Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) have criticised the measures taken to ensure that the Queen’s Lying-in-State is accessible to disabled people as “inadequate” and “disappointing”.
The government has arranged an “accessible queueing scheme” for those unable to stand in a queue for “an extended period of time”.
But concerns have been raised about the system, while there are also significant gaps in the information published about how it will work.
One DPO suggested the measures taken by the government meant it was breaching the Equality Act because of a failure to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people.
Despite the accessible queueing system offering shorter waits than the main queue – which reports suggest could see some people queuing for up to 30 hours – there are still questions over how long disabled people could be forced to wait if they want to pay their respects to the Queen as her body lies in a coffin in Westminster Hall.
Because of the lack of information about the accessible queue, it is not clear whether some disabled people could still be forced to wait overnight to attend the event.
It is feared that others may find food, drink or equipment confiscated when they arrive at the Palace of Westminster, even if they need it for impairment- or health-related reasons.
The Lying-in-State opened to the public at 5pm yesterday (Wednesday) and will be open 24 hours a day until it closes at 6.30am on Monday, and the main queue – which was more than three miles long by 10.30am this morning – starts on the south bank of the Thames.
Those who want to use the accessible queueing system must visit a kiosk outside Tate Britain art gallery, on the north side of the river and closer to the Palace of Westminster, where they will be given a timed entry slot for the Lying-in-State.
They must then make their way at the right time to the accessible queue entrance in Victoria Tower Gardens, next to the Palace of Westminster and about 800 metres from Tate Britain.
One question raised by DR UK is over the location of the “bag drop”, which is where those taking part in the event can leave larger bags and is located on the south bank of the Thames.
Another is the apparent lack of nearby access to a Changing Places toilet until a disabled person reaches the Palace of Westminster itself.
Kamran Mallick, DR UK’s chief executive, said: “Given the decades that have gone into planning the events around the death of Her Majesty the Queen, it is disappointing that access to these events for disabled people is such a mixed bag.
“We welcome the potential of shorter waiting time slots and a shorter distance to queue for disabled people, but there is still a breathtaking lack of awareness around the needs of disabled people.
“The government has said in a press release that ‘people wishing to attend the Lying-in-State, especially those with pre-existing medical conditions, are encouraged to check the guidance, plan accordingly and be prepared for significant wait times, including possibly overnight.’”
But Mallick said this was not a reasonable adjustment, as required by the Equality Act.
He also raised concerns about the threat of food, drink and portable shelter such as unfoldable umbrellas being confiscated once a disabled person reached the Palace of Westminster, which he said could again breach the Equality Act as many disabled people use such umbrellas for support.
He said: “Disabled people often need food and water on the go, or to take with medication.”
He pointed to the distance between the Palace of Westminster and the bag drop location, and the apparent lack of Changing Places toilets.
He said: “We understand that the government fears people faking disability to jump the queue, but to focus on this rather than equity of access for disabled people is to create an inexcusable barrier to paying respects to the Queen for the fifth of the population which is disabled.
“How ironic that our monarch should sign the Equality Act into law over a decade ago, and end her life herself disabled, and yet still the government cannot enact the laws around equity of accessibility which she brought into being.”
Andrew Clark, chair of BuDS, said: “BuDS feels that arrangements for disabled people to pay their respects to Her Majesty the Queen during her Lying-In-State are well-meant but inadequate.
“There needed to be a completely separate arrangement for disabled, older and frail people to access Westminster Hall.
“This is very disappointing given the huge amount of preparation which has clearly been done.
“Her Majesty the Queen was patron of many disability charities and supported the cause of disability rights: these flawed arrangements are a great pity and, we are sure, not what Her Majesty or her family would wish.”
DCMS had failed to answer questions from Disability News Service about the accessible queueing scheme by noon today.
Picture: The Queen’s coffin in Westminster Hall. Picture taken from the BBC’s live feed of the Lying-in-State