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Are our high streets wheelchair friendly ?

This week saw the release of a film by wheelchair user Will Pike who has also gathered over 47000 signatures on his petition to make our high streets more wheelchair friendly as here in the UK its deemed that the high streets are not as friendly as we would like to think they are.

One of the key aspects which is raised is about peoples reaction to wheelchair users and their perception of life as a disabled citizen.

'Yes i can' was recently coined as the slogan of the Paralympics where many disabled athletes including wheelchair users displayed super human efforts to overcome their disabilities and perform in some very competitive sports at a world class level. Will Pike decided to make the film to show how a trip to the shops can be tricky and that 'yes i can' is all very well but maybe not so simple and compare to a paralympic event itself !

Visiting many places in his local high Street, Will encounters many difficulties as he tries to go about what should be simple everyday tasks. Starting with a visit to a coffee shop he encounters access problems as there are no wheelchair ramps, doorways are narrow and not wheelchair friendly and the all too often lack of disabled toilet facilities.

The short film was reviewed on day time television with paralympian Baroness Tanni-Grey Thompson, where they discussed the various obstacles faced every day by wheelchair users. Will has been a wheelchair user for 8 years and the baroness far longer and they discuss how things have improved over recent years and life is easier but how they both hoped that after the London games things would become even better both in terms of physical improvements to infrastructure but also mind shift improvements of the public’s reaction in general.

Wills summary is that the mental shift towards the disabled has not improved quite as much as he had hoped and he talks about the reaction he gets from shop staff in general when he enquires about the wheelchair friendly facilities he would like to see. Will lost the use of his legs when he suffered a spinal injury during a terrorist attack in Mumbai 8 years ago. He discusses the acceptance of disability from society and compares life before his injury and after and the limits he faces on a daily basis.

Disability rights legislation in the US is discussed and compared to the UK and its said that in general here in the UK we don't cater for wheelchair users quite as well. Baroness Tanni-Grey Thompson focuses on the attitude of the public as being as important as the physical barriers faced by those using wheelchairs and suggests that once folks attitudes change and improve then the physical access improvements will follow.

Following the release of the film many of the establishments that were featured have made statements and stated that they intend to improve facilities for wheelchair users as soon as is possible. Disabled toilets seem to be the most talked about subject and how wheelchair access to toilets needs to be improved drastically in most establishments and that overall attitudes need to improve firstly. We wish Will well with his film and let’s hope that the raising of awareness and the mind shift occurs very soon to make life easier for users of wheelchairs.