Last week, I read an article in the Herts Advertiser about the newspaper’s temporary re-location to another office in St. Albans whilst building works on their normal residence takes place. To set the scene for those who are not familiar with the Town Hall Chambers (permanent home of the paper), the offices are completely inaccessible to disabled people, mainly because of the large steps up to the front door. I had not really considered it much before until the chair of the St. Albans District Access Group, Robert Hill, pointed it out to me.
I decided to write a letter to the Herts Advertiser seems as the subject of their offices were in the news but they were too cowardly to print it so I thought I’d share it on here:
Move with the times
I would just like to wish everyone at the Herts Advertiser good luck with your temporary office re-location and say that I cannot wait to visit your old offices once you return in four months. Oh wait, I still will not be able to get in (what with Friedreich’s Ataxia meaning that I am permanently confined to a wheelchair).
In last weeks edition of this paper (January 22), you are quoted as saying the Herts Advertiser is ‘the only newspaper with an office in St Albans City Centre’. This is clearly a dig at the other rival papers in the area but all I would say in response is at least their offices are accessible to all. You may feel ‘privileged to be at the very heart of the community’ but the fact is your first-floor office in Market Place is cut off from a part of the community who obviously do not matter; the disabled.
The majority of your loyal readers will not be aware that the normal home of the Herts Advertiser is inaccessible to anyone in a wheelchair or with a severe walking impairment, so you couldn't employ/offer work experience to anyone with a physical disability like me. Surely this is in breach of the Equalities Act?
Can you offer reassurance that this will be rectified when you return to Town Hall Chambers later this year? If not, rather than reiterating that the building is Grade II Listed, can you explain why the Herts Advertiser will not move permanently into 2015 instead of being stuck in the dark ages?
St Albans District Access Group,
You can imagine how disappointed I was when I picked up the paper this morning, turned to the Your Views section and discovered that my letter was nowhere to be seen. Talk about censorship. Just because a letter is critical of the Herts Ad does not mean it should be suppressed. Britain is meant to be a fair democracy with freedom of speech being an integral part of society so even if one does not like what is being said, one does not stop said person from airing their opinion. I believe there should be a mixture of voices in the media but perhaps that is why I did not become a journalist in the end.
My frustration that the letter had not been printed soon turned to uncontrollable anger when I read this response earlier:
I am sorry to receive your letter, especially given the help and support the Herts Advertiser has offered you over the past few years.Whereas our office space is not easily accessible, that does not mean our staff aren't.
As you will be aware, we are more than happy to meet with readers outside of our office space to discuss stories, and are therefore not preventing any members of the community from accessing our services.
We do not own either Town Hall Chambers or 7 French Row - they are council buildings - so are not in a position to alter them in any way.
Editor, Herts Advertiser
Now, there are many issues with that reply. Firstly, how dare Mr. Adams (not Matt because that is too formal; we are not drinking buddies) suggest that just because the Herts Advertiser have wrote a few stories about me and printed one article by me, I am not entitled to voice an opinion about the accessibility of their offices. Secondly, he has completely overlooked my point that the newspaper cannot employ a disabled journalist, which is illegal. Finally, I guessed that the blame would be attributed to the council who own the listed building but my question was why couldn’t they move offices permanently? That remained unanswered as well.
Yes, I may have burnt a few of my bridges at the local paper but I do not care one bit. My main aim in life is to make disabled people more equal in society, not to maintain friendships. I speak up for myself and if people don’t like my opinion, so be it but no one is exempt from feeling the wrath of ‘Wheelchair Boy’. Don't worry, this will not be the end of it.
Bye for now!