GERARD Oxford was being invited to an event in his former role as mayor of Colchester when he was asked if it was really necessary for there to be disabled toilets.

He said: “I told them ‘I won’t use mine if you don’t use yours’.”

The conversation is just one of many in a long list the Colchester councillor has come across in his 30 years in a wheelchair.

Gerard was elected as ward councillor for Highwoods 19 years ago.

But he has generally forgone speaking out about the issues which disabled people face for the majority of that time.

It was during his mayoral year in 2017 when he decided enough was enough.

He said: “We did a lot of mayoral engagements but there were some I couldn’t do because of access.

“It was disappointing because it meant I was unable to support the people in that charity.

“It’s become more and more apparent that this is still an issue; 23 years on from the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 this should not be the case.

“Access should be a right not a privilege. I think some people treat it as though ‘We will give them a little bit and it will shut them up for a little while’.

“Well I’m not going to shut up about it anymore.

“I thought in the beginning I would be billed as a one trick pony but now I think I need to use my platform and say what I experience.”

Gerard was speaking on Purple Tuesday, the first national day to highlight access issues for disabled shoppers.

The day was also the landmark, 23 years on since the first legislation to protect the disabled was adopted by the UK. Yet decades on, Gerard has questioned whether it is doing enough.

Last week he went to get a new passport photo in Snappy Snaps, in Colchester High Street, and was pleasantly surprised when staff produced a removable ramp.

He said: “It meant I could get in and out of the shop on my own. I said ‘Thank you very much, it’s brilliant you have made the effort to do something’.

“It’s a small business and they have still done the decent thing and made some changes.

“But there are a whole range of problems going on. There is a restaurant in Colchester which, when it changed hands, removed a ramp which meant anybody could get in and replaced it with a step.

“They went to planning appeal and the planning inspector allowed them to do it. He has gone against the equality act set up by the Government.

“It makes a mockery of the system when the planning inspectors don’t even know the law.

“There has not been much done in the past 20 plus years to improve things so I am on my soap box, I have had enough of it.”

Gerard says he will now be using his personal experiences to hold not only businesses in the town to account but also the council he serves if he needs to.

He said: “So many of our shops are inaccessible or if we can, when we get in the free standing units are so close together we can’t get through.

“Access is a real issue.

“How can it be we have a scheduled ancient monument in Colchester Castle and we can put lifts in there so it’s not beyond the will of people to do these things.

“You have to have the will and I question that with some people. I refuse to apologise for saying we should have equal opportunity regardless.

“I would challenge all businesses, whether they are small, medium or large, and actually look at these issues rather than saying ‘how can we get out of these things’.

“Be proactive and see what you can do and perhaps ask someone like myself to come and chat to them so we can show what sort of options are open to them.”