News story legal challenge

17th December 2018 • Emma Cooper

Popping out for a drink over the festive period may prove easy for some people, but disability charity Leonard Cheshire is calling on pubs and bars to invite everyone in for a drink this December.

Not everyone feels welcomed in for a drink during the festive season, with more than 8 in 10 disabled people facing challenges accessing pubs and bars, according to those who took part in a survey* by the charity.

Almost half of those surveyed (45%) said they had experienced a negative attitude from staff, while a third of survey respondents (35%) said they have faced negative attitudes from customers.

‘I find security staff treat me like a health and safety risk,’ said one survey respondent. Another commented, ‘People stand looking at you, blocking the way. [You have] difficulty hearing what is being said.’

For some, it was enough to stop them going out altogether, with Stewart from Birmingham, saying it, ‘stops me meeting and sharing experiences with friends.’

William Ogden, 27, from Farnborough, also had to avoid his local, after his disability led to him being barred: ‘I went to purchase a cake, but I did not hear the bar staff telling me to not touch it myself. She called over a bouncer. I explained I was deaf and I could not hear her, but I was barred for a year!’

Beyond staffing issues, for people with a range of disabilities, it was pub layouts, toilets, menus, bar heights and step-free access that also proved to be the sticking points.

One respondent revealed: ‘High up bars mean I can’t get served because [staff] can’t see me. Layout of tables is often very difficult to navigate in a wheelchair or lack of lowered seating means I can’t get to a table.’

Leonard Cheshire wrote to three of the leading pub and bar companies, as well as contacting another via their website, to find out about their disabled customer provisions. Only Wetherspoons responded and, encouragingly, their spokesman Eddie Gershon said, ‘We are proud of the facilities that we offer to our customers with disabilities. Our aim is to make each and every one of them as welcome in our pubs as possible. We are especially proud of the Changing Places facilities in a number of our pubs which are very welcomed by the people and their families who need them. We are looking to add more Changing Places in our pubs in the near future.’

But even if pubs adapt, a culture change also depends on non-disabled customers. As one respondent revealed, ‘It does not feel socially acceptable to ask somebody for a seat in a pub. I do not use a wheelchair, walking stick or other mobility aid and yet I have chronic pain and a physical disability, so I can’t stand up for long periods. This ‘invisible’ disability makes accessing such venues tricky. There is the issue of people bumping into you and not being spatially aware!’

Leonard Cheshire’s Head of Policy and Campaigns, Husna Mortuza said, ‘Pubs, bars and the public who use them need to do much more to allow disabled people to go out and socialise in the same way as non-disabled people. Pubs are part of our national tradition and nobody should be made to feel like they are not welcome.

‘This isn’t just about drinking; pubs are a great way to get out and avoid social isolation. Disabled people shouldn’t miss out, during the holiday season or any other time of year. If pubs and bars take note, they also stand a chance to cash in on the £249 billion that the disabled person market, also known as the ‘purple pound’, is worth.’