Tuesday 10 July 2012

In/accessible Europe (3): Manchester's Gay Village

For Blogging Against Disablism Day, BADD 2012, I wrote an article entitled “Sexual Eunuchs?” (q.v.) looking at what it can be like being both disabled and queer. In said article I referred to Manchester’s Gay Village quarter and stated that I never saw disabled folk out and about there, save for the deaf. I thought it time to gird my loins and check out some accessibility issues when I went to commemorate “Alan Turing - A Gay Hero” (q.v.). After doing so, I was in need of a drink and the toilet, in that order.
All the venues opposite the entrances to Sackville Park on Sackville Street had short flights of steps in order to enter (either outside or inside), so thus rendering them all inaccessible.
As it was almost empty on the lower side of Canal Street, I allowed myself to be pushed in my wheelchair along the road.
Bar Below was in a basement down a flight of stairs - inaccessible.
Villaggio was up a short flight of steps - inaccessible.
Eden was across a bridge and down a flight of stairs - inaccessible.
New Union Hotel has a step up - inaccessible without assistance.
Manto had flat access - accessible.

[Image description: the writer in his wheelchair outside the flat entrance to Manto.]
It had been more than a decade since I had last been to Manto. At that point I was still ambulant. Whilst sitting in my chair at the bar, I held a note of the realm in my hand, the bar-lass enquired of my companion as to our order. I promptly chirped up. And the lass apologised unsolicited, thus negating any ill-feeling.

[Inage description: the author enjoying a chat & a drink inside the bar.]
We took our drinks and settled down for a natter, but before leaving I wished to use the WC. I wheeled myself to the bar and enquired whether there was a disabled toilet. A gentleman disappeared behind a door and eventually re-appeared with a key. Unfortunately a fruit-machine and a cash-machine were located opposite a pillar, so it took me a multi-point manœuvre to navigate the obstacles. The chap opened the door and immediately vanished. Another twenty-odd-point turn was required. There was no handle on the inside of the door, so I had to twist (painfully) behind me and exert pressure near the hinge to get the door to gradually pull towards me. I managed to effect my ablutions, but was unable to wash my hands as there was no soap and nothing with or upon which to dry one’s hands. Then I had the difficult task of reversing out and turning in a very narrow gap. Thankfully a young lady came to my rescue otherwise I may have been there for some time.
Whilst I am thankful that Manto’s was accessible and had a disabled WC, as my account elucidates, the toilet was not really accessible without assistance.
This experience prompted me to see whether an internet search might suggest any useful information. I inputted “disabled Manchester” which gave me accessible hotels, but not bars and restaurants. Then I tried “wheelchair accessible Manchester”. This returned no useful data.
Next I thought an enquiry or two on the official tourist information site for Manchester would surely throw up some positive results. Unfortunately www.visitmanchester.com has no specific disabled or accessible section. The exact same seven results were returned in a search using “disabled” and “disability”. The term “accessible” was so broad that it resulted in a large number of useless links.
Well, I thought, surely the Lesbian & Gay Foundation’s site, www.lgf.org.uk, would lead me to what I was after. Similar to Visit Manchester, there was no specific section and search results returned no useful data on accessible venues in the gay village. I have read through LGF’s “Promoting Equality” document (q.v.) and find no direct mention of sub groups of LGBT folk, such as the disabled, race, gender. However, I note that they intend to “Conduct an innovative programme of research to identify the needs of LGB(sic) people.” I do hope that includes finding ways to communicate with queer folk who cannot access the village.
All in all, I am quite saddened, frustrated and, to be honest, ashamed that Manchester does not have readily available and up-to-date information on disabled-accessible venues and preferably broken down into types, such as wheelchair-users, mobility-impaired, etc. If the information is there - somewhere - it needs to be more overt. Such information would be a boon to Mancunians as well as visitors and tourists.


  1. Public buildings have to be equally accessible by disabled people by law - the Equality Act of 2010 makes it your obligation to do that.

    So all new bars should certainly have disabled access.

    With regards to the New Union, it's an old bar which may have listed building status in which case it may have grey area status when it comes to providing disabled access. You'd need to double check that with the Planning department at Manchester City Council.

  2. Ugh! That's just ridiculous! Maybe a letter to the editor of your local newspaper might be in order! (That's what I do when I'm outraged about some injustice!) I'm sure other disabled folks are running into the same barriers, but most people just take these kinds of things for granted. Someone needs to open their eyes! Go Colin!

    1. I tweeted the blog article to:

      Manchester Evening News - M/cr's daily newpaper
      Councillor Kevin Peel - a gay, Labour party member
      Lesbian & Gay Foundation - the main LGBT group in M/cr
      Visit Manchester - the M/cr tourist board
      John Leech MP - a local Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament

      None of them have thus far responded... %(

    2. UPDATE: Councillor Peel is now looking into the issues. None of the others have even bothered to respond to my tweet.