Supreme Court  ruling enables “level playing field” for wheelchair travellers

Supreme Court ruling enables “level playing field” for wheelchair travellers

Christian disability charity Through the Roof is pleased that the additional difficulties experienced by wheelchair users has been recognised today by the Supreme Court in London. The ruling means that it is discriminatory for a bus driver to “request but not require” a non-disabled person to vacate the allocated space if a wheelchair user wishes to board the bus. Instead, some further steps should be considered to pressurise the non-wheelchair user to vacate the space. This does not give wheelchair users some special privilege over other travellers; it simply acknowledges that they are entitled to a level playing field, the same right to make a journey as everybody else.

Through the Roof wants to see society treating disabled people as equals, but it wants Christians to go beyond that and reflect God’s heart, not merely comply with the law. The charity can support Christians to do this by becoming a Roofbreaker in their own church, someone whose role is to ensure that disabled people can participate fully in church life. You can find out more by following this link and learning about Roofbreakers.

Through the Roof’s Training Resources Developer, Ros Dakin, explains her own experience: “I have three children, all now adults, of whom one is a wheelchair user. So I have travelled by bus as a mum with small children in tow, including one in a buggy, and I have travelled by bus accompanying my adult daughter in her wheelchair. I’ve found it’s far harder for the wheelchair user than for the mum with children. She can fold the buggy, pick up the children, stand somewhere else. The wheelchair user doesn’t have those choices. If I’d had to move for someone else it would have been annoying, a nuisance, inconvenient, difficult. But for the wheelchair user it rules out making the journey.”

In 2012 Doug Palley was refused permission to board a bus, when a mother with a buggy refused to move to accommodate his wheelchair. The bus operator, FirstGroup, had a policy of “requesting but not requiring” non-disabled people to vacate the space for a wheelchair user. Doug Palley argued that this policy is unlawful because it discriminates against disabled people. Today’s ruling means that requesting the non-disabled person to move is not enough, but it stops short of requiring bus drivers to compel people to move. The bus driver could tell the non-disabled person to vacate the space, and then refuse to move the bus until they comply.

It is sad if basic kindness and understanding requires legislation, and Through the Roof would hope everyone can see that the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of our communities deserve equal respect. People are not disabled by their impairments but by attitudes in society and barriers in the environment, and the Church has an opportunity to take a lead in modelling excellent practice.