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Inaccessibility to LGBTI spaces is leaving disabled people out in the cold

Inaccessibility to LGBTI spaces is leaving disabled people out in the cold

Protestors taking to the streets to get access to LGBTI spaces

It’s a disturbing reality for many LGBTI disabled people that lack of accessibility contributes to feelings of loneliness and isolation.

From Pride events to pubs, clubs and LGBTI safe spaces, inaccessibility is often a top priority.

But more often than not, it’s not their disability holding them back, it’s a combination of this lack of access to community spaces, as well as social stigma, cost of living pressures and under-funding in the social care system.

That’s what UK-based disability charity Scope found in its 2017 report.

It also found almost half of people living with disabilities ‘always or often’ feel lonely. This number particularly affects young people, with 85% of young disabled adults saying they feel lonely.

Digital Pride is the only global Pride and is dedicated to enabling everyone to be part of a Pride, whoever they are and wherever they live in the world. This year, we are focusing on tackling loneliness and isolation. It takes place on Gay Star News from 29 April to 5 May 2019. Find out more.

Time for a change

Joshua Hepple, 28, is a gay man with cerebral palsy. He said the lack of accessibility to LGBTI spaces affected him most when he was first entering the gay scene while at university in Sterling, Scotland.

I remember one typical outing for a friend’s birthday party,’ he said. ‘But they decided to use an inaccessible bar and I really felt I was missing out.’

He then added: ‘I began to really hate the fact it was my fault I couldn’t get up the stairs.

‘Disabled people should never feel bad about their impairment and when clubs are inaccessible, it makes me feel sad. I would not want other disabled adults to feel like this,’ he said.

The team at Queer Tours of London decided to do something about accessibility issues.

Protestors taking to the streets to get access to LGBTI spaces
Queer Freedom for all: One ramp at a time. | Photo: Holly Buckle / supplied

In July 2017, they took to the streets of central London to challenge 15 LGBTI spaces in Soho on how accessible their venues are.

As a result of the day, all venues except one —where the manager wasn’t in at the time — committed to some form of action in making their spaces more accessible.

A year later, they went back to check on the progress of six of the venues. Five had implemented temporary ramps, while one had also installed a sign and a doorbell.

But one pub hadn’t done anything at all, despite the 2010 Equality Act stating all public venues must be fully accessible.

Bar owner (left) with Kevin Wilson (right)
Bar owner (left) with Kevin Wilson (right). | Photo: Holly Buckle / supplied

‘Before, I was demotivated about the whole thing,’ said Kevin Wilson, Queer Disability Justice Tour guide and activist. ‘But this year, it feels [like] we have achieved something.

‘We’ve got somewhere and we are gonna move it to another level if they don’t do something this year,’ he said.

Fears over inaccessibility stops LGBTI disabled people

Attitude is Everything is a charity working to improve deaf and disabled people’s access to live music, in partnership with audiences, artists and the music industry.

They recently conducted a survey, which found over 60% of respondents had been put off attending Prides and LGBTI venues due to access concerns.

60% of respondents also felt unwelcome in LGBTI spaces as a deaf or disabled LGBTI person. Only 9% felt very welcome.

‘Often, my partner and I just don’t bother going,’ said Amelia, 36, bisexual, blind and living in London. ‘The reason is that we will often find events that look great, and that will have some statement like “We take access really seriously. Let us know your needs!” And then when we do, people literally don’t know what to do.’

Amelia and her partner Al, who identifies as non-binary trans, said their main issue is finding audio-guided commentary for performances, as well as access to seats towards the front where they can properly hear.

She said: ‘I asked [one venue] if they do any kind of audio description and they replied with info about a BSL (British Sign Language) interpreter.

It’s exhausting,’ she said. ‘So we just don’t tend to bother anymore.’

How can we fix it?

Disability campaigners are urging venues to adapt or modify their venues so they’re accessible for all.

To help with this, Attitude is Everything implemented the Charter of Best Practice initiative. It ranks festivals and venues on how accessible they are. It also gives participants who volunteer to sign up to the initiative a ranking of gold, silver or bronze.

Pride Cymru (Cardiff, Wales) and Pride in London are the only two Pride festivals in the UK to achieve gold status on the charter.

A representative from Pride Cymru revealed how they reached gold status, explaining they joined the charter over seven years ago.

With BSL interpreters, 2-4-1 access tickets, dedicated disabled facilities and a Mobiloo, it has made ‘accessibility for all’ its mission. They offer a disabled viewing platform for the main stage and a ‘quiet area’ for anyone who needs a break.

All volunteers on-site also receive access training and are on hand.

Helen, Access Manager, told GSN: ‘If you want to come to Pride Cymru, then you should be able to. The event cannot be truly inclusive without catering for the needs of anyone with a disability, visible or not.’

She then added: ‘Accessibility should be the norm, not an afterthought.’

A marcher at today's Pride in London parade
A marcher at 2018 Pride in London parade. | Photo: Dan Beeson

‘Pride absolutely has to be a welcoming and inclusive space for everyone,’ said Matthew Kent, Head of Accessibility at Pride in London. ‘This means going above and beyond to make sure all our events are as accessible as possible.

‘Whether it’s by offering audio descriptions on our website, speech-to-text or BSL interpreters on our stages, running free accessible minibus shuttles, having a Changing Places mobiloo in Trafalgar Square or creating a designated Access Safe-Space within our Parade, we want everyone to be able to celebrate with us at Pride.

‘We also have Access volunteers along the Parade route and in Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square who are always on hand to offer assistance or help with special requirements,’ he said.

You can email Pride in London if you have any accessibility questions.

‘At the end of the day, we all want to have a social life’

Suzanne Bull MBE is the CEO of Attitude is Everything.

She told Gay Star News: ‘Our results show that there is real demand from deaf and disabled LGBTI people across the country for more accessible LGBTI spaces and events.

‘It’s clear that these spaces are vital to enable people to participate in their community, so they really should be accessible to everyone.’

‘The positive side is that good access doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive to do. The most important thing you can do is talk – and listen! – to disabled people in your community,’ she said.

The survey found over 90% of respondents would be more likely to attend a Pride or LGBTI venue if they provided comprehensive access information.

James Vincent, 36, is a gay man from South Wales. He lives with a disability called Pik3ca Related Overgrowth Spectrum, where one side of his body is bigger than the other.

He is unable to stand for longer than 30 minutes at a time, which means attending club nights are difficult.

James Vincent
James Vincent. | Photo: supplied

Vincent told Gay Star News: ‘At the end of the day, we all want to have a social life.

‘Living with my disorder and pain, I notice what others don’t. Someone with a stick or the obstacle ahead for the person in a wheelchair,’ he said.

He then added: ‘Venues — please be more mindful about those with mobility limitations.’

If a disabled person needs something to access your space, provide it, he said.

What is Digital Pride?

Digital Pride is the online movement, by Gay Star News, so you can take part in Pride whoever and wherever you are. Even if you are from a country where being LGBTI is criminalized or leaves you in danger – it’s a Pride festival you can be a part of.

In 2019, Digital Pride is tackling loneliness and isolation with articles and videos connecting LGBTI people. Join us by reaching out to someone who needs it. The festival takes place on Gay Star News from 29 April to 5 May 2019. Find out more.

See more from #DigitalPride:

Beautiful songs by LGBTI artists that explore themes of loneliness

Clubbing in London can be incredibly isolating when you’re not a man

How often do you feel lonely?