Celebrating access on Disabled Access Day

2016, wheelchair users, guest blog, London, England

Celebrating access on Disabled Access Day

For Disabled Access Day, George Fielding, visited some of London’s most iconic sites including St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Tate Modern. George is the chair of the Whizz Kidz Kidz Board and has written a guest blog for us about why Disabled Access Day is important to him and the legacy it has beyond March 12th.

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In the week since Disabled Access Day (12th March) one word has been prominent in my mind: legacy. It’s a word you’ll hear a lot in the coming months – the Rio Olympics are fast approaching. I was one of a privileged few to parade the Olympic Torch through Hammersmith and Fulham 4 years ago. The event itself, but particularly that ever-burning flame, is rich in symbolism. The message: there is something that unites every human being regardless of their background, nationality, race or gender – we’re connected, can all contribute to society, and in doing so, share the responsibility of making our world better – more inclusive, tolerant, sustainable and accessible. An unquantifiable amount of talent shall go to waste if we do not articulate and champion the idea that everybody has the potential to make a difference and create change – what is it the Olympic Flame stands for if not this?

Photograph of George Fielding with Gary, a Euan's Guide reviewer, and Antonia, a member of the Euan's Guide team.

Disabled Access Day was, in my opinion, the best day to be alive in London, as a wheelchair user, since the celebrated summer of 2012. Not for one millisecond did I recoil into my shell, feel a burden or the need to apologise. I was welcome. London Waterloo were prepared for me, offered directions to St. Paul’s Cathedral, which seemed to shimmer with purple and orange. As I buzzed across the threshold of Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece, something dawned on me: access equals education. I’ve nonchalantly walked through Ludgate Hill countless times, never truly appreciating much more than the attraction’s dome. However, Sir Winston Churchill, Admiral Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, Florence Nightingale, J. M. W. Turner are all either buried or commemorated there, among many others. I simply cannot think of a more historically significant building in our United Kingdom. The added bonus: I couldn’t fault its accessibility and, as a result, no longer will hearing the words “heritage” and “listed” incite queasiness and anxiety within my body. St. Paul’s Cathedral - the building, its staff and volunteers - set an example that others must follow and in honour of this fact, I shall one day return to marry my better half in the crypt – I just need to find a suitable person first! Now, with such an incentive, I hereby politely ask for Euan MacDonald’s services as a wingman!

A short walk across a glistening Millennium Bridge enabled me to experience the hubbub of activity at Tate Modern, a place alive with more energy than a Coca Cola factory!  Again, purple and orange could be spotted everywhere – something notable was happening and everybody knew it!  Here I delighted in participating in a number of icebreakers and Wheelchair Skills Training activities with Whizz-Kidz. Ask me why there’s a need for Disabled Access Day and the answer lies in the notion that 10,000s of young people remain in wheelchairs that don’t meet their needs, who don’t move freely and enjoy independence, spontaneity and a sense of belonging.  In the Tate’s Turbine Hall everybody was integrated, engaged, working together with friends, having a ball – the true meaning of the day was encapsulated right there!

Indeed, you can’t underestimate how importance having the right attitude is. Disabled Access Day was, and will hopefully continue to be, the most collaborative initiative I can remember the disabled community supporting. We got the word out beyond the converted, however. Social media was pulsating. I could have gone to Café Nero for coffee, Strada for pasta. Everybody united behind the cause. On Sunday (13th March) – yes I did make a weekend of the festivities - I realised there may be a possibility for Disabled Access Day to cross continental borders – no pressure everyone! This video I shot, on behalf of Whizz-Kidz, at London Heathrow demonstrates that great work being done within air travel to ensure their practices are inclusive and accommodating – it is imperative we all try something new and experience the world. Thanks to Disabled Access Day I had the most memorable weekend and I urge all to voice the message for eternity. Disabled Access Day 2016 typified what I hoped 2012’s legacy would be. Only good things will be born out of it. We’ll all make sure of that. The pace of change has quickened and for that we all ought to be grateful.