Monday, January 17, 2011

British wheelchair user fights for Oxford's access officer not to be sacked

From The Oxford Mail:

A paraplegic man is taking on Oxford City Council over proposals to make redundant the “voice of the disabled community”.

Wheelchair-bound Niall Strawson (pictured) has launched a campaign to save the council’s access officer from cuts.

The officer, Lynne Hooper, is responsible for access issues at the council’s buildings and car parks and tackles highway concerns such as uneven pavements and dropped kerbs.

She is also responsible for improving car parking for disabled people in the city.

Mr Strawson, 29, moved from Aylesbury to Oxford after he was injured in a United States sledging accident two years ago.

The Headington resident said: “I was impressed by the ease of access that the city had compared other places I had visited since I had become a wheelchair user.

“I put this down to the tourism draw of Oxford but since then I have found out that a lot of the ease of use is through the hard work of the access officer.”

He added: “When I found out Lynne’s job was under threat in the budget cuts I knew I had to do something. If her job goes, this will all simply fade into oblivion.

“To put it simply, Lynne is an oracle of information and more importantly the voice of the disabled community.

“Her job role provides the only link we have to local Government to improve access and promote disabled rights.”

“As an able-bodied person I can almost guarantee that you don’t notice the angle of drop kerbs, pavement cambers, subtle slopes, door lips, the odd step into a building.

“Having a traumatic injury that leads to life in a wheelchair was the most eye opening experience of my life.”

The 2004 Disability Discrimination Act placed demands on public buildings to provide access to disabled people.

Mr Strawson has lobbied councillors and set up a Facebook group and blog for people to pledge their support. So far, 196 people have signed up.

Wheelchair user and Oxford Access Forum chairman Gwynneth Pedler, 85, backed the campaign.

Mrs Pedler, of Cumnor Hill, added: “The law says it is unlawful for service providers to make it unreasonably difficult for disabled people to make use of services and by the removal of the access officer Oxford City will be doing just that.

“It will also undo the giant strides that have been made in the last decade or so to improve life for disabled people giving them an equal place in society.

“Without access many will be condemned to watching the world go by from behind the curtains.”

A council spokesman said: “No final decisions have been taken yet.”