A SURVEY of the town centre a few years ago revealed that a third of grocery outlets and shops were inaccessible to wheelchair users, along with half the medical services, over 40 per cent of restaurants and pubs. Only cafes came close to full accessibility, with 83 per cent accessible.
As one of her final activities as Mayor of Blandford in 2012 to 2013, town councillor Sara Loch and her escort Dick Riddle borrowed one of the DAG wheelchairs to conduct a survey of disabled access and dropped kerbs in the town centre.
She found many of the traders, where they were unable to provide full access to wheelchairs and scooters, had made special provisions to help.
Some had push buttons to summon assistance, and some had temporary ramps which they could bring out to allow small scooters and wheelchairs to enter their premises.
Of particular note was the easily managed ramp at the Georgian Passage, the special lift at HSBC, and the immediate response on ringing the bell at the Nat West bank.
Only a minority had premises which it was almost impossible to gain access, or voiced objections to being asked to provide ramps which related often to health and safety issues and difficulties over planning permission for their often listed properties.
But the state of the dropped kerbs and pavements was more problematic as she took a route up and down Whitecliff Mill Street, where it is impossible to use one side at all, and where the corner into Bryanston Street proved positively dangerous when she almost tipped out of the chair.
“That was scary!” she said, noting the apparent abandonment of Dorset County Council’s stated intention of widening the pavement outside the Kings Arms where steps make negotiating the pavement difficult.
Our own members continuously report issues with cars parking partly on pavements in narrow streets, preventing the passage of wheelchairs, scooters and pushchairs, and with pavements whose camber results in the passenger leaning into the road, particularly on corners in Salisbury Street.
And while the provision of play equipment for the disabled at town play areas by Blandford Town Council is to be applauded, it is interesting to note that at Larksmead there is no dropped kerb allowing those arriving by wheelchair or pushchair from the north to leave the pavement and cross the car park to the entrance.
We were glad to hear recently of proposals by the highway department to address some of the problems with place where a dropped kerb on one side of the road is not matched by one on the other, resulting in the user having to stay on the carriageway until they reach the appropriate point.
Sara Loch tries to negotiate the Whitecliff Mill and Bryanston Street junction in a wheelchair pushed by her escort Dick Riddle