Baroness Celia Thomas writes….The disabled man in the airport

A few days ago, it was reported that last year a paraplegic athlete, Justin Levene, shuffled through Luton Airport on his bottom because his own self-propelled wheelchair was stuck on the plane. He didn’t want to accept Luton Airport’s offer of a different non-self-propelled wheelchair, not least because of the danger of pressure sores, but also the indignity of losing his independence that had been so hard-won.

I have seen various accusations; that it was churlish, offensive, arrogant, publicity seeking – the list goes on.  However others, notably disabled people themselves, have applauded him for drawing attention to the difficulties people with disabilities face if they travel, particularly the inadequate facilities at airports. Some people have accused him of making a fuss but, until you have experienced how little people seem to consider accessibility issues, making a fuss often becomes the only thing you can do to ensure people take notice. The news coverage of Justin Levene is case in point.

This comes at the end of a week when I attended a meeting about disabled access and inclusion, with two Ministers, civil servants and disabled Peers. We were told about the new cross-departmental committee on disability, and its consultation with the Disability Charities Committee – a group I’d barely heard of.  After a bit, one of the Government-supporting Peers let fly.  He told about attending a VIP dinner at a high-end hotel in central London, only to discover that there was no accessible toilet there, but that he could be led to a bedroom some way away which had an accessible bathroom attached to it. He said he felt worthless and demeaned by that, and made sure he was dehydrated.

His point was that disabled access needs to be taken much more seriously, and can’t just rely on “goodwill” and pockets of good practice here and there to make life better for disabled people.  My other disabled colleague and I spoke about the stalling of the whole independent living agenda – accessible housing, transport, enough personal care assistants, employment etc. which is now in danger of going backwards. The answer, surely, is not to encourage us to go to court to fight for our right to live independently, a  right only afforded to those with the money and personal wherewithal to go to court. Access to justice is getting harder for disabled people, not easier, even if we do have nondiscrimination legislation.

What did the Government-supporting Peer make of this?  He reckoned that if access everywhere was much better, and seen to be better, then the rest would fall into place.  I am not nearly so sanguine, but I take his point.  The optics of disability are very important.   The man shuffling along on his bottom in  Luton Airport has done us all a huge favour.

* Celia Thomas is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords.

Read more by or more about , or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.
Advert

3 Comments

  • Richard Underhill 10th Nov '18 - 11:25am

    Going to a Liberal International event in Iceland campaigner Enid Lakeman used a wheelchair provided by the airport. Returning on a Sunday the ‘plane was late landing creating a risk that passengers would miss their last train, under-ground or over-ground.
    She was as vocal as anyone who knew her would understand.

  • Sue Sutherland 10th Nov '18 - 12:49pm

    I thought a lot about this because it was the misplacement of his own special wheelchair that caused this to happen and he refused to use airport wheelchairs as they might give him sores. I’m glad that he took this action because all too often wheelchairs are flung about and damaged and bits that are essential to comfort are lost. I think airport staff should be instructed and trained to look after wheelchairs because if they go missing or get damaged it’s like having your legs chopped off and you are helpless. Except Justin wasn’t helpless because he could use his arms to propel himself both across the airport and into the news.
    My experience of flying is that something always goes wrong so thank you Justin, so much, for getting this problem highlighted in the media.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?

Advert



Recent Comments

  • User AvatarGlenn 10th Dec - 6:45am
    leave voters tend to be older . Older people aren't so easy to get marching about . This is why political "causes" tend to like...
  • User AvatarDenis Loretto 10th Dec - 12:10am
    The last thing we need is any hint of squabbling within the growing People's Vote campaign of which we Lib Dems are clearly an integral...
  • User AvatarJayne Mansfield 10th Dec - 12:01am
    I don't think that People's Vote is sidelining the Liberal Democrats. The issue is that the amendment does not have cross party support or the...
  • User Avatarfrankie 9th Dec - 10:45pm
    Interesting to see the much vaunted Betrayal of Brexit managed to garner 500 more people than a meeting in the Excel Centre. They lack the...
  • User AvatarTony Greaves 9th Dec - 10:43pm
    My good friend Bill le Breton is wrong again in this thread! Twice in a row!! Perhaps I should have a good talk with him...
  • User AvatarTonyH 9th Dec - 10:27pm
    I agree that Caroline Lucas is a better public advocate than Vince. I don't agree that she is better than Layla or Christine or Tom....