Disabled campaigners are seeking to persuade the Welsh government to introduce a new scheme that would see service-providers displaying stickers that show how accessible they are.
Bridgend Coalition of Disabled People (BCDP) wants shops, restaurants, transport providers, pubs and other service-providers to display a certificate which would show how well they are rated on access, on a scale from zero to five.
It would work in a similar way to the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme, which is run by local authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with a similar scheme in Scotland.
One idea is to have a rating for overall access, with symbols on the sticker also showing whether the organisation caters for people with particular impairments, such as logos for a hearing loop, a large print menu, autism awareness, a wheelchair-accessible toilet, and changing facilities.
BCDP hopes that businesses that secure high ratings under such a scheme would persuade their competitors to improve their own access.
The scheme would be voluntary at first, but BCDP hopes it would eventually become compulsory.
The coalition also plans to provide booklets that offer advice on how organisations can make their premises more accessible, such as information on where to buy a hearing loop and how to get a Braille menu printed.
Simon Green (pictured), chair of BCDP, told Disability News Service: “We would be delighted if this scheme proved a success in Wales and was taken up across the UK.
“We feel the scheme would be of huge benefit to disabled people everywhere and encourage business owners to improve access.
“I am currently in London and think many areas of the capital need this to happen more than in Wales and it angers me how many large, well-known chain restaurants, coffee shops and fast food outlets, etc, have poor accessibility and it is long overdue that something was done about this.”
Green said he did not believe the Equality Act was protecting disabled people from discrimination.
He said: “The old Disability Discrimination Act and current Equality Act state places have to make a reasonable effort to be accessible, but it is obvious that this is not happening.
“Managers are saying ‘we have done our best’ or state that it would cost them too much money.
“While we are sure in some cases this is correct, often I feel this is just an excuse.”
He added: “I have come across premises in South Wales that have had complete refurbishments and made themselves even less accessible that they were before, putting in unnecessary steps and not providing accessible toilets.
“Also, often there are only small alterations needed like slightly widening an aisle or purchasing a temporary ramp and this idea will hopefully encourage premises to put these in place.
“Even if premises cannot improve wheelchair access, we do not see a reason why they can’t do more to assist those with sensory or learning impairments, for example purchasing a Braille or large print menu, installing hearing loops, staff taking disability equality training, and so on.
“If premises had to display an accessibility score on the front of the building we think they’d be far more likely to make the extra effort.”
An online petition calling on the Welsh government to introduce an access certificate scheme has so far secured about 2,000 signatures, while the coalition is also collecting many signatures through paper petitions across the country.
The coalition says on the petition: “Since the introduction of the food hygiene certificate we believe food standards have vastly improved and premises with a high number use the certificate with pride.
“We believe premises will make a bigger effort to improve access and services for the disabled community if a similar certificate was introduced for access.”
Green is confident the petition will secure 5,000 signatures by the end of March, which would guarantee a formal response from the Welsh government and a full debate in the Welsh assembly.
The response from assembly members has already been encouraging, with the Conservative assembly member Suzy Davies securing a short debate on the subject last month.
Davies told fellow assembly members: “I think interest in this scheme is further evidence that society is becoming more accepting, whether consciously or not, of the social model of disability, that disability is a feature of how society is organised, rather than an impairment that just has to be lived with.”
She said such a scheme would be “a nudge towards… positive social change” and would be about “normalising the expectation of access to all, about it being surprising if buildings are closed off to groups of people with a particular disability, and about this being an everyday consideration for everyone, from the town planner to the architect, from the HR department to the union rep.
“I think that’s quite a lot of value for money from a few stickers.”
Vaughan Gething, Labour’s cabinet secretary for health and social services, said in response to Davies that “in principle, the idea does have some merit, and I welcome suggestions about practicalities and how such a scheme could work”.