Disabled activists are considering legal action after access at last weekend’s annual gay rights parade in London was condemned as potentially dangerous.
Regard, the national organisation for disabled lesbian gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, said it was appalled that Pride London, which organises the event, had again failed to make its festivities accessible.
Regard has been lobbying Pride London for several years after access arrangements began to “erode”.
Regard is also angry at London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, who sponsors the event, and Westminster council, which licences it, for failing to act in the wake of serious concerns raised before last year’s event.
Disabled activists are particularly concerned because Pride London will next summer host the annual WorldPride event, with LGBT visitors expected from across the world.
Photographs taken by Regard show that the accessible viewing platform in Trafalgar Square was a narrow strip of pavement at the top of a long flight of steps, with just a flimsy, ankle-height plastic fence to prevent people falling down the steps, and insufficient space for wheelchair-users to pass each other safely.
Another key concern with last weekend’s event was that the “safe space” for disabled marchers was not at the front of the parade, so they were unable to set their own pace.
Accessible parking had to be arranged by Regard just days before the event; the lifts in Trafalgar Square were not working; there were problems with at least one of the Dial-a-Ride shuttle buses and the non-availability of access stewards; and there were no proper accessible toilets, with just two portable toilets available.
Kath Gillespie-Sells, Regard’s founder, who was given a place of honour in a car near the front of the parade, in recognition of her MBE for services to disabled LGBT people, had been assured by Pride London that the necessary access arrangements were in place.
She said she was “absolutely devastated” when she found out later how many problems there had been.
She called for “root and branch” changes at Pride London. “Access has to be an integral part of what they are doing. They have not got the message about access yet and about the reality of disabled people’s lives.”
Dr Ju Gosling, co-chair of Regard, said the organisation was now considering legal action, following years of attempts to convince Pride London to improve access.
She added: “The charity running Pride has consistently proven to be unfit for purpose and should be replaced with a new organisation before WorldPride, one which is democratically run and genuinely representative of the community.”
Julie Newman, acting chair of the UK Disabled People’s Council, who has worked for more than 20 years to try to improve access at Pride, said the “erosion” of reasonable adjustments agreed in previous years meant “disabled people no longer feel welcome or able to participate on an equal basis, which means we are now effectively becoming invisible and no longer part of Pride”.
Tony Hughes, the new access director for Pride London, admitted there were “areas where we can improve”, including the safe space in the parade, the late arrangement of parking, and the failure to have wheelchairs close at hand for those on the parade.
He blamed the mayor’s Greater London Authority (GLA) for the problems with the viewing platform, which he agreed was not safe and was supposed to be much deeper, with a “much more substantive barrier” at the front “to stop any one being able to fall down the stairs”.
He insisted that access was generally “good and is better than is put in place for other events in Trafalgar Square and other Pride marches across the country”, but said he was “more than happy” for Regard to be involved in planning access at next year’s event.
A spokesman for the Mayor’s office said: “We are of course concerned to ensure events are as accessible as possible.
“Comments received about specific issues on the day will feed into discussions and planning for future years.”
Westminster council said it had worked with Pride London and other agencies for six months to “establish plans for the day” and that there were “a number of disabled persons and their supporters that were a prominent part of the parade and had appropriate facilities and assistance from the organisers to ensure that they could take part”.
A council spokeswoman said staff had “regularly checked” Pride venues throughout the day, and “would not agree that any were unsafe or potentially extremely dangerous”.
But she said the council and other agencies were “still gathering comment and information” about the access.
7 July 2011