Alarming shortcomings in the accessibility of Manchester city centre have been exposed in a short documentary that follows a wheelchair user around the city for a day.
Sara is an electronic wheelchair user with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a condition which affects the body’s connective tissue and causes her joints to dislocate from simple actions such as picking up her handbag.
The video shows Sara attempting to travel across the city and highlights various troublesome obstacles she faced when attempting to access public transport facilities, cross busy roads and enter restaurants and shops.
It highlights problems Sara encountered due to poor road maintenance, badly designed dropped curbs and lampposts wrongly positioned in the middle of public footpaths – all of which made Sara feel uncomfortable, excluded and at risk of physical harm.
The documentary also exposes how some public toilets labelled as accessible are being used incorrectly. In the footage, Sara opens the door to a disabled toilet in a popular Manchester train station and discovers that it is being used as a motorcycle storage room.
The video was commissioned by serious injury solicitors’ firm Potter Rees Dolan, following years of its lawyers seeing first hand the challenges their clients regularly face when travelling to and around the city centre.
They are sharing the documentary to demonstrate that obstacles encountered by disabled people in public areas may not be immediately visible or recognised by able-bodied people, and encourage local authorities and businesses to consider the needs of disabled people.
Clinical negligence solicitor Hannah Bottomley accompanied Sara throughout the filming.
“Although I believe, due to my line of work, that I am reasonably aware of the everyday challenges faced by the large community of disabled people in our city centre, I was interested to see what issues we would encounter,” she says.
“I was shocked to find that areas labelled as accessible still posed a huge challenge and safety risk to Sara. Finding a motorcycle in a disabled toilet was incredibly disheartening – we cannot continue to treat disabled people as an afterthought. Manchester is a modern, vibrant city but we are excluding a large percentage of people with physical disabilities.
“This is perhaps due to lack of understanding or assuming that the size of Manchester’s disabled community is negligible,which is not the case.”