People with disabilities have described “significant problems” navigating the streets after cafes and restaurants reopened for outdoor customers.
New measures came into force in England last Monday as part of the easing of lockdown, meaning hospitality venues can now serve customers outdoors.
But some of the measures put in place to ensure social distancing is maintained, including the use of tables and chairs on pavements, risk making accessibility difficult.
Maureen Goodall, 50, who lives in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, is severely sight-impaired and uses a white cane. She said she feels “ignored” on the issue of accessibility.
“My main problem at the moment is the increase of street furniture. It is very difficult to negotiate round it as well as keeping socially distanced from people,” she said.
“I wish Boris Johnson could meet some visually impaired people so we could explain how difficult it is for us at the moment. Sadly we seem to be ignored and don’t have a voice loud enough for people to hear our daily struggles.
“Social distancing has become a problem because people are either not seeing my stick or just not getting out of my way, so I’m bumping into more people again, which is getting a little bit frustrating because for the last few months I’ve been used to the paths all by myself.
“Even walking through King’s Cross yesterday I was pushed and shoved a little bit which I haven’t had for months. It’s all a little bit daunting again.
“I was able to cope with it better (pre-pandemic) because I didn’t have to be aware that everybody has to be two metres apart. Now, I’m very conscious of that.
“It’s not just me that’s struggling, I’ve got a friend that’s in an electric chair and she’s saying the same thing. The queues, the street furniture, the tables, the chairs. When somebody’s guiding me there’s just not enough room for us to walk safely side-by-side.”
Alan Benson, chair of Transport for All, an organisation that aims to improve transport accessibility for disabled people, said the reopening of society must be “inclusive of everybody”.
He said fencing off areas with tables and chairs, and making sure the pavement is wide enough for wheelchairs, could be a way of making areas more accessible.
Benson, 51, said: “I’m a wheelchair user, so it’s something that I’m certainly well aware of.
“Soho is a particular issue because it’s quite inaccessible as it is, so you often get missing dropped curbs. You’ll get to a corner, want to cross the road and can’t, so when you put all this new Covid outdoor dining street furniture all over the place, that then adds on top of what’s already an inaccessible street-scape.
“Today is my 400th day of shielding, so essentially I’ve not been out in 400 days, so I’m really looking forward to getting out and enjoying some of this opening up.
“It’s not that we’re trying to stop people enjoying themselves, we want to get out probably even more than they do, but we do want it to be accessible, it’s got to be inclusive of everybody.”
Fazilet Hadi, head of policy at Disability Rights UK, said: “Since the government relaxed rules on pavement dining… wheelchair users, people with mobility impairments and those with sight loss have all experienced significant problems.
“It is important that councils consult with their disabled residents before granting permission, that the boundary of the eating area is clearly defined and that there is enough space for a wheelchair user to safely pass by.”
Benson added that “consideration” of disabled people on pavements could help with accessibility.
It’s an issue for both wheelchair users and if you’re blind or partially sighted, things that you use like curbs and edges of buildings to guide yourself, if you put tables and chairs in the way, people walk into them,” he said.
“The issue is that people just aren’t used to thinking about it… but we really need your help, your support, and your consideration.”