Oswestry wheelchair user in call for improved access
A wheelchair user is calling on businesses and public services in Oswestry to remove barriers to people with disabilities.
Darren Vernon has made it his mission to check out accessibility in his home town in order to raise awareness of changes needed, recognise disabled-friendly places and to help others with mobility problems.
He set himself the challenge after being discharged from the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital (RJAH) and says despite the area being home to a leading world-recognised spinal injuries hospital, patients can still get caught out by what awaits them on their return to the outside world.
Darren, originally from Birmingham, suffered a narrowing of his spine and underwent surgery at the Birmingham Royal Orthopaedic Hospital before being transferred to the RJAH at Gobowen for rehabilitation.
He was later discharged to a property in Oswestry provided by the Ethos Group. The charity provides adapted accommodation and support for people with life-changing physical disabilities in the transition from hospital to home. Ethos also helps to find a permanent future home to suit their needs.
“Since arriving at Ethos, I set myself a challenge to sample as many of the eating places in Oswestry as possible, with a view to access," said Darren.
"I have to say all staff I have encountered at these premises have been helpful and willing to accommodate.
“The Ethos team was interested in my unofficial study and said they would like to get an update on places to go and eating out, especially for those who, like myself, have spinal injuries.
“It means we can try and update local information so we can tell Ethos clients if lifts and wheelchair entrances are available.
"And we can also raise awareness among local businesses and organisations of the need to make adaptations for people in wheelchairs."
Darren said that despite the helpful attitudes of people he has encountered at the businesses, he repeatedly encountered problems with their accessibility.
Under the Equality Act 2010, organisations like employers, shops, restaurants, local authorities and schools have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to enable people with disabilities to access services.
“It would be nice to see all restaurants and other eating places having the same wheelchair access areas, but it’s not just about eating out," he said.
“Each time I have visited the town I have been dismayed by the lack of toilet facilities for wheelchair users.
"Some pubs, for example, do have disabled toilets but you cannot always move inside them due to really cramped conditions or because it is being used for storage.
“Oswestry has a large and excellent hospital for spinal patients but they are not always prepared for what is going to happen when they hit the outside world – the hurdles they must overcome on pavements, kerbs, bumps and ramps.
“I would like to see Oswestry go through development changes to remove barriers faced by people with disabilities.
"More m0oney needs to be invested in the area, with a focus on wheelchair ramps, lower postage machines and ATMs in the wall. All roadsides, kerbs and footpaths need to be repaired, public buildings should have accessible toilets which are easy to use, shop fronts should have automatic door opening and old shops need to have mobile, sloping ramps.”