Saturday, 21 January 2012

Wheelchair Access: The WHEEL DEAL.

Hi, my name's Aimee, and I am a full-time wheelchair user. I have been in this wheelchair since birth, and will continue to be throughout my lifetime. Now, I am not the type of person to let anything stop her from doing what she wants; my motto is "if theres a WHEEL, theres a way" (pretty cheesy but also true!) But sometimes, there is something very significant that prevents me from doing things I love. Wheelchair access.
For the average non- wheelchair user, wheelchair access is something that most do not notice (which I'm not saying is a bad thing, if its not something that affects you, its natural not to notice things like this) Or as I have heard myself far too often, is assumed to be everywhere because "isn't there a law that everywhere HAS to have wheelchair access?" and the answer to that is yes; Technically there is. But sadly, there are also ways around this law which exempts places from this. I, however, do not agree with these things.
The Disability Discrimination Act, or as it's now known The Equality Act (as of October 2010) States that a person cannot be discriminated against because of their disability (obviously) and that all buildings must have some form of wheelchair access so that the building is accessible for everyone. This could be from a large adjustment, such as a lift/stairlift, to a small adjustment, such as ramps/bells outside to ask for help opening heavy doors etc. Sadly there are ways around this law without actually breaking it. Ways which places get away with not having wheelchair access (that I have personally been told) such as "its a listed building, we can't change any part of it", "its health and safety", "we don't have money for things like that" and some have simply not given answers at all.
I'd like to tell you about some personal experiences that I have had, most being over this past year. I've always had problems with this, but it wasn't until I started going to more new places on my own in 2011 (as most young adults do) that I realised quite how BAD things have gotten, and that it should not be acceptable.
I've lived in Kings Lynn my entire life, and there is a cinema that has been there since before I was even born, The Majestic. Now there has never been wheelchair access into the building and there are huge steps into the