By Daniel Hunter
As the tourist season reaches its peak, seaside resorts across England are being urged to open up their beaches to disabled people and benefit from the purple pound worth £80 billion a year.
As almost 20% of the UK population is disabled (around 11.5 million), the Minister for Disabled People is writing to local authorities to ask them to ensure that tourist hotspots including beaches and the countryside are accessible to all of the population.
Councils are encouraged to improve inclusivity and accessibility by working with local grassroots organisations through the ‘Disability Action Alliance’. The Alliance was set up by government and brings together over 180 organisations from the public, private and third sector who want to work in partnership to improve the lives of disabled people.
"As well as the importance of equal access, it makes good business sense to ensure — as the tourist season reaches its peak — local areas of beauty and interest can attract as many people as possible," Minister for Disabled People, Esther McVey said.
"The ‘purple pound’ is worth £80 billion a year, councils can benefit by tapping into this when considering how to make their local environment more inclusive by opening up our beaches and other tourist hotspots for everyone to enjoy.
"Often a small change can make a big difference to disability access and so we’d encourage councils to continue working in partnership with disabled people and their organisations, as they know what works best in their local areas on the ground."
There are already successful schemes in place. Disability Action Alliance member Living Options Devon, operates the Countryside Mobility scheme which aims to improve access to the countryside for people with limited mobility who live in or visit the south-west region.
They provide all-terrain mobility scooters and wheelchair accessible ‘Wheelyboats’. The scooters can go up and down slopes, over bumps and tree roots, through shallow puddles, mud and soft ground. Wheelyboats allow up to 5 wheelchair users at a time to get out on the water for fishing or pleasure boating. The scheme operates across more than 30 countryside locations throughout Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire and Somerset — with more to follow.
"It’s impossible to describe the feeling of suddenly having the ability and freedom to go into the countryside again. And with the unusually warm weather this year we have never been busier. Opening up access means disabled people suddenly have independence again to explore and enjoy the countryside, which is truly amazing," James Maben from Living Options Devon said.
At the government’s disability conference in July, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, outlined his ambitions for an inclusive Britain. He referred to his experiences of bringing up a disabled child and the need to make sure our beaches are more disabled-friendly.
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