29 May 2009

'You can't bar me for being disabled'

WHEN Mark Cooper arrived in the pub, he thought he was all set for a good night out.

He had no trouble getting through the door in his wheelchair, and settled down for a couple of pints with friends. It was only later he had a problem.

He explained: "I went up to the bar and said 'Where's your disabled toilet?' and they said 'We don't have one'. "I thought 'What am I supposed to do now?'"

The customer toilets were down a steep flight of stairs, so he had to leave 56 North in West Crosscauseway with friends, and go 200 yards down the road to another bar, The Native State, which he knew had an accessible toilet.

The 24-year-old was inspired to launch a campaign to improve the lot of disabled pub-goers in Edinburgh. He has the support of MSP George Foulkes and Councillor Angela Blacklock, who has tabled a motion for today's meeting of the full council calling on the city to publish a list of pubs detailing their accessibility.

Mr Cooper, who has cerebral palsy, will make a deputation to the meeting and would like to see it be a condition of receiving a licence that pubs be made completely accessible to all, with the exception of a few older buildings where it is impossible.

The Disability Discrimination Act 2005 rules that pubs cannot discriminate against disabled people, but critics say it is too easy for them to opt out as long as they can provide a reasonable excuse.

Cllr Blacklock said: "This isn't a huge ask of the council. We have licensing standards officers in place who could carry out the work. It is the very least we can do for wheelchair users."

Mr Cooper added: "When I run into problems I feel angry because it's disrupted my evening. My friends just see me as normal, so why can't I just go out for a pint instead of having to think that I can't go to bar 'X' because I can't make full use of it?

"I'm quite an independent guy, so I don't like having to ask anybody if they can help me to go to the toilet.

"I'm hoping to get out of this a kind of good pub guide so that people can say I'd like to go out on Friday to a particular pub and have a look in the book and see if it's got disabled access. Disabled people have the right to have as much fun as anybody else."

Mr Cooper, who lives in Gracemount, has launched a petition on Facebook under the campaign title, Barred!, whose membership is more than 200 and rising fast.

James Sutherland, director of 56 North, said he sympathised with Mr Cooper's situation, but the building was leased and predated the introduction of regulations.

He added: "We take access very seriously but we're constrained by the building. There's not really any scope."

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