Burnley MP Antony Higginbotham teams up with disability champion Joe Skinner to improve wheelchair access on buses
Joe, who works for Burnley FC in the Community and commentates for Padiham FC games on Facebook as part of his sports journalism degree, enlisted the help of Antony after becoming exasperated at being unable to use buses.
As a member of BFCITC’s ‘Limitless Clarets Project’ he helps to deliver sports related sessions to children and adults with disabilities. But it was whilst trying to get to work that Joe encountered the problems he is now campaigning to fix.
Joe had to manoeuvre his wheelchair into pram bays and elsewhere, because the space allocated for wheelchairs was poorly designed.
After being told by bus drivers that he couldn’t use the bus if he couldn’t fit in the allocated space, Burnley FC In The Community stepped in and paid for taxis to transport Joe to work – often having to pay extra for a wheelchair capable one. But recognising that this was not a long term solution, and would act as a barrier to others, Joe launched his campaign.
At a meeting with Mr Higginbotham, Burnley Council Leader Afrasiab Anwar and Coun. Don Whitaker who sits on the Taxi Licencing Committee, it was agreed all four would work towards finding a solution.
Speaking in Parliament, during Transport Questions, Mr Higginbotham said: “For disabled people, access to public transport is often the difference between having a job, and not; between socialising, and not; and between living independently, and not.
“In my constituency a brilliant young man called Joe Skinner has made it his mission to improve disabled access on buses, whose current design does not take account of modern wheelchair sizes.
“So, may I ask my Right Honourable Friend when disabled access requirements were last reviewed; whether he would come to Burnley to meet Joe and talk about this; and whether he would praise Joe for the work he does, not just for disabled people in Burnley, but across the country?”
Minister Jesse Norman, responded by saying: “I thank my Honourable Friend for that; he has been a great champion of this cause. I absolutely join him in praising Joe Skinner.”
Commenting afterwards, Antony said: “This is an issue that affects hundreds of people locally, and millions nationally, and Joe should be commended to bringing this to my attention and for fighting so hard for change. I look forward to welcoming the Buses Minister to Burnley so we can sit down with Joe to find a long-term solution.”
After hearing that the issue had been raised in Parliament, Joe said: “We have to reach a stage where access to public transport, or to buildings, for disabled people isn’t an afterthought. This starts by changing attitudes towards disabled people and involving them and their families in the consultation process of how we can make society an inclusive place for all.
“Tangible change needs to occur because it’s clear that the current legislation is outdated, and quite frankly not fit for purpose. Disabled people want to get out and contribute to society just like everybody else and we should be putting everything in place to help them do that.”