A disabled shadow minister told activists she was on the verge of tears after House of Commons authorities provided them with an inaccessible meeting room for an event being held to celebrate the UN’s international day of disabled people.
Marsha de Cordova (pictured, speaking) is to write to the Commons speaker to raise her concerns about access problems at Monday’s event, which she was hosting and was organised by the TUC disabled workers’ committee, Unite the union and Disabled People Against Cuts.
The day after the event, parliament was congratulated by the minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, for being “Disability Confident”, under the government’s discredited disability employment scheme, which her press office said was “a sign of its commitment to being inclusive and open to all”.
As well as problems with microphones, and fixed furniture which made it difficult for disabled people to move around the Commons committee room, wheelchair-users who were due to address the meeting on Monday were unable to reach the platform.
Most of the main speakers, including the chair, Sean McGovern, were forced to speak from a small, cramped space in front of the platform or from other parts of the room, while one wheelchair-user ended up having to speak into a microphone with her back to the meeting because of the lack of space.
The meeting had originally been scheduled to take place in an accessible room in the more modern Portcullis House but had to be moved to make way for a select committee meeting.
De Cordova told them she had been assured by the parliamentary authorities “that there would be no access issues” with the replacement room.
She said: “I wanted to make sure that everyone’s experience, including my experience, was smooth and it was a positive experience so accept my apologies that on this UN day of the rights of disabled people, parliament is still getting it wrong.”
She said the failure was “unacceptable” and added: “I feel like I want to cry, I am so flipping angry at what they have done.”
McGovern, co-chair of the disabled workers’ committee, said after the meeting that he was “not at all happy” with the access arrangements, particularly as the meeting had taken place on the UN international day of disabled people, and he added: “Parliament isn’t fit for our needs.”
A House of Commons spokesman said: “We are very sorry to hear about the problems which Ms de Cordova and attendees at her event experienced when visiting parliament.
“As part of parliament’s core democratic function, select committee business takes precedence over other events which occasionally [results]in private bookings being moved at short notice.
“On this occasion, the specific requirements were clearly not taken into consideration and this was unacceptable. Action will be taken to ensure that it does not happen again.”
He said the House of Commons and the Parliamentary Digital Service had both signed up to Disability Confident, while the House of Commons worked with the Business Disability Forum and had appointed a workplace adjustment advisor “to be a designated point of contact for members and their staff throughout their time in parliament”.
In February, a disabled peer told the House of Lords that plans for a major “restoration and renewal” of the Houses of Parliament must ensure a “step change” in the provision of disability access in a building that could be “extremely unwelcoming” to disabled people.
Baroness [Sal] Brinton, president of the Liberal Democrats, said the newly-restored palace would have “failed” if it was not “truly accessible” to all disabled people.
She said that the building itself – and a “wider, unconscious cultural attitude” – could make the Houses of Parliament “extremely unwelcoming to disabled parliamentarians, staff and visitors”.
Picture by Ann Galpin
A note from the editor:
Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations.
Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009.
Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS…