Rebecca Herbert: Getting around South London as a wheelchair user

Dry January is a temporary choice, but lasts all year if you’re disabled. More than eight in 10 disabled people face challenges accessing pubs and bars according to a survey by Leonard Cheshire disability charity.

Rebecca Herbert

Almost half of those surveyed – 45 per cent – said they had experienced a negative attitude from staff, while a third of survey respondents – 35 per cent – said they had faced negative attitudes from customers.

“I find security staff treat me like a health and safety risk,” said one survey respondent.

Another said: “People stand looking at you blocking the way. [You have] difficulty hearing what is being said.”

For some, it was enough to stop them going out altogether.

Since being in my wheelchair, the spontaneity of going out has disappeared, because lots of research needs to be carried out beforehand.

Fully wheelchair-accessible bars and pubs should mean a step-free entrance and a wheelchair accessible toilet.

However, accessible toilets are often used as a store room (I have experienced high chairs and DJ decks); the key is missing or it is located via stairs.

Other problems include heavy entrance doors, carpets or high bars and tables which are impossible to be seen over.

Things are improving in London but not all venues are accessible.

Smaller, independent ones sometimes have restricted access, particularly those in older buildings.

Pubs and bars with multiple outlets (chains) are often accessible but not always.  Wetherspoon spokesman Eddie Gershon said: “We are proud of the facilities that we offer to our customers with disabilities.

“Our aim is to make each and every one of them as welcome in our pubs as possible.”

Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson DBE has previously introduced the British Beer and Pub Association accessibility guidance.

It suggests best practice for pubs and highlights the easy adjustments that can be made to improve accessibility.

Tips include;

  • access ramp at door (removable)
  • accessible toilet with disability sign on door.
  • staff – ensuring that staff are trained to meet the needs of disabled customers
  • layout – make sure the path to the bar/toilet is clear of obstacles and easy to navigate

The Pilot pub and hotel is located in Greenwich and dates back more than 200 years.

It was advised by the association to keep adjustments in mind when refurbishing so step-free access to the main bar area and dining room was created.

Two disabled bays are always available in the car park and there is an accessible toilet.

The Pilot ensures that its website clearly states these accessible facilities, with an option to take a 360 degree tour of the venue, so that potential customers can make an informed decision.

Wheelchair user, Mark Cooper, led a successful campaign in 2009 after a night out with friends was disrupted when he discovered the only toilets available were down a flight of stairs.

A new, legal, amendment came into effect in Scotland last year and requires details of access and facilities for people with disabilities to be included in any application for liquor licence.

He  said: “Unfortunately, as much as we try to be part of mainstream society, disabled people still have to fight for things that non-disabled people take for granted.”

There are more than 11 million disabled people in the UK with a combined spending power of their households, ‘the purple pound’, standing at around £250billion.

Finding a wheelchair accessible restaurant or theatre with an accessible toilet and step- free entrance often seems like an impossible task but I will make the process easier.

For example The Antelope: The quirky pub is step-free with a bar and large dining room. It has weekly events and a toilet for the disabled.  – 76 Mitcham Road, Tooting SW17 9NG.

Theatre: All in a Row Meet Tam, Martin and their autistic son Laurence’s carer Gary. The night before social services finally intervenes. Who is the victim here? Who was the traitor? And who do you blame when you can no longer cope?

Southwark Playhouse, 77-85 Newington Causeway, SE1 6BD Call 020 7407 0234 or

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