Stuart McKechnie attends Bar Awareness Training Day at Bolt Burdon Kemp

News | Tue 3rd May, 2016

Islington-based law firm Bolt Burdon Kemp challenged barristers to live a day in a wheelchair to highlight the everyday issues facing wheelchair users in the local area. The barristers completed challenges on the high street and took part in a game of wheelchair rugby.

The event, which took place on Monday 4th April, was the first of its kind and devised by Raquel Siganporia, the head of Bolt Burdon Kemp’s spinal injury team. Raquel uses a wheelchair herself and conceived the Inter-Chambers Wheelchair Games and Wheelchair Awareness Day as a way to highlight the access problems in Islington for people who have a physical disability and use a wheelchair.

The barristers who took part often advise clients who have to use a wheelchair due to their injuries, yet as barristers they had very little experience of what it is like to live in a wheelchair on a daily basis.

The day began with a wheelchair skills session from The Back Up Trust, a spinal injury charity, followed by wheelchair challenges for the barristers along Upper Street, including taking the bus, visiting the shops, locating disabled toilet facilities, ordering and carrying a coffee as well as simply navigating the streets of Islington in a wheelchair.  

The majority of the group were surprised by how many shops and local amenities had steps to enter and lacked basic wheelchair access, particularly when the step is not necessary. Many participants commented on how difficult it is to push on terrain which is uneven and cracked or when there is a camber or gradient which affects large sections of Upper Street.

In the afternoon, the group attended a talk from Gail Russell, an occupational therapist highlighting the importance of using the right wheelchair. The group then travelled to Britannia Leisure Centre for a wheelchair rugby experience with Steve Brown, who led the London 2012 Paralympic GB Wheelchair Rugby Team.

10 barristers from around the country took part in Bolt Burdon Kemp’s Inter-Chambers Wheelchair Games and Wheelchair Awareness Day, from sets including Outer Temple Chambers, No 5 Chambers, King’s Chambers (Manchester) and 9 Gough Chambers.

Commenting on the success of the event, Raquel Siganporia, Senior Associate at Bolt Burdon Kemp, said:

“Wheelchair access in Islington, and indeed across much of London, is hit and miss. As a wheelchair user myself this impacts my life down to which shops I can visit, which restaurants I can go to and how I can travel from A to B. Many of my clients also use wheelchairs and poor access can mean life is much harder than it needs to be.

“Our first Inter-Chambers Wheelchair Games and Wheelchair Awareness Day was a huge success in highlighting the challenges of just buying a coffee can pose if you’re in a wheelchair.

“The barristers involved were terrific sports and they all came away with a greater awareness of the problems facing wheelchair users due to poor access and public facilities as well as the importance of the right equipment. The spirited rugby game in the afternoon also showed not the constraints of being in a wheelchair, but what can be achieved.”

Commenting on the day, Eliot Woolf from Outer Temple Chambers said “I loved every single second of it – the programme should be enshrined in statute and made compulsory for all.”

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