Mary Arnold in the News


Mary's launch into the public arena came about during a national campaign for equal rights for Women in the benefits system.
Sally Davies who was the worker at Coventry Disability Rights when Mary was a volunteer, was looking for someone capable of handling the press. Mary reluctantly allowed herself to be persuaded and found herself a natural in that role. She was featured on the Front Page of the local free newspaper, and the demonstration she led was featured in subsequent papers.
The campaign was eventually succesful, and I am sure that demonstrations like the one in Coventry played their part in making the MP's aware of the situation.
Thereafter she was never out of the news for long

The item which started it all.

Photographs from the demo
Here follow some examples of the sort of issues she was campaigning about reproduced from the "Coventry Evening Telegraph"

Disabled wait on vote for rights

By Caroline Pritchard

DISABLED people in Coventry were today pinning their hopes on city MPs as the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) bill faced its second reading in the commons. Mary Arnold, spokeswoman for Coventry council of the disabled, said the legislation would stop discrimination in employment, transport and other areas.

She said: "Disabled people are three times more likely to be unemployed. Public transport and buildings are inaccessible.

It's still legal for disabled people to be excluded from restaurants and cinemas because we are thought of as a fire hazard or just don't look right.
"This bill would make that discrimination illegal.
"It is not impairments that disable us it is environment and society that excludes us."

She said there were four-and-a-half million peole in this country with mobility impairments and only 80,000 accessible homes.
The reading is the 13th attempt to push the bill through but Mrs Arnold claimed it was likely to fall because the government believed the legislation would cost too much
She said that made disabled people feel like second class citizens and that research in the USA has shown anti-discrimination legislation to be cost effective.
She said: "If more disabled people were allowed to work than there would be less people claiming state benefits."

Council leader Brian Clack has expressed his support for the bill and written to city MPs asking for support. He said in the letter: "Voluntary action to improve the situation for disabled people has clearly failed.

"It is now time for a firm approach to be taken which requires decision makers, planners and service providers to respond to the needs of disabled people in a positive way."

An ammendment to the Chroncially Sick and Disabled Act was eventually passed but many of its provisions lie on the shelf never fully enacted.

Long before she aquired her famous squirell, she was in the news campaigning for better access, as in this feature I have reproduced below

Making life easier for wheelchair users.

A little thought can open up new doors.

by Peter Walters

A CAR is obstructing Mary Arnold's access to Coventry's Council House. Parked on double yellow lines, it neatly blocks the lowered kerb that should give her electric wheelchair access to the pavement. There's no way she can reach the Hay Lane entrance for disabled people. The vehicle's owners have had their name printed on a door panel. "City Secretary" it reads. "Coventry City Council."

  A thoughtless driver blocks Mary's access to the Council House

Mary has to laugh. In a wheelchair you get used to such thoughtlessness, even from those who ought to know better. It's still an able-bodied world out there. Those wheo need wheelchairs to get around - and there are at least 3000 of them in Coventry - are reminded of that all the time.

Rheumatoid arthritis has confined Mary Arnold to a wheelchair for more than 12 months now. A former cook supervisor with the school meals' service, she had to give up her job three years ago. These days she's a volunteer working on disability rights and a leading campaigner with the Coventry Council for the Disabled.


The council is now preparing its first access guide for disabled peole using the city centre. It hopes to publish next year, if it can find the necessary cash from somewhere. In mary Arnold's view, Coventry rates as "reasonable" when it comes to thinking about disabled people. There are plenty of places much worse. Even so, for anybody in a wheelchair an expedition into the city centre reveals its share of obstacles and no-go areas.

From Mary's home in Starley Road, the route into the precincts is an easy one. There are no steep slopes and the kerbs have been lowered at the Queen Victoria Road junction, making it safe and easy to use. We encounter the first snag at a dry cleaner's in City ARcade. The step is too high for Mary's chair to tackle. "My electric wheelchair is supposed to give me independence, " she says, "but theres's no way I could get into there without help."

It's the same story at a trendy clothes shop just off Broadgate. Steps installed in a major re-fit last year have made it virtually impossible for wheelchair-borne customers to use. Ironically enough before the refit it was easily accessible. "That should not be happening these days," says Mary, and it's why we're keen to have a voice at the planning stage of building schemes. A moment's thought would have eliminated the problem.

"Perhaps they thought that people in wheelchairs wouldn't use such a shop. But there are plenty of young disabled people around. "We don't want to have to rely on the kindness of others to gain access to shops. And what applies to us also applies to mums with prams and pushchairs."

