disabled people. Tidal swimming pools could have proper hand rails and slopes to assist access. We could have gentle slopes onto the beaches and wooden walkways once there.
Remember — wheelchairs and push chairs of all kinds get bogged down in sand. There is a wooden walkway on Viking Bay, but, unkindly, if disabled people actually manage to get to it, the plastic mesh path that links the walkway with the harbour arm involves a gap of soft sand that can wreck a powered wheelchair. There is a literal lack of joined up thinking.
Margate is getting millions of public money to spend on “health” and “well being” in the town. More money for coastal regeneration in Thanet is coming up.
I hear about some of this money being used to give our shops a lick of a paint. I hear nothing about using it to tackle the problems of access for disabled people.
The elephant in the wheelchair is weeping.
Thanet, get the lifts working, change the bus routes, put ramps and handrails and dropped kerbs wherever disabled people want them. Change your attitude and your policies and we could be in a paradise for the disabled.