Once upon a time, or in less enlightened times anyway, things were much more difficult for people with mobility problems than they are today.
Nowadays, thanks to the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act, it’s that bit easier for the less physically able to access public buildings where, previously, the need to negotiate flights of stairs and other obstacles made things prohibitively difficult.
Thanks to new regulations, many of our entertainment venues have become more user-friendly, sprouting various improvements to enable a historically marginalised section of society to attend shows and concerts they’d previously had to do without. Where once there were only steps outside, now there are ramps, to allow wheelchair users ease of access. Inside, where staircases were once the only means of getting from the ground floor upwards, there are now lifts. It’s all quite a bit better than in the bad old days, but there is still progress to be made.
All of which brings me on to Pontefract Town Hall and Assembly Rooms. I’m a fan of this fine 18th century building, which provides an attractive and ornate civic hub for Pontefract as well as a good old-fashioned stage.
The trouble is that the town hall, while strictly compliant with the law, is always only one lift breakdown from being virtually unusable for those with mobility and other health problems. This is something that was demonstrated recently, when two members of my family attended a show in the Assembly Hall on the first floor. Because the lift was out of order, and because the only available toilets are at ground floor level, it was a very difficult evening for anybody of impaired mobility. Indeed, the question possibly arises as to whether, in these circumstances, a public performance should actually proceed.
Subsequent complaints revealed that there is no statutory requirement to have public loos on the same floor or level as the audience space. As long as the lift works, things aren’t too bad. But if the lift is out of order, as was the case the other week, it’s a very different story.
Having heard an account of just how difficult things were, to the point of spoiling what should have been a pleasant evening, it seems to me that there should sometimes be a case for “going the extra mile”, as it were, rather than adhering strictly to the minimum requirements of the law.
The relevant authorities should be considering going beyond their minimum legal obligations.
That would make for a much better user experience for everybody, whether or not the single lift might be in working order. It’s one of those situations where, upon reflection, decision-makers might possibly agree that it’s not good enough simply to say “but the law says we don’t have to do this”. There must surely be the latitude for a little discretion where there’s a compelling case to go over and above what is provided by statute.
Accessible toilet provision at the stage level in Pontefract Town Hall appears to be just such a situation, and I’d like to think this is something that might be addressed, sooner rather than later.