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Are wheelchair users really a fire risk by keith armstrong

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Discusses the Human Rights of disabled people and perceptions of fire risks

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Are wheelchair users really a fire risk by keith armstrong

  1. 1. Are wheelchair users really a fire risk? (Some aspects on fire regulations & discrimination against disabled people) by Keith Armstrong Abstract: Discusses the Human Rights of disabled people and perceptions of fire risks. Keywords: Administration, Disability Studies, Equalities, Human Geography, Human Rights, Law, Planning, Politics, Policy Studies, Transport Studies. London 2015
  2. 2. Acknowledgments This paper couldn't have been put together without the assistance of many people. I am especially grateful for the time and assistance given by I am very grateful to all those who have assisted me in so many ways with this research: Eva Skoulariki, Clara Creze and Judith Horsfall. Because of my physical impairment, I would also like to thank the many people who have helped me to live and have given me support. This includes the people of Camden. Front image by Keith Armstrong ----------- I must point out that any factual errors or sentiment unwittingly suggested are my responsibility alone. The punctuation and typeface of the authors quoted have at times been modified. All rights are reserved. The author's moral rights are asserted. No part of this paper may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without written permission from the author. © Copyright 2015 Keith Armstrong, London
  3. 3. Are wheelchair users really a fire risk? Some aspects on fire regulations & discrimination against disabled people by Keith Armstrong 1 "Leeds bar banned wheelchair athlete as 'fire risk' " Friday 08 October 2010 1 "Man in wheelchair turned away from incapacity benefit test as he's 'fire hazard' " 22 Jun 2013 2 "Leicester 'fire risk' wheelchair user's benefits reinstated" 23 September 2014 3 "ELDERLY pensioner Doris Turner has been told she will have to move out of her flat because she can no longer store her wheelchair in the hall." Elizabeth Mackley 6 March 2014 4 Disabled man who won council photography contest is banned from winners ceremony over scooter row Camden New Journal, 12th November 2015 p.3. 5 Between 7% and 8% of disabled people in the UK use wheelchairs 6 There are 1.2 million wheelchair users in the UK, roughly 2% of UK population 7 When I typed in the terms "wheelchair" and "fire risk", in Google was able to uncover more than 57 thousands entries on this subject. I consider the duties of the Fire Brigades are: 1. To stop fires & to prevent them from spreading. 2. To try and prevent fires from occurring. All buildings are fire risks. A building which is the least possible fire risk is one that has been built of stone or brick and does not have a door, electricity or gas to it. Nothing is stored in it and no humans get into it. Problem! The building is useless. Buildings are for humans, animals or machines. The use of asbestos in buildings has helped to stop fires spreading. Problem! Many people have died through working with asbestos ... although asbestos stops fires spreading, it is too dangerous to use in the present or future. In the past, I have been denied access to many places because of the assumption that my use of a wheelchair created a fire risk. One of the most memorable incidents was when I was appointed by competitive interview as a senior transport officer for London Strategic Policy Unit (LSPU) in 1986. This was my first full-time job and on the first day I was introduced to my future colleagues including the union representative. I happily joined the relevant trade union which was to prove significant later on. During my first day at work, no work was provided for me. However on my second day of work I was refused entry into the building because my wheelchair was deemed to be a fire risk. At this point I was glad to have joined the union then called NALGO (now known as UNISON). It took three weeks for the management to sort the
  4. 4. Are wheelchair users really a fire risk? Some aspects on fire regulations & discrimination against disabled people by Keith Armstrong 2 matter out. The irony was that the manual wheelchair in question was the same wheelchair I was interviewed for the job as a Senior Transport officer, hence I nearly lost my job because of this myth. There was nearly an all out strike in the London borough of Camden because of this incident. Wheelchair users are not arsonists, there is no evidence that suggests that wheelchair users deliberately set buildings on fire. What was disturbing was the fact that the LSPU was controlled by nine London Labour Boroughs and gave advice that was meant to assist those London authorities on equal opportunities policies. No one, including all disabled people, likes uncontrolled fires or people being maimed or killed by them. At one time in the mid 1970's, I was siting in my manual wheelchair in a bar (where live music was taking place) at the end of a conference in Loughborough, there was a bomb scare. At first some people started to panic; then those who were so alarmed saw my wheelchair and they then stopped panicking. Other people who were present at the incident have confirmed my observations. The Declaration of Human Rights of Disabled Persons (sponsored & signed by the British Government) adopted by the General Council of The United Nations, on the 9th of November, 1975. Resolution 3 states: "Disabled persons, whatever their origin, nature & seriousness of their handicaps and disabilities, have the same fundamental rights as their fellow citizens of the same age, which implies first and foremost the right to enjoy a decent life, as normal and full as possible." If a fire regulation bars a person with a disability from a venue or night club it is interfering with that person's human rights. All buildings are covered by fire regulations especially places of entertainment in the UK by licenses from local authorities who are responsible for these regulations. If a building is deemed to be a fire risk, so much so that wheelchair users are not allowed on the premises, there must be by definition inequality in the appointment of staff purely because of the building’s poor design. We must ask ourselves, in a society claiming to support equal opportunities whether it’s right to give a licence to make a financial profit where an in built apartheid exist and is approved by a public body. If a place is a 'fire risk', so much so that some disabled people are barred, then it must also be true that the building is too dangerous for employment of musicians and actors (musicians, like captains on the high seas, are usually the last to leave in the event of a fire). The building should be closed down. Venue owners & Fire Prevention Officers cannot be allowed to have their cake and eat it. It is the double standards of these regulations that are absurd.
