Campaigners calling for better disabled access in Sheffield city centre

Campaigners are calling for better disabled access in Sheffield city centre – after highlighting how they face a number of obstacles when trying to get out and about.

By Lee Peace
Friday, 21 June, 2019, 16:11

A number of organisations which represent disabled people and the elderly - plus a disabled city MP - have spoken out about everyday challenges they encounter when going about their daily business that many people probably dont even notice.

In a series of columns written for The Star and sister title the Sheffield Telegraph they told how everything from poor parking and uneven pavements to badly positioned advertising boards and the need for more accessible toilets all cause difficulties.

However, they also welcomed a number of initiatives aimed at improving the situation which have been delivered recently.

Christine Sephton, a member of the Changing Sheff action group, who was recently confined to a wheelchair for a number of months, said: “The main city centre problems came from the infrastructure – badly laid pavements, uneven tram track crossings, broken down road edges and steep kerbs, side road pavements were blocked by large waste bins, there was a proliferation of ‘A’ boards on narrow pavements, many of which were caused by thoughtless or untrained staff.

“These obstacles affect the unsighted community as well as wheelchair users and many people who are visually impaired will not visit the city centre for these reasons.”

Jennifer Jones, a founding member of Sheffield’s Disabled People Against Cuts, who has fibromyalgia, M.E and bipolar affective disorder, complained about a rise in the number of places which have pin number entry locks on toilets.

She said: “Due to having chronic pain condition and suffering panic attacks as well as having a bowel condition I have a right to use the accessible toilets.

“I don't have long to get to the toilet when I feel the need to go – and there are very many other disabilities that will cause people to experience the same thing here - so can you imagine how worrying it is to be able to make it to an accessible loo, only to find you've got to join a queue of sometimes as many as a dozen people and purchase a drink in order to be able to use the bathroom.

“Putting a PIN code lock on accessible toilets really shouldn't be allowed.”

Steve Chu, chief executive of Age UK Sheffield, urged people to park more considerably.

He said: “Able-bodied drivers using disabled spaces may prevent a disabled person such as a wheelchair user from being able to park at all.”

Sheffield Hallam MP Jared O’Mara, who has autism and cerebral palsy, believes access in Sheffield city centre is “better than others” but added: “Our country as a whole needs to make more effort to understand and include disabled people.”

Diane Jarvis, manager of Sheffield BID – a group of businesses that aims to improve the city centre – said they have teamed up with the council to launch the Mobile Sheffield scheme to make it easier for people with scooters, wheelchairs and walking chairs to get about.

She added: “In response to the lack of public toilets, we created LAVS – a community toilet scheme that allows anyone to use the toilets of participating premises, providing access to clean, safe facilities in convenient locations including adult changing places at The Moor Market.”

Olivia Blake, deputy council leader and cabinet member for finance, resources and governance, described creating an accessible city centre as an “ongoing journey that the council has been working on for decades to deliver.”

She added: “As part of our commitment to promoting independence we work in partnership with AccessAble and have produced guides for 727 venues in the city to help people navigate Sheffield as easily as possible. The AccessAble guides provide crucial, practical information that enable disabled people to make the most of Sheffield, lowering the anxiety and challenges of visiting somewhere unfamiliar.”

But she accepted “there is still much we need to work on.”