The Chronically Sick and Disabled (Amendment) Bill, put before Parliament a year ago, might have instilled a new awareness amon shops and businesses, says Mary. But it was voted out. Instead, the irritating and the down right obstructive remain. Two banks in High Street are completely out of bounds - too many steps.

At Woolworths, the gap between the ground floor cash desks is too small to take Mary's wheelchair. In Tesco, there's an awkward turnstile to get past and a cigarette counter so high it forces Mary to stretch painfully up, half out of her chair. "It makes me feel like Alice in Wonderland, she mutters. "I now know what it feels like to be a small child."

The picture's not all bleak. Working closely with disabled groups, the city engineer's department is carrying out a programme to lower kerbs around the central shopping area. At Hertford Street Post Office, scene of protests in the past because of its inacccesibility to the disabled, an officer from the city architect's department is measuring up for a ramp that will be built next year.

Standard telephone boxes have long been out of bounds to wheelchairs but the new open kiosks in the central precinct are an improvement. At least Mary is able to get close enough to use the phone, although she'd like a lever to make it easier to put her money in.

It's time for refreshment and we head for British Home Stores. From the ground floor it's a service lift ride up to the restaurant. The staff are prompt and helpful but Mary has to negotiate her way through crowded stock rooms and the kitchen to reach the restaurant. The alternative approach is to use the steep precinct ramps, not a pleasant experience for someone in a wheelchair on a wet day.

"I wish big stores all had public lifts," says Mary, "Although I appreciate that it would be expensive." At least here she's able to move a chair and sit properly at the table. In eating places where chairs and tables are fixed she often finds herself forced to block gangways. That's something that cinemas in the city will not allow her to do. They insist she uses their own seats, putting forward the excuse that every disabled person has come to know well - "fire regulations."

As she propels herself round the central prec incts, Mary attracts considerable interest from other shoppers. Not many pass by without a look, furtive in some cases.


At least on this occasion she hasn't had to listen to "Oh isn't it a shame," uttered within earshot. The able-bodied public's attitude to someone in a wheelchair may be generally sympathetic but too often it's unconsciously cruel. Many times Mary's sat boiling with rage as well-meaning people talk about but not to her, as if she were incapable of reasoned response.

To test this out, I push her into a newsagent's shop. The staff ignore me and talk directly to her, treating her as just another customer. It doesn't always happen that way. In the past Mary's been patted on the head like a small dog and even handed a toy balloon as if she were a small child. Until disabled people have a bigger place in the scheme of things that will continue to happen

Mary's efforts did ensure some changes.

The Council house was eventually made accessible throught the front door and one of the banks in the previous article was eventualy ramped. Mary was on hand to celebrate the fact.

Going to the bank made easier

THE NatWest bank has eased the way for its disabled customers in Coventry.
A ramp and handrail have been installed outside its Broadgate branch Mary Arnold, spokeswoman for the Coventry Council of Disabled People had contacted the Evening Telegraph a few months ago to say she could not get into the bank.
People in wheelchairs had to press a bell and wait outside for a bank official to put down a wooden ramp.
Mrs Arnold, of Starley Road, city centre, has been disabled for 14 years and in a wheelchair for nine years.
She said: "I am very pleased. It really does make a difference. At last I can be as independant as I want to be."

Back in 1984, the newly formed Council of Disabled People was the subject of a feature. Mary's cat seemed to be focus of more attention than her in the picture!

Help us plea by charity run from a bedroom


A DISABLED widow is desperate to find new premises for the charity she runs from her tiny bedroom in Coventry. Stacks of papers and files are crammed into a corner of 51-year-old Mary Arnold's 10ft by 12ft downstairs bedroom in Starley Road. She is chairman of Coventry Council for the Disabled which was set up two years ago to Provide information on the needs of handicapped people and to push for adequate facilities for them. Mary Arnold, who has suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and asthma for more than four years is desperate for a new base


Even the charity's photocopier is two miles away at Whitmore Park school in Coventry because there is no room at her home and material has to be posted for duplication.

And now the charity, already pushed for space, faces another setback

Each Wednesday Mrs Arnold and her 29 year old son Laurence have a desk at

the information centre in Broadgate to help and advise on the problems of the handicapped. But when the centre moves next Year to the new central library, the former Tiffany's ballroom in Smithford Way, there will be no room for the Organisation.

So all business will have to be run from that little bedroom - unless a new base is found.

