Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Taking disabled access at face value.

When going anywhere new I do a lot of background work. I never take 'it's accessible' at face value.

Pre-disability I knew that most places were accessible because the law said they had to be, and one sees 'accessible entrance' signs, and 'accessible parking' signs all over the place.

Now I have years of experience of 'accessibility' that isn't accessible - from "it's only 1 step" to "our disabled customers don't usually go to the bathroom on their own, so not being able to open the door from the inside when using a wheelchair isn't usually a problem." (see 'Toilet Traps')
Add in heat intolerance, limited arm strength, etc, and the only way to be sure I can achieve what I set out to do, is through a whole lot of research - which takes time, and a lot of energy. Frustrating when I don't have much energy to spare.

Today I needed to drop something at a local small business. They said they were accessible. I didn't want to investigate. A little personal rebellion against the huge effort this process usually takes.

So I didn't investigate. I just went. No further checks. Flying by the seat of my pants and hoping for the best.

...actually, I had a back up plan of "If it's not accessible I'll stay in the car and call them, and they can collect it from me." - to risk an adventure without a back up plan is a step too far for me. 

You see, the problem with rebelling against the need to personally investigate accessibility for every venue I go to (often several phone-calls, emails, plus googling), is that if it goes pear shaped, the only person who it's really going to affect is me. So if I'm going to risk it, I have to know that the cost won't be too high.

The result:

I arrived to find 1 disabled bay. Occupied.....oh hang on, there's a second one the other end of the row, and really near the ramp! Good.

I got out of the car and into my wheels.....Oh. The ramp might be close, but the dropped curb to reach the ramp is 10m's away - but on the plus side, it exists.

So I wheel away from the office, up the dropped curb, back to nearly where I started from, up the ramp and to the doors.

Heavy doors.

Very heavy doors that open outwards. I always find it harder to pull a door open than push it.

I managed - tricky but doable.

I'd made it into the lobby. Oh blast. More heavy doors. And no doorbell or anything to call someone. Doors behind and in front - well, I've made it this far, so let's go for it.


Done it. Through the door and at reception.

Items dropped off. Success.

Turn round....door.

I would like to say I was sensible and got someone else to open it.....but...when I'm low on energy, thinking up sensible solutions and explaining them to someone else is actually really difficult - even for simple solutions like asking someone to open a door for me.

What actually happened is that I opened the 2 heavy doors again without help. After which point I realised that I'm going to have to be a bit careful with my elbows for a while - I don't think they appreciated it.
And now I'm home. Mission accomplished, and I didn't do any planning.

Part of me is relieved and pleased. I did it. I went somewhere new without any advance research beyond 'is it wheelchair accessible'. For a small business it was delightfully accessible in comparison to many experiences I've had.
But part of me (including my elbows) is disappointed and frustrated. It was so nearly fine. But I'm kicking myself because if I'd done my research I would have known about the heavy doors, and arranged for staff to open them for me. And if I'd done that, I wouldn't be paying the price now.

It's a very strange feeling - these opposites mixed up inside. But perhaps the main things I have carried away from this are:
  1. Sometimes I can get away with not planning, but there is likely to be consequences.
  2. The level of planning I do normally isn't excessive or paranoid, it's just sensible. 


  1. Thanks for posting this - it explains exactly how I feel. People often comment to me that I seem excessively worried or obsessive about checking accessibility before going to places - and I should "just believe them", but so so so often places say they are accessible but aren't. I've found that so many times with academic conferences (see http://blog.rtwilson.com/im-an-academic-in-a-wheelchair-why-is-that-so-difficult/) in venues where the organisers have checked that everything is fully accessible. In fact, I've had exactly the same thing happen with a talk I'm giving this evening: the room was marked as fully accessible, but there's no way for me to get behind the lectern in my wheelchair, and no way for me to get my laptop plugged in to the projector in a position where I can still see it... I could have done without the stress of trying to sort that this morning!

    I wish there was a way around it, as like you I struggle with fatigue and so the energy required to check everything out takes a lot out of me - but I can't see any way: it seems to be a necessary part of life as a disabled person.

  2. I'd noticed a students union building near me claimed to be disabled friendly, however the ramps were at such a steep angle that my self-propelled chair tipped and the disabled toilets that were located past 2 sets of outward opening doors was constantly locked.

  3. I completely agree with your sentiments here, you can't just rely on a self proclaimed 'disability friendly' venue. I recently went to my state's zoo which has won several awards for being so accessible. However I nearly tipped out of my wheelchair several times and also had to do a wheelie at one point to go over a pavement crack. Plus the amount of hills was EXHAUSTING! Just because a path is wide doesn't make it good for wheelchair users!

  4. I don't plan as excessively as you partly because I expect that no matter how much I research and plan something will go wrong, but one of the things that upsets me the most with supposed accessibility is stating quite rightly they have a ramp but fail to mention the platform is also the top of the entrance stairs and the door opens outwards so you have to try to pull the door, while not rolling off down the ramp or even worse down the stairs.


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