It was only when I was discharged from hospital that I realised I was disabled. Like most disabled people, I wasn’t born with my disability. I acquired it out of the blue as a sports-mad 16-year-old. Over the three-and-a-half-year period I was in hospital and rehabilitation, naturally I appreciated that I had multiple impairments. But it wasn’t until I was finally discharged as an outpatient, two months before my 20th birthday, that I realised I was ‘disabled’. As a wheelchair-user and a disabled walker, accessing even the most mundane venues and services became fraught with difficulty and frustration.

The most disabling feeling of all – for me and many other disabled people – is when, at the very moment you are trying to access a venue, you find out that it is not accessible. You can’t rely on what people tell you about access into their own building. A non-qualified person misses what an experienced eye considers obvious. Discovering, for example, that a supposed ‘level access’ loo is actually three steps up in practice will destroy anyone’s confidence when the inevitable happens.

No surprise, then, that many disabled people lack confidence in accessing places they haven’t been to before. This can lead to a spiral – I know because I went down it. As a disabled person you retreat to the safety of what you already know and you don’t dare to try a new venue or a new experience. Your life can drain of colour until you are living a monochrome existence.

Your confidence would hit rock bottom, too, if – every time you went out – you risked being told: ‘you can’t come in’, ‘you’re a fire risk’, ‘come back when it’s less busy’, ‘we’re not set up for people like you’, ‘you can come in but you can’t use the toilet’, ‘you can’t sit with your friends or colleagues’. The walls of your life close in and the opportunity to get an education, try a career – even go somewhere different – is eroded or even eradicated.

I wanted to do something about it and founded 22 years ago. We spent the first two years listening to over 100 groups of disabled people about what we could do to end this exclusion. What came back was this: in a generally inaccessible society, there could be venues and services which were accessible, meeting our own individual needs, if only we knew about them.

Remember how excited, nervous and scared you were when you applied for pupillage and multiply that by 1,000 if you are unsure about whether you will even be able to get into the building, get into the interview room or use the loo, should you need to.

The failure to publicise disabled access information – the good and the bad – is actually a failure of imagination. Very few chambers on the Pupillage Gateway publicise their access. This is because most chambers currently do not actively welcome disabled people. Most do not have an access guide.

Most chambers still think of disabled people as clients rather than as members or chief executives, or senior clerks or administrative support, and do little to support disabled people as anything other than supplicants. It is humiliating being separated from the group you are with, to be sent round the back to the ‘accessible entrance’, through kitchens, circuitous routes, via goods lifts, like a fourth-rate citizen.

I have heard the ‘listed building’ excuse more times than I can recall. That’s why I’m so proud that my chambers, 7BR, have invested in making our 18th century town house chambers on Bedford Row more accessible. The most visible sign of this is our Sesame Steps (pictured above). This allows our building to retain its look at the front of chambers with three steps in, but these steps disappear at a touch of a button revealing a platform lift which glides silently up and down, allowing barrier free access into and out of chambers. This offers me as an advocate complete freedom at work.

Our new access into chambers is synonymous with our DNA: we aim to be accessible in how we serve all of our clients, the language we use, the way we explain the legal tests and the legal processes, the way we take care of a case. The transformation of our front-of-house access is part of our accessibility journey to become truly inclusive, while retaining the dignity of those who use our building.

Every chambers can make themselves more accessible by publishing high quality, accurate and trustworthy access information. Self-assessment often fails these tests which is why an experienced, qualified surveyor is necessary; I need to disclose this is what AccessAble provides!

A good access guide helps identify simple adjustments to make environments more equal for disabled people: installing hearing assistance at reception and in the seminar suite, improving lighting in key areas, communicating via different means; training so that you are not unwittingly discriminating. Many accessible improvements are low cost or no cost.

Something needs to change because disabled people are underrepresented at the Bar. The Office of National Statistics estimates 11.3% of the employed workforce has a declared disability. The Bar Standards Board has found only 6.3% of barristers disclose a disability. This is 5.3% of pupils.

Only three chambers invited me for interview – despite applying to the maximum number of sets at the time. How much this was due to the weakness of my own application, the strength of others or the fact that I disclosed my disability, I do not know. I am fortunate enough to have graduated from Cambridge as a prize winner and to win coveted studentships for an MPhil and PhD. I set up and established an organisation with a multi-million-pound turnover serving disabled people. At the time of my pupillage applications, I had won the National Criminal Advocacy Competition, my university moot, chaired several government and intergovernmental conferences, and been interviewed live multiple times on national media. Any latent discrimination would have been less likely had these chambers undergone disability equality training and had they been actively seeking to welcome disabled people into their set.

I am optimistic that things will change for the better because the Bar seems to be willing to address diversity and inclusion. My experience as a pupillage applicant was a decade ago. The work that 7BR have done in making chambers more accessible will, I hope, be a call to action for others. Courage calls to courage. 

AccessAble has worked with over 1,500 groups of disabled people to take the chance out of going out, defining and refining a survey methodology to capture information about venues and services using trained surveyors and on-site in person. Over 3.4 million disabled people used AccessAble in 2021 and looked up over 140,000 venues to plan how far they needed to walk, what the lighting was like at reception if they rely on lip reading, whether there was an accessible toilet with the right transfer side for them, how a venue would accommodate their assistance dog, what the surface of the car park was like, whether the dimensions of the lift would accommodate their wheelchair and much more. For more information on AccessAble’s access audits and guides and e-learning training, please email