Council ‘used pandemic as Computer virus for metropolis centre entry modifications’ – Incapacity Information Service
Activists have accused a council of using the pandemic as a “Trojan horse” to make permanent changes in the city center that, once introduced as temporary measures, will have “devastating” effects on disabled access.
The York Disability Rights Forum warned last summer that the short-term pedestrian zone of several streets in the city center and the removal of parking lots with blue plaques – designed to provide social distancing and encourage cyclists and pedestrians – could discriminate against disabled people.
Almost a year later, the City of York Council decided to make the changes permanent as part of its Footstreets program, which restricts access to many streets between certain times of the day or around the clock in some areas.
According to the forum, the Council only used the temporary measures to make changes “which they wanted to make anyway, disregarding the rights of many disabled people to access the inner city”.
A council meeting last month said it was “appalling” to hear of the “devastating impact” the changes have had on the daily lives of many disabled people, particularly on their access to shopping, assistance and other amenities.
The forum told the council that it recognized that many disabled people had stated in the past year, in response to surveys and other engagements, that they now feel safer downtown, but it also blamed the council for using these results to draw the “wrong picture”. the views of disabled people.
The results of the engagement also showed that 78 percent of the people with blue badges disagree or disagree with the statement: “There are parking spaces nearby to enable me to access the city center.”
The Council is now starting a consultation to make the changes permanent.
Helen Jones (pictured), a member of the forum, said the council was already thinking about changes in the city center before the pandemic.
She said, “I think most people with disabilities always felt that it was going to be permanent.
“When the pandemic broke out, it felt like the council took advantage of it.”
When she put the temporary measures in place, there were some minor mitigation measures, including some new blue placard parking lots in a parking lot and a taxi service that could take people to a specific location in the city.
However, Jones said that the taxi service “was not well received and not well used and withdrawn” while reopening a small stretch of street “far” from the city center for which there was a lack of practical parking had also not helped significantly.
The council appears to be considering a new shuttle system, but discussions are at an early stage and Jones said the information so far has been “vague”.
She said, “This could mean many of York’s disabled residents will not be able to visit the city center where they live until September 2021. A city center that has been outside the borders for us since July 2020. “
She said she feared the impact of the changes in York on disabled people across the country.
She said: “Other local authorities that are currently providing better access for blue card holders could see what York is doing as a positive example and lead to a multitude of inaccessible cities across England.”
Elki Houston, a disabled member of the forum, added, “I feel angry, sad, ignored, forgotten and ultimately treated like I have no worth.
“Over the years I’ve figured out which places in York I could visit that are accessible to me … but now those places are inaccessible to me.
“Not because they have changed, but because I am no longer allowed to touch them.
“Since the council is returning other people’s freedom after the lockdown, mine will not return.”
Fazilet Hadi, Head of Policy at Disability Rights UK, said: “In the past year the streetscape has changed dramatically, often without or without consulting disabled people.
“Most of the changes therefore did not address the needs of disabled citizens.
“Restaurant furniture was placed on sidewalks, making it difficult for wheelchair users and people with vision loss or mobility impairments to navigate safely and independently.
“Roads have been completely calmed down and disabled parking spaces have been removed in order to exclude disabled people who rely on cars from access to cities and city centers.
“The Equal Opportunities Act requires local authorities to take gender issues into account in their decisions, but the reality is that the mobility needs of disabled citizens across the country have either been retrospectively considered or completely ignored.”
A spokesman for the City of York council said it is trying to “balance the access needs of all York residents, protect jobs, support businesses and protect everyone in our city center.”
They said, “The temporary expansion of the pedestrian zone last year has allowed the city to reopen safely, with space for social distancing in our busiest streets.
“The additional outside area protected many jobs and enabled many companies to keep trading.”
They said the engagement over the past year has shown that “most respondents recognize the benefits of the pedestrian zone,” with “tangible benefits of car-free streets” from “many elderly residents, those with vision loss and those with mobility aids who can now use” . the smoother road surface instead of narrow sidewalks ”.
They added: “The benefits of the footpaths have led to the decision to consult about the permanent measures.”
They also said the council took some steps to improve access to blue badges and parking after the engagement revealed the impact it had on blue badge holders.
And they said the council was working to improve access throughout the city center.
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