MORE than a third of shops and restaurants in Warrington town centre are still inaccessible to wheelchair users according to a charity boss.
Warrington Disability Partnership cofounder and chief executive Dave Thompson estimates that around 35 per cent of premises in the town centre are not accessible for wheelchair users.
The Warrington Guardian spent a day out in the town centre with him to experience how accessible its shops and restaurants are for wheelchair users, with steps leading up to shops and high kerbs just some of the issues that prevent accessibility.
Dave said: “We’ve got a mixed town – probably 65 per cent of what’s in the town centre is accessible but you’ve still got places with great big steps.
“We’ve seen two pie shops next to each other like that and it’s a bit embarrassing when you’re served outside, having to shout your order to the people inside.
“Then when you start going towards the outskirts you tend to find it is less accessible.
“There are some roads with no dropped kerbs and even when they do have them there are lampposts and signs you have to manoeuvre around.”
But Dave believes there has been a vast improvement in accessibility since the charity was founded 25 years ago.
We visited Warrington Museum, one of the first premises in town that Warrington Disability Partnership worked with to improve accessibility.
Dave added: “In 1992 after my accident I came to Warrington Museum with my kids for an arts display and I couldn’t get in – the next year I was very proud to officially open the access improvements we’d be involved with over the next seven months.
“I’ve got to give credit to the council – over the years they’ve been very positive about the feedback we’ve given them and we’ve never gone out and openly criticised anyone, it’s always been about positive dialogue.
“Dropped kerbs are everywhere today but about 25 years ago they were very few and far between – it has improved.
“We’ve pushed and pushed to try to improve access and tried to encourage people to feedback to us where dropped kerbs are needed so we can speak to the council.”
Dave believes that people’s attitudes towards disability have markedly changed for the better, although not universally.
He added: “People do tend to offer you help these days but 20 years that probably wouldn’t have happened because people felt embarrassed – as disabled people have been seen more and more in society people have been more confident to speak to disabled people.
“As much as society’s attitude towards disability has changed you still get people who just walk in front of you though.”
There is undoubtedly still work to do but Warrington Disability Partnership is working alongside the developers of major schemes, including the new market project, to ensure a more accessible town.
Dave said: “If you look at the Halliwell Jones Stadium it has won national awards for its accessibility but if you look at Old Trafford, a 75,000 seater stadium, it has less than 150 spaces for wheelchair users – the Halliwell Jones Stadium has that amount for a 15,000 capacity stadium.
“There have been a lot of improvements but there’s still work to do and we’re very proud to be working with the new Bridge Street quarter, the Sankey Forum refurbishments and the new Bewsey and Dallam Hub that will have some fantastic facilities for disabled people.”