Advocacy Efforts Pay Off At Scenic Tower
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
August 23, 2006
PORTSMOUTH, ENGLAND--Thanks to the actions of Portsmouth disability rights group Speak Out, most wheelchair users are no longer excluded from Spinnaker Tower.
And all it took for the $74 million landmark's operators to avoid being shut down was a simple $1,200 solution -- a chair designed for wheelchair users and others that might have trouble walking down stairs in the case of an evacuation.
The Tower's new Evac + Chair looks somewhat like a folding sled on small wheels. But such devices have been credited with helping many people escape skyscrapers and other buildings during fires and other emergencies -- including the collapse of the World Trade Center's twin towers in New York.
The 170-meter Spinnaker Tower features a 550-step staircase and an internal elevator that works just fine. But the exterior glass elevator has been stuck in one place since just minutes before the tower opened last October. Between then and August 14, wheelchair users were not allowed up to the viewing decks because they could not use the stairs to escape if the inside elevator were to stop working.
Portsmouth's The News reported last week that Speak Out has backed away from its threat to enlist Britain's Disability Rights Commission to sue the Portsmouth City Council and Heritage Projects Ltd., which runs the tower, under the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act.
A Heritage spokesperson told The News that nearly all of the tower's staff have been trained in how to use the Evac + Chair.
According to a new statement on the attraction's website, wheelchair users will still have to bring their own "helper", be able to transfer to the Evac + Chair, and weigh less than 23 stone (322 pounds).
The chair that finally opens tower to disabled visitors
"Access Statement" (Spinnaker Tower Website)