A little bit of information can make a big difference

by Mark Cooper

The easter break and the royal wedding weekend will be a great opportunity for people to socialise at their local pub up and down the country.

When you plan a social occasion what do you think about? Is it what to wear,  or if you’ll have a drink or two at home before you go out? I think: “can I get to the loo”?

Why? The answer is simple: I am disabled. Going out for me isn’t just a quick email or text “would I like to go for a drink after work”, it’s a military operation.

I have experienced many nights out which have been ruined for me because I have been unable to find an accessible loo. After one night out I had had enough of this problem. I was out in Edinburgh enjoying a post-campaign drink with friends in a pub, which we thought was accessible. But it turned out it did not have a disabled toilet. So I was forced to leave my friends, find another pub with an accessible toilet, then return to my friends.

After this experience, Barred was born, with the simple aim of trying to find out where the pubs are in Edinburgh with disabled access. I started a Facebook group, which soon had hundreds of members all with similar experiences to my own. The local campaign succeeded. Spurred on by the response I decided to try and make it Scotland wide.

The campaign was backed by disability organisation capability Scotland and with their support and the support of Lord Foulkes, the former Labour MSP for the Lothians, secured an amendment to the Scottish criminal justice and licensing act last July. The amendment means licensees must show how their pub can be accessed by disabled customers, when applying for a license.

Peter Watt wrote an excellent article a few weeks ago on the importance of the pub in family and community life. Disabled people are a very important part of our communities who are keen to support the pub trade as it experiences tough times in the current economic climate. There are some disabled people in the UK for whom a weekly trip to the pub might be their only trip out in the week, so it’s vital that they are supported by providing accurate access information. If they know a venue meets their needs, they are likely to return.

I am a graduate of the University of Aberdeen. When I was a fresher, I remember reading my fresher’s guide and thinking that I would like to go to a particular event at a certain venue, but I did not know if it was accessible so I did not go. That is social exclusion. By having the ability to find out information about the venue, such incidents will be a rare occurrence in the future.

So what kind of information is helpful to disabled people? It is things like: does the venue have a disabled toilet; and does it need a key; as well as does it have a large print menu. This kind of simple information will make such a difference to the lives of disabled people their friends and supporters.

The amendment, however, only applies to Scotland. I believe that it should be UK-wide so that disabled people across the UK can enjoy a social occasion regardless of where they live or their disability.

I am working with my local MP, Ian Murray (Labour MP for Edinburgh South) , who has tabled an EDM calling on the UK government to make similar information available across the country. If you too would like to see this happen I would encourage you to raise the issue with your MP and ask them to consider signing the EDM.

I was the Labour PPC in Orkney and Shetland at the last general election and was speaking to a disabled voter who said to me “I won’t be voting, because all politicians do is take things away from me”. By making this information available.   Politicians can give something back to disabled people: the ability to enjoy an active social life.

Mark Cooper is young Labour disability officer.

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