People of all ages like to party – and, in particular, it’s a rite of passage for young people to go to nightclubs and enjoy their youth. Unfortunately, a lack of wheelchair access in some nightclubs and entertainment venues is denying people with disabilities the chance to lead a full social life.
The reality for many people who use wheelchairs is a feeling of exclusion when it comes to nightclubs where suitable access isn’t granted.
The Disability Discrimination Act 2005 and the Equalities Act 2010 state there should be “reasonable access” into public buildings for disabled people – yet some people in wheelchairs have been refused access to nightclubs on the grounds they create a “fire hazard”.
Sam Renke, a 30-year-old disabled actress from London, says she has been refused access to nightclubs a number of times, on the grounds she’s a “fire risk”, or that the venue doesn’t have disabled toilets. She has even found some venues have a disabled toilet, but it’s being used as a store room.
She has brittle bone condition but doesn’t see it as a barrier to enjoying the capital’s nightlife. Sadly, a number of bouncers don’t have the same opinion, making her feel like a “second class citizen”.
Even if people do manage to gain access in their wheelchair, once inside, they face further obstacles, including steep stairs and even getting served at the bar. It can turn what’s supposed to be a fun night out into a nightmare.
In the summer of 2018, Alex Taylor, who has cerebral palsy and requires a wheelchair and a carer on nights out, compiled BBC Newsbeat’s documentary, ‘Ibiza: Access All Areas?’
He jokes about his condition, calling himself “a poor man’s version of X-Men’s Professor Charles Xavier”, but has found the realities of visiting the party capital of Europe are no laughing matter.
He said the island’s entry policy for clubbers using a wheelchair was “confusing” at best – and at worst, “didn’t care” at all. A number of venues, including Amnesia, refused to allow access to Taylor’s carer unless they also bought a full-price ticket, which wasn’t cheap.
However, he was heartened that other clubbers proved there was strength in numbers and argued his case that his carer was working to support him. Finally, the doormen relented under pressure and didn’t charge the carer.
A second club, Pacha, didn’t have a recognised disabled access and Taylor had to enter through a second access door where there was a ramp – but it wasn’t signposted as being a disabled access. It also took them through a fire exit, so was hardly convenient. He described it as being made to feel like a “troublesome afterthought”.
Both Amnesia and Pacha’s disabled toilets left much to be desired, according to Taylor’s report. Although Pacha had a disabled toilet, he found it was one big room, with a toilet at one end and the washbasin at the other. He couldn’t see any assistance rails at all, so this made it extremely difficult for a person who couldn’t walk.
Amnesia had a disabled toilet at one time – but astoundingly, it had been transformed into a staff rest room. It even had its own fridge and microwave installed. Taylor felt this reflected on the club’s general door policy for disabled people, as it showed how little the toilet had been used for its original purpose.
After being contacted by Newsbeat, the Pacha Group has apologised for Taylor’s “negative experience” and the “inconvenience” he had suffered. It said it had since improved disabled access to its Ibiza club, as it was “committed to the equal treatment” of disabled people.
Amnesia also apologised, saying that “full details” of carers must be given in advance where possible to enable free access. During spontaneous visits, when prior notification isn’t possible, the carer must carry “some type of ID” to prove their position. However, Taylor says that it’s not standard practice to produce such ID for carers, so he’s unsure what ID would be accepted.
Unfortunately, it’s not just nightclubs that can prove inaccessible for people who use wheelchairs. Many disabled people have a similar struggle entering public buildings to simply get on with their everyday life.
Disabled campaigners say that in spite of laws in the UK aiming to stamp out discrimination towards disabled people in terms of public buildings and the workplace, what constitutes “reasonable access” is a grey area, as it’s open to interpretation and a subjective term.
Companies refurbishing public buildings are expected to ensure suitable high-quality disabled access, but in the case of small businesses, such as restaurants or shops, they may have lower criteria, due to the costs to their business.
Although permanent, or semi-permanent disabled access is needed to comply with legislation such as the National Planning Framework and the Building Regulations Document Part M, BS8300, portable wheelchair ramps or temporary ramps don’t need to meet the strict specifications.
Changes to legislation
Changes have come into effect on 27th September 2018 as a result of the European Access Act, aimed at giving disabled people greater rights in accessing public buildings. However, in the UK, the government has stated that the Equality Act 2010 is “up to date with all changes known to be in force on or before 27th September 2018”.
It has countered that there are changes that “may be brought into force at a future date” – a stance that disabled campaigners say isn’t good enough. Disability Rights UK has accused the British government of “blocking key European legislation” that would improve the day-to-day life of disabled people.
The body is urging the government to drop its opposition to key parts of the EAA, amid accusations the legislation is being “watered down”. This is thwarting the act’s purpose of ensuring a minimum standard of disabled access is put in place in public buildings.
According to campaigners, the government is blocking key areas of the new legislation, including making accessibility a requirement of public procurement, which covers the acquisition of works, services and supplies by public bodies.
In addition, the government is blocking a requirement for micro-businesses (making up 90% of goods and services in the EU) to have disabled access, while it’s also failing to extend accessibility rules to environments such as the community infrastructure, including transport hubs and pavements.
A warm welcome
Automatic Access will install high-quality automatic door systems compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act and other legislation, making your building fully accessible for disabled people, including those who use wheelchairs. Please contact us on 0116 269 5050 for information on how our professional services can assist you.