Note from the Editor: We have been asked why the PT is publishing Fiona Onasanya’s columns following her conviction at the Old Bailey.
The PT offers columns to the two sitting MPs covering Peterborough if they choose to submit one. While she is still the MP - and therefore the elected representative - we believe it would be wrong to deny our readers the chance to read what she has submitted. To censor the column would, in my view, be wrong, and in my experience our readers are quite capable of making their own minds up about the columns submitted by local politicians. The column will of course remain subject to our normal legal and Editor’s Code of Conduct boundaries.
Editor - Mark Edwards
This column was submitted before the guilty verdict was returned at The Old Bailey this week:
I’m sure we can all agree that communities should be accessible for everyone. Getting from A to B and living a normal life should never be difficult for those who are blind or partially sighted, but the sad reality is that there is still a major issue with accessibility in Peterborough and across the UK.
After meeting with the Guide Dogs Forum here earlier this month, it is evident to me that much more can be done to improve their lives in our city.
Cuts to local authorities, and particularly local bus services, have disproportionately affected people living with disabilities, including those who are blind or partially sighted. This is why I’m so concerned with Peterborough City Council’s plans to make further cuts to so-called ‘underused’ bus services in the future.
Reduced services in and out of the city mean that blind and partially sighted people will struggle to get to work, meet with family and friends, or simply go shopping. Callous cuts that have been pushed through over the last eight years, and are continuing in Peterborough, mean that those who are blind or partially sighted are losing out on accessible environments and sociable lifestyles, in the name of scrimping and saving money.
Local bus services should be run for people, not profits. Many of our city’s bus services are of critical community value – particularly to those who own guide dogs and are in need of assistance navigating around the city. I will do what I can to lobby the Council and protect vital routes that link my constituents to the city, isolated settlements, schools and hospitals.
In some cases, cuts to local government have meant that vital repairs to pavement surfaces have put the health of those who are blind or partially sighted at risk. Holes, cracks and poor maintenance is something that, yet again, disproportionately neglects people with disabilities.
Moreover, I was shocked to read that 49% of guide dog owners had been refused access to taxis, shops, and restaurants. Guide dog owners here have spoken to me about taxi services being unwelcoming, and sometimes even charging them more just to bring their guide dog with them. This is against their basic rights and crosses the dangerous line into discrimination.
A little bit of awareness can go a long way, and those working in taxis and customer services should be offered vital training to ensure they are supporting a truly equal society.
Next year, I will be doing a blindfold walk to gain an even better understanding of the mobility issues many face. We need to tackle inequalities that hold back every single person in our society. My vision for Peterborough is a city that promotes independence by protecting vital services, a city that puts people before profits, and a city that doesn’t penalise people for needing the support of a guide dog. Improving accessibility for the blind and partially sighted is the only way to achieve this vision.