Published: 05:00, 09 May 2022
It's now 27 years since the Britain saw its first Disability Act, but the disabled still face widespread problems across Kent.
The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 made it illegal to discriminate against disabled persons in connection with employment, the provision of goods, facilities and services or the disposal or management of premises.
Robin Kenworthy demonstrates how stuck he is without dropped kerbs
That was expanded in 2005, when the next Disability Discrimination Act extended those rights to cover public transport, and the introduction of a duty on public authorities to promote equality for disabled people.
Finally the Equality Act of 2010 ruled that no disabled person should face a barrier because of their disability. They should receive the same services, as far as this is possible, as someone who's not disabled.
That included areas such as education, employment, housing, goods and services like shops, banks, cinemas, hospitals, council offices, leisure centres, and leisure associations like golf clubs, working men's clubs, and for youngsters, the Scouts and Guides.
So that's it then? Job done! Sadly, that's far from the case.
The hazards faced by disabled people even in something as simple as getting to the local shop remain many - and sadly it's all a bit of a postcode lottery, with some areas far better provisioned than others.
Robin Kenworthy is 87. He has spent several decades serving others - he was on the Community Health Council in Maidstone; he was a NHS patient representative and a governor of the South East Coast Ambulance Service.
But now he suffers from diabetes and needs to use a mobility scooter to get around.
He has a Class 2 scooter. They are smaller and have the advantage that they can be dismantled to carry in the boot of a car.
But they are not designed to ride on the road, for one thing they are too slow, being limited to 4mph.
To ride on the road legally you need a Class 3 scooter that comes equipped with lights and wing mirrors and is faster.
Mr Kenworthy lives in Bathurst Road, Staplehurst. He is about 200 yards from The Parade, where he would occasionally like to visit the pharmacy, the Post Office and the library, but he can't get there.
The Staplehurst Health Centre is even closer to his home, but again out of reach, unless his wife Christine drives him there in the car.
The reason is the lack of dropped kerbs at the junctions along the route, combined all too often with motorists parking half on the pavement.
At The Parade itself, near the junction with the A229, there are a number of dropped kerbs, complete with tactile paving, but The Parade car park is often rammed full and in order to stop motorists parking on the corners, KCC has installed a number of bollards.
Four of them are slap-bang in the middle of the dropped kerbs, making the remaining space to narrow to safely navigate with a mobility scooter.
Mrs Kenworthy has her own complaint. She said: "I can't drive him to The Parade, because I can't park there. There are disability spaces, but they are too small.
"I need to open the door fully to get out and there just isn't room."
She right. Usually disabled spaces are designed to be larger than regular bays. The slot by the Spar on The Parade is actually six inches narrower than its regular neighbours.
She said: "It means instead of using the Spar, I have to drive to Sainsbury's."
Mr Kenworthy has maintained a vigorous correspondence over several years with KCC, the police, and others over the issues - without any advances being made.
He said: "I'm not really battling on my own behalf, but for all those who use a mobility scooter, wheelchair or even have a pushchair."
He said: "Since 2010, all new estates that have been built have been required to have dropped kerbs at the junctions.
"The problems lie with those roads built before that time, where so many have none."
He said: "It's galling because it can be done. In Tenterden you can go the length of the High Street with no problem."
He said: "There has been a lot of discussion since Covid about how lockdown added to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
"Well that's an experience many disabled people have they whole time because they are trapped in their homes by the difficulties they face when going out, difficulties which could quite easily be overcome."
He said: "There are places where dropped kerbs and tactile pavements, sight lines and signage are all provided.
"But I can't legally and safely ride the distance from my front door to Staplehurst Health Centre."
Sophie Fournel is the chairman of the Kent-Wide Physical Disability Forum, and also the CEO of the charity Disability Assist.
She confirmed that the problems highlighted by Mr Kenworthy were commonplace across the county.
She said: "It's not just a lack of dropped kerbs and bad parking, it can be A-frames and street furniture getting in the way.
Mrs Fournel, who is disabled herself, said: "It is particularly galling when there is a dropped kerb - and then a motorist parks across it!"
She said: "There are all sorts of things that people don't consider - until they have a disability themselves."
She also said that a lack of disabled toilets was another factor that kept disabled people at home.
She said: "Some boroughs are doing away with their public toilets and arranging instead for businesses to open their toilets to the public. But they are not always properly accessible."
She said: "Much more thought is needed. Disabled people should be able to live their lives fully in the same way as everyone else."
Kent County Council is about to take on new powers that will allow it to deal with moving traffic offences - such as cars driving in a bus lane.
Sadly it still won't be able to act against pavement-parkers. A spokesman said: "That responsibility will remain with the district councils or the police."
It is considered too expensive to pro-actively retro-fit dropped kerbs to pre-2010 roads. KCC will look at individual requests on a case-by-case basis.