  5. 5. Are wheelchair users really a fire risk? Some aspects on fire regulations & discrimination against disabled people by Keith Armstrong 3 Disabled people are still forced into social isolation by rules which discriminate against, and segregate those who have, physical impairments from the rest of society. Other people's attitudes and images of us are often oppressive. This isolation can lead to severe depression and can even cause suicide in some incidents. It was also this form of isolation that allowed the Nazis to murder over a million disabled people before and during the Second World War. Disabled people want, need and demand the same right to enter places of entertainment and relaxation as everybody else. During the campaign to introduce anti discrimination law for disabled people, a complaint was raised that if the legislation went ahead, wheelchair users would be applying for jobs working for the fire brigade. Of course this never happened. Disabled people do not have the time or energy to apply for jobs they are clearly not going to get however considering that the majority of work places are inaccessible to disabled people that lead to overall poverty, both financial and social. I hope that all fire regulations are reviewed by Fire Officers and disabled people equally. In almost every society in the world, having an impairment is a major cause of the lack of employment opportunities for disabled people. Rather than blaming disabled people because of their impairment, we should bare in mind all the jobs disabled people are effectively denied because of bad access in work places ran by people who mainly consider themselves to be able-bodies yet are unable to make their work places accessible and thus are possibly denying people who are most skilled to carry out the job. For this very reason alone, mother the Disability Discrimination Act from 1995 or Equalities Act of 2010 have had not in a major way met the equal employment needs of disabled workers. There are many actions that employers could use that would improve the health and safety of their places of work including not having a step at the entrances of work places, provisions of lift approved for use by fire services such as having a separate power supply, an Evac+Chair (or similar) and a provision of safe areas made in consultation with the local fire service. In the early 1980’s, I took part in a delegation of disabled people to the Greater London Fire Brigade during its centenary. At the meeting we asked the then head of the brigade to name just one recorded incident where someone was seriously injured or worse, because there was a wheelchair or scooter user present. the head of the brigade was unable to name any specific incident despite the fact that the brigade records in detail every fire incident they are called out to address, nor was he aware of any such events recorded by other English brigades. To suggest that wheelchair users using modern wheelchairs are a ‘fire risk’ for others is a myth and entirely spurious. I have not found one example, and even if there was one located by a fire brigade (any where in the world), it would not be statistically relevant to deny someone their human rights.
  6. 6. Are wheelchair users really a fire risk? Some aspects on fire regulations & discrimination against disabled people by Keith Armstrong 4 Fire brigades or similar services keep detailed records of all fire incidents, their origins and how the fires were extinguished. I have yet to find one specific example concerning incidents where people were either injured or killed because there was a wheelchair user present. I would welcome any evidence around the world highlighting any specific incident and even if examples were found, to what extent would it be statistically pertinent? There has been no evidence shown to the public that a person with a disability has, by being at a venue caused injury or death. I challenge Fire Brigades to give us information (date, place of fire, nature of disability, make & model of the wheelchair * or if that person had known helpers or not) on this matter. In fact a person with a disability at a fire in a venue could be an asset because the visible image of that person could help stop other people panicking ... Panic is a major hazard to human life in any fire incident. The term fire risk has been used as a tool to enforce an English apartheid against disabled people who use mobility aids such as wheelchairs or scooters while on the surface it seems it might be plausible, however, I have found no specific evidence to support this myth.
  7. 7. Are wheelchair users really a fire risk? Some aspects on fire regulations & discrimination against disabled people by Keith Armstrong 5 End Notes 1 "Leeds bar banned wheelchair athlete as 'fire risk' " 8 October 2010 http://www.yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk/news/latest-news/top-stories/leeds-bar-banned- wheelchair-athlete-as-fire-risk-exclusive-1-2255325 As retrieved 25th of November 2015 2 "Man in wheelchair turned away from incapacity benefit test as he's 'fire hazard' " 22 Jun 2013 http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/man-wheelchair-turned-away-atos- 1976933 As retrieved 25th of November 2015 3 "Leicester 'fire risk' wheelchair user's benefits reinstated" 23 September 2014 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leicestershire-29335424 As retrieved 25th of November 2015 4 "ELDERLY pensioner Doris Turner has been told she will have to move out of her flat because she can no longer store her wheelchair in the hall." Elizabeth Mackley 6 March 2014 http://www.swindonadvertiser.co.uk/news/11055866.___Move_wheelchair_or_you___l l_have_to_leave___/?ref=var_0 As retrieved 25th of November 2015 5 Disabled man who won council photography contest is banned from winners ceremony over scooter row Camden New Journal, 12 November 2015 http://www.camdennewjournal.com/scooterpic As retrieved 25th of November 2015 6 Papworth, Facts and Figures 2012 http://www.mph- uk.com/media/ccpages/2013/01/30/Disability_Figures_Jan_2013.pdf As retrieved 1st of November 2015 7 Disability Statistics http://www.mph-uk.com/pages/mph-group-disability- statistics.html As retrieved 1st of November 2015

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