After over two years in a wheelchair I can safely say the world is not a wheelchair friendly place. Yes, there are rules and regulations to follow and there are some measures in place to make places accessible. The Equality Act 2010 states that “public places must take positive steps to remove barriers disabled people face to ensure we receive the same service, as far as this is possible, as someone who is not disabled” (taken from www.citizensadvice.org.uk). That doesn’t mean common sense always comes into play though.
I’ve just spent the past 11 nights in a hotel in Ibiza. A beautiful holiday and quality time with my family in the sun. We researched the hotel before we went. As someone who is disabled, I feel like I’m almost qualified as a detective, trying to find a hotel with suitable access for my wheelchair.
The hotel we picked ticked all the boxes. Three lifts, ramps everywhere, we were on to a winner. On arrival it soon became clear that although these were indeed in place, the actual people in the wheelchairs (there were three of us while I was there) were an afterthought. Tables, sunloungers and trollies were placed at the end of the ramps. Lifts so small I couldn’t push myself into them with my self propelled wheelchair. Thankfully I had family with me to move items and get me into the lifts but there was no way I could have managed alone and a motorised scooter just wouldn’t have been possible. I realise it would have fallen under Spanish regulations and not ours but it highlights the issues disabled people face.
It’s not the first time I’ve had problems in public and i’m sure it won’t be the last. Ramps that have been at the bottom of a cupboard have had to be dug out for me. Special entrances to get into places draw even more attention to my condition. As a person in a wheelchair, I don’t want to stand out any more than I already do.
I also want to be independent. I don’t want to have to ask for help. I’ve had nothing but kind offers from people who have carried me, lifted me and gone off to find the one person in the place with the key for the back door. What I want is to be able to access buildings like anyone else. As mentioned in the Equality Act, I want the same level of service as someone who is not disabled.
We might be a small minority but what about inclusivity? I don’t want to be different. I don’t want everyone staring at me while I’m carried around because my wheelchair won’t go up the stairs. It has reduced me to tears on many occasions and the humiliation is heartbreaking for me. It’s another reminder that the world doesn’t see me as important. That I am an inconvenience, another cost for businesses to pay and the hassle of getting the right equipment.
So what can we do about it? As a community let’s push public places to include disabled people, not just as minimum regulations, but as people with feelings. Put yourselves in our shoes. Would you want to live an independent life? If the answer is yes then please look at your access. Are all your customers treated as equals? That’s what we should be aiming for. I understand we are not their main focus and only represent a small proportion. If they have things in place then that’s great, make sure we can access them easily and make us feel like any other able bodied person. We want to be independent and feel included and there are many changes that need to be made to make that happen.
This blog was first published by The Huffington Post here