The charity has a committee of 20, two smaller sub committees and an increasing membership. It uses a hall for meetings, which are attended by about 50 People but paperwork and a Computer are stored in the bedroom.

Committee member Mr Arnold, who is unemployed lives in Broad Park Rd, Bell Green, but travels daily to look after his mother, who uses crutches indoors and a wheelchair when she is out.

He said.- "We have been offered a few properties but they are all unsuitable for disabled people. Often there are steps or the buildings would

cost too much to repair and adapt. We can't be stationed above a shop for instance, because we would be inaccessible to disabled people."

The Arnolds have approached the Coventry city council's homes and property services department and the health authority, but each time suggested sites have proved inadequate,


The charity is funded by members' subscriptions and private donations, helped by a recent 200 grant from the health authority. But that income barely covers the costs of a quarterly newsletter, travelling, the telephone bill and other essential items said Mr Arnold.

Ken Lomas director of the council's homes and property services departnent, said: "We have been discussing Mrs Arnold's problems with-her and we are aware of her needs "We are not immediately in a position to find accommodation for her,

"We are looking at our own accommodation to find things for her there and we also have list of all office accommodation in the city."

Years later Mary was still working from home as shown by a later article from the Inner City Task Force magazine

Computer Friendly

How computers changed the lives of two women

(Task Force Express September 1992)

INDERJIT MANN is an active, lively Asian mother of three who has just battled her way back into the jobs market after an eight year break to concentrate on her young family.

Mary Arnold is older, severely disabled with rheumatoid arthritis for the past 13 years and would be almost totally housebound were it not for the efforts of her caring son Laurence and her electric wheelchair.

Both women have found a new independence thanks to an innovative computer skills training scheme available free in the Task Force area.

For Inderjit it has meant learning new skills and gaining sufficient experience to make her eminently employable.

She has just been asked hack for a third week's work at the new Barclays Bank Business Centre in Coventry after being sent along there by the First Personnel employment agency in the city.

Unfortunately though, for Mary Arnold, all the weeks of training and learning have ended with a feeling of frustration.

The computer and its technology, all the new word processing and database skills she learned in her own home, were a liberating revelation. But after four months the borrowed computer had to be returned to be used by another disabled person, and Mary has no money to buy her own.

Despite this disappointment, Mary is eloquent in her praise for the training programme, paid for by a 164,000 grant from the Task Force and run by the Coventry Consultancy and Training Unit (COTU).

She says: "It made me completely independent in certain things. I am not capable of writing and I got out of the habit, but once you learn to use the computer you don't need anyone to do these things for you. Having a computer at home and knowing how to use it opens up job opportunities or the chance to take on other classes, and it lets you be part of what is going on.

"I am on the management committee of our housing co-operative. I go and I can talk, but I could never do anything else. When I had the computer I was asked to write a letter for the street, because I knew about the problem. I felt I was able to do more and play a part.

"When you are disabled you sometimes feel a bit guilty about not doing things. This made me feel more worthwhile. "The computer did make a difference and it gave me a lot of confidence."

Mary believes that extra confidence, and her ability to type out some presentation notes, won her a place as a representative on the regional disability tribunal. It allowed her to build databases of information for her work with the Coventry Council for the Disabled and the contact with her tutor even helped ease the sense of isolation that can come with disability.

"There is lots of work that can make people worthwhile and part of society. The computer training opened my eyes to many avenues I never thought possible.

"At the computer you are able to do something that is the same as everyone else. It can be done at home and you can do just as good a job as someone going to the office 9-5."

Mary cites the benefits of computers after training as being as varied as making pen friends to setting up a home-based business.

"For a lot of people who cannot come to terms with being disabled, because they have lost such a lot, the computer and the computer skills can be seen as a gain. It is something positive. You can use it as a tool and it will be heard.

'It's so elementary really. If you think how much use the computer will be to you it will be of twice as much use to a disabled person."



Site Navigator

 Mary Arnold's original page describing her adventures with an unusual electric wheelchair.
The whole of the political and voluntary community in Coventry turned out for her funeral, these are some of their tributes 
 Mary in her own words, various writings and thoughts on living with a disability
Mary's last campaign, to get on an NHS trust board, including her C.V. and her thoughts on the health service
An inspirational poem chosen by Mary's other son, Marcus and read out at her funeral
A selection of photographs

Copyright 1997
This Page was created Tuesday, October 28, 1997
Revised Wednesday, December 3, 1997
Most recent revision, Sunday, October 25, 1998