Government papers dating back to the early 1960’s reveal that a fear of mass panic prevented access ramps from becoming more commonly used.

By Tom Jamison

Most businesses and certainly public buildings are usually accessible in some way to people with mobility impairments or for people with young children in strollers. However, although legislation now exists to protect the rights of disabled people to access public places, ‘ramps’ have never been made ‘compulsory’, leaving businesses and organisations to apply any ‘appropriate’ access solutions they choose.

Newly discovered papers released under the ‘30 year rule’, dating back to 1963 suggest that the then Head of the Advisory Committee for Public Order, Alf Roopli, feared that a widespread application of ramps might cause panic amongst a cautious Cold War-weary public that the UK would be vulnerable to a “Dalek invasion”.

The Daleks had been introduced in the BBC television series, ‘Dr Who’ which was first aired in November 1963 and whose infamous villains were seemingly defeated by the same access issues as wheelchair users. Papers reveal that Alf Roopli made sure that no demands for ramps to become compulsory were considered, having personally witnessed scenes of disturbance whilst visiting Manhattan, USA as a youth in 1938 – a trip that coincided with the airing of the Orson Welles directed radio play, ‘The War Of The Worlds’.

Such was the realism of the radio play that residents of Manhattan had been ‘fooled’ into thinking that an alien invasion was possible – even imminent. Alf Roopli advised newly elected Prime Minister, Alec Douglas-Home that a compulsory introduction of ramps could cause “serious disturbances and a breakdown in public order”.

Although the papers were released as long ago as 1993, historians have only recently revealed the detail, although it is not clear if Douglas-Home personally considered the threat credible.