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Chester praised for its accessibility by disabled Guardian journalist

Wheelchair user Frances Ryan tested city's credentials after it scooped EU Access City Award 2017

(Image: Ian Cooper)

Chester has been praised by disabled journalist Frances Ryan who put the city to the test following its receipt of the EU Access City Award 2017.

Frances penned the complimentary article for The Guardian after visiting Chester in her wheelchair.

She discovered real efforts had been made to create an accessible city even if it’s not perfect.

As Frances put it: “The ancient city, famed for its extensive Roman walls and Tudor-style half-timber shopping quarters, is perhaps not an obvious contender for modern disabled access.”

But she argued it made economic sense for tourism chiefs to prioritise people with mobility issues as the accessible tourism market is worth billions of pounds.

Some wheelchair users have complained about the jarring effect of stone setts laid in Chester's streets.

Frances didn’t mention the cobbled streets – or the modern equivalent in the form of stone setts – which have attracted criticism from wheelchair users in the past.

Instead she praised the level of accessibility that means she could ‘easily access’ the walls via a slope and short passageway.

And Frances pointed out wheelchairs can get up onto the Rows via 11 access points.

Tour guides, city centre access guides, signs and online help, via the DisabledGo website, assist with the task of trying to negotiate the historic city and its rabbit warren of streets and ancient passageways.

Chester Rows can be negotiated by wheelchair users if you know where to get on.

For her, seemingly mundane matters make all the difference like the fact all the city’s public buses are fully accessible. And council policy requires all licensed Hackney carriage taxis must be suitable for wheelchairs.

The city also features Changing Places toilets with hoists and a changing bench for disabled people who can’t use standard accessible toilets.

Away from the city centre, Frances generally praised Chester Zoo over its free entry policy for personal assistants, free disabled parking, multisensory experiences for visitors with visual impairments and advice for those on the autistic spectrum as well as the accessible viewing platforms.

The entrance at Chester Zoo

But injecting some balance, she wrote: “Chester, however, is not yet a disability utopia. The decking around the zoo is so bumpy for my wheelchair I feel seasick at one point. And after I head through the Roman gardens (a public park created to display a collection of Roman artefacts) and down a winding ramp to the Groves for a 30-minute boat cruise on the river Dee, I find I can’t get down the boat’s steps to the bar.

"But friendly staff ask – twice – if I would like anything, and a transportable ramp enables me to get on to the deck, a real rarity with a wheelchair.”

Cheshire West & Chester Council

She is pleased to discover Cheshire West and Chester Council still employs an access officer in the guise of Graham Garnett despite the climate of austerity. And Graham tells her ‘disability tsars’ are beating a path to Chester from across Europe to learn how we do things.

“And as I go through the city, I’m struck by a unique feeling: I’m being included – like anyone else,” concluded Frances, a journalist and political commentator, who writes The Guardian’s Hardworking Britain column.

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