Monday, 6 August 2018

Aren't most places accessible?

The other day I had to crawl up steps to reach a hotel gym.

It actually appears to fairly common in hotels. I think the unconscious bias of many designers/venue planners is that gyms are for people able to exercise, so stairs won't a problem - forgetting that disabled people need to stay strong and fit just as much as everyone else!

That got me thinking and I realised something.

While I usually do a lot of accessibility research before going anywhere, whenever I go somewhere new, and often when I go somewhere familiar, when I choose my outfit a key factor is: can I crawl in this?

Why?

Because so many places aren't wheelchair accessible.

In the past year I have:

Crawled to access shops.
Crawled to reach products.
Crawled to reach toilets.
Crawled to reach a shower.
Crawled to reach station platforms.
Crawled to reach gyms.
Crawled to reach my hotel room (and yes, I had booked an accessible room)

And probably more.

Because of broken lifts, or no lifts, or steps with no ramps, or narrow doorways or corridors, or products and display units blocking aisles.

And that is only in the last 12 months.

A few years ago I crawled onto a stage as a speaker.

I am privileged, I CAN crawl (and sometimes walk short distances too), and my chair is very light weight. For many wheelchair users each of those places would have simply been inaccessible.

Without my ability to crawl I would have been unable to get my shopping done, unable to have a wee, unable to shower, unable to attend meetings, unable to exercise, and found myself stranded in a foreign country at 9 pm with nowhere to stay. All within the last year.

I am also privileged in that when most people think 'access' they think wheelchairs. So wheelchairs are often the most accommodated 'group' of disabled person. But people often don't think hearing impairment, or visual impairment, or mobility impairment but still able to walk (evidenced by how often the signposted 'accessible' route involves a long detour) - or any of the huge range of often invisible impairments that will need adapting around but where requests are often met with blank looks or 'that's not in our policy'. So their experience of accessibility may be even worse than mine.

So yes, the law requires accessibility, but please don't confuse that with everywhere actually being accessible.

And if I have to crawl within your establishment, it's time to look very seriously at your access!

(Note: I have used the word 'crawl' - but some of these could technically be described as bum-shuffle or  slide. However, the 'get on to the floor and clamber any way you can to reach where you need to go' concept seems adequately conveyed by 'crawl'.)