Meet the wheelchair user petitioning for accessibility changes at King's College London

Last week at COP26 in Glasgow, Israeli Minister Karine Elharrar was unable to attend the summit as it was not wheelchair accessible. This prompts the question – how does an incident like this still happen today?

Wheelchair user Naomi Stenning was disgusted but certainly not surprised by seeing this, knowing the struggles that she personally faces on the daily.

“There’s just so many barriers every single day that stop us living normal lives. They knew she was going to the event, they should’ve taken provisions,” she says.

Naomi has multiple health conditions, one of which being Postural tachycardia syndrome (POTS)-- meaning she cannot stand for more than five minutes as her blood pressure drops causing her to faint. This means she uses a wheelchair the majority of the time.

One major barrier for Naomi, who attends King’s College London, is the fact that her university is not wheelchair accessible, leaving her unable to access most of her department.

Despite speaking to university staff about putting in a ramp on numerous occasions, nothing was done, causing Naomi to take matters into her own hands.

“It just makes you question your worth, because when people-- especially big universities can’t be bothered to help give equal access to everyone, you feel as though you’re not as worthy as other people,” she said.

Naomi, 21, created an online petition back in October calling for the university to make changes to ensure the inclusivity of disabled students. Having reached nearly 50,000 signatures, the petition garnered enough attention for King's College London to start having conversations with Naomi about change.

She added: “I’ve finally been able to speak to one of the heads of the university and we are making plans now. It’s going to take a while but positive changes are going to be made.”

This is a promising start, however it is just one of the many obstacles Naomi and many other wheelchair users face every day.

Recently, when trying to get back from university, Naomi was refused entry onto her train home because of her wheelchair.

“I got there 20 minutes early and it’s a big station but the employees refused to get the ramp out,” she said.

When questioned, the staff gave the excuse that there would not be a ramp at Naomi’s home station to help her exit the train, which was untrue. All the while she was left stranded at the station.

“I was literally stranded at the station for over an hour and no one offered to help me even though I asked”, she says, “even stations that claim they’re accessible often aren’t.”

Being able to get onto a train is something that many take for granted, which Naomi believes is part of the problem. Even so much as being able to get around roadworks and construction; for wheelchair users this presents a huge task.

Most roadworks pop up out of nowhere with little consideration as to how wheelchair users can get past due to the lack of a dropped curb. Not only is this a massive inconvenience, but also extremely dangerous.

Naomi uses social media as a means to document her health journey and share it with others who have similar experiences. She says that this has been particularly helpful as she is able to communicate with others who can relate to what she is going through.

She says: “Seeing wheelchair users on social media taking pride in their chair has helped me with my confidence because I’m not very confident with it. Everyone treats you different, I don’t understand how me sitting down has a bearing on how people view me but it obviously does.”

In terms of what needs to be done to help the disabled community, Naomi says that the government need to be more aware and consider disabled people’s needs more. Not only wheelchair users but other disabilities such as blindness and deafness too.

She added: “They need to listen to what disabled people have to say and want to do better.”

What are your thoughts on this story and how can we help as a community? Leave your opinion in the comments below.