Calls have been made for Chichester workplaces to be made more accessible for disabled people in the wake of the government’s back to work scheme.
While it’s felt access is good in general for shopping, those involved in campaigning for better access for the disabled feel the city is falling behind in helping people with disabilities get back to work.
There are 3,560 residents claiming disability living allowance in the Chichester district, a figure which has risen by 47 per cent in the last eight years.
The government is spending billions of pounds offering incentives to employers to take on those out of work.
But former head of county wide disabled charity, Voice for Disability, Roland Higgins said finding employment for disabled people would not count for anything if they could not get into work.
He is now vice-chairman of the Chichester Access Group, which is aiming to improve access in the area. “Shops and banks and everything else have been really good in making themselves accessible but only at the ground floor,” he said.
“There are very few businesses that simply work on the one level.
“So they can cope with a disabled customer, but they have not got the capacity to employ a disabled person.”
He said a growing awareness of how DLA works is a factor for the increase in claimants.
“It’s a combination of the fact that the charities which support disabled people and the Citizens Advice Bureau have become a lot more aware of who is supposed to get this disability benefit,” he said.
“I think it’s misconception with the general public that they can spot a person with a disability.
“Only five per cent of disabled people use a wheelchair, so that leaves a large number of people with hidden disabilities.
“It’s a really important benefit which should be protected for the people that need it.”
CAG has created an access guide for disabled people, mapping out how accessible each shop is in the city in a booklet.
Chairman of the group Barbara Teasdale said: “Most people that are disabled would love to work, but if they cannot get into work there’s no point.
“If offices are upstairs, or doorways are too narrow or there’s not the room to get around inside on a wheelchair, it doesn’t matter.”
“The access guide that we have been working on for the last six months audited all of the shops and everywhere was pretty accessible in Chichester, surprisingly,
“For shopping it’s actually very, very good, however if you were in a work situation most of the offices are above the shops. There are very few that have lifts.”
She said there was a need for an access guide in hard copy, after studying the results of a survey by VfD, which revealed a high number of people do not have the internet, and therefore could not see online access guides. The guide is to be published and made available free of charge at the end of June.
For more information about Chichester Access Group, visit their website, www.chichesteraccessgroup.org.uk, or call 07818688490.