It’s only got one step…….
It’s a phrase I hear so often as the answer to my question “Is it wheelchair accessible?” Especially at this festive time of year when I’d really like to get out into the Christmassy streets, grab a mulled wine and indulge in some retail therapy. Is it really so difficult in this modern and so called ‘inclusive’ age to allow me and my wheelchair to get into places? You wouldn’t think so would you but it’s a humongous problem that all us wheelchair users face daily. What people’s perceptions of ‘accessibility’ are, I’m still not quite sure, as whenever I ask the usual questions, I am still amazed at their answers. Apart from the very usual “um, I don’t know” or the just plain “no, sorry!“, I’ve had some very peculiar answers so I thought I’d just put a few commonly held thoughts that I’ve encountered lately to bed….
No, ‘it’s only got one step‘ is not wheelchair accessible
No, going ‘round the back‘ isn’t an option I’d like to take thank you
No, accessing through the kitchen is no good either
No, the portable ramp that now makes the steps as steep as the north face of the Eiger isn’t ok
No, a couple thick doormats draped over a step is not a ramp and will not work
No, a plank of wood held in place by two bricks is not a ramp either, it’s just another bloody step……!! (oh, and yes, this did actually happen! Photo below……. )
And no, it’s not ok that if I can’t get in, two burly waiters will manhandle and carry me in instead.
All of the above stem from personal experience in the last two years and it’s starting to wear a bit thin to be honest. I realise that I now have to be realistic about access in my new life now; some places just cannot be accessed I understand that, I’m not expecting to scale the battlements of any castles for instance but I never seriously believed it could be this bad! So many times, me and P wheel around places and find that it takes a ridiculous amount of looking to find the one coffee shop/bar/independent shop without stepped access. Some places we’ve visited have been so difficult, it’s been hours of frustration ending with a “*#@* this, lets go back the house/hotel, AGAIN“! There have been quite a few of those and in some of the more popular seaside resorts, we’ve been relegated to sitting on seafront benches eating a bag of chips not because we wanted to but because we couldn’t get my wheelchair into any of the seafront cafes! And one day, when venturing down to the Devon coastline, I called into the local Tourist Information Office and asked for a list of accessible places, I was given a single sided A4 sheet of paper with a list as long as my middle finger of places I could visit (most with a caveat of ‘only one step’ or ‘areas of uneven ground inaccessible to wheelchairs’) Unsurprisingly, that was very much a ‘lets go back to the hotel’ holiday!
The best places to be are the lovely new shopping centres, fabulous at this festive time of year; all those big airy shops, open plan restaurants, loads of lifts to choose from and handy Blue Badge parking to boot. Unfortunately, with a love of proper pubs, non-chain restaurants and independent high street shops coupled with a partner who hates shopping, hates busy crowded places even more and hates spending hours trying to find on-street disabled parking spaces with a passion, I’m obviously on to a hiding to nothing in the local disability stakes. I dreamt last night that the new Motability car had arrived; I can’t wait as the higher seat height, the better visibility and more importantly, the wheelchair hoist is going to take so much stress away from our trips out. At the moment, the thought of finding a parking place close to where we want to go combined with all the effort of getting the wheelchair in and out really puts a dampener on the outing before we’ve even started it and so often, we give up before we even begin.
I never realised before it was too late how important getting out is, especially in these dark winter days. When I was teaching, I was out of the house every day and took it completely for granted, I even ran on occasion! ( only if I was late to registration mind you, let’s not stretch the truth too far eh….!!) I never had to look where I was going, never even noticed steps or kerbs or anything really, always just got on with whatever I was doing. These days, I’m so busy looking at the floor, scanning for steps, cambers, dipped kerbs etc that I’m amazed that my neck actually moves enough to look up! It literally is a pain in the neck! (Sorry, couldn’t resist…!)
Anyway, when I do get the chance to look up, I do notice the most weird things. How low slung some people’s trousers are these days (being on an equal level to people’s ‘pants’ area, isn’t always pleasant…), how some young women REALLY need to think about their rear aspect when wearing very tight, over stretched black leggings and pink striped pants (really don’t want to see that!), people who drop something and stop to pick it up really should have some kind of early warning system to save me from wheeling face first into their rear end and just how much time people spend looking at their phones when they’re walking around and just don’t see ANYTHING that is just below their eyeline so will quite happily but apologetically trip over me when they cross my path! I’ve lost count of the number of bodies that I’ve ‘welcomed’ onto my lap, it’s not the best of ways to make friends but they always look so sorry……
Access and lack of it is such a major issue that it would take a huge will of the people to solve but surely it can’t be beyond us in this new progressive and digital age? A couple of weekends ago, I went with my daughter to her local Christmas market, it wasn’t too busy so it was a great day out but where did we go? To the ONLY places that had a ramp! Think of all the money us disabled people could spend if we could just get into your shops? How many glasses of Prosecco could I buy if I could get into your pub? How many other pairs of fabulous shoes could I peruse over if I could access your shelves? The so called ‘Purple Pound’ is here to be spent, we don’t just want to buy fancy crutches or multicoloured pill boxes (although I am rather partial to both). If I want to buy anything these days, I do it online, no barriers, no aisles so stuffed with clothes that you just can’t get through, no queues and no parking issues. The Hermes delivery man is now our new best friend and EBay should have frequent flyer points. It suits me but I do it out of necessity not choice, I would love to join in with the Christmas shopping the same as everyone else. I would love a similar thing to the ‘Quiet hour’ that some shops hold for shoppers who need a little less sensory stimulation; I can’t get out too often or the pain will get too difficult to manage but a shopping time without gazillions of crazy shoppers who constantly get in my way and counters I can actually reach would make outings a complete pleasure not a series of disappointing and painful encounters.
There are over 10 million disabled people in this country and we’re just all like you (funny that eh?) Just LET US IN! It can’t be that hard surely? Now, that would truly be a Christmas miracle eh……..