The British Polio Fellowship has seized the opportunity presented by the great summer get-away to highlight the accessibility issues which continue to cause problems at the UK’s airports.
David Mitchell. National Chairman of the organisation, has issued a letter to the editors of various media outlets across the country calling for improvements with the airports themselves, and with travelling to and from the airport.
In April the BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner condemned Heathrow Airport after his wheelchair went missing following a flight from Addis Ababa. The journalist waited 100 minutes to disembark from an Ethiopian Airlines flight.
He tweeted: “Odd that I can travel round the Middle East and elsewhere without a hitch. Yet time and again @HeathrowAirport loses my wheelchair on arrival. Now been on an empty plane 1.5 hours after landing. Just when is the UK’s premier airport going to stop treating disabled passengers this way?”
Heathrow’s chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, later met Mr Gardner, who said: “Heathrow have reacted commendably swiftly on this. They have undertaken that by the summer they will bring wheelchairs up the door of the plane as a matter of policy.”
The Department for Transport (DfT) was reported to be considering a raft of new measures to make flying a more enjoyable experience for disabled passengers and those with reduced mobility. Among the ideas is to change aircraft design to create a flexible space where it is possible to tether down a wheelchair, but aviation insiders have questioned whether it is realistic that safety officials would ever allow passengers to bring their own wheelchairs on board.
Mr Mitchell wrote: “We have been campaigning for greater accessibility in the UK for years. Yet when it comes to airports, Manchester is branded ‘poor’ by the Civil Aviation Authority for the second year running, and Birmingham, Stansted, and Gatwick need improvement. Little appears to have changed, with our four biggest airports failing on basic accessibility.
“Frank Gardner’s terrible experience was well reported and our members recount tales of lost wheelchairs to waiting hours on the apron in the freezing rain – not ideal when cold intolerance is a key symptom of Post Polio Syndrome (PPS). Taxis, buses and trains are little better. Rarely is accessibility a matter of facilities and expensive equipment. Care and common sense goes a long way, so why is this so hard? There are now more than three million requests for disability assistance. That’s up 80 percent since 2010 and as we all get older; this number is simply going to rise.
“We have an Equality Act; now the authorities need to get their act together. 13.4 million people with a disability in the UK deserve better and The British Polio Fellowship continues to support the 120,000 in the UK who now live with PPS. If you want to know what we think about accessibility or if you need our support, call 0800 043 1935 or visit www.britishpolio.org.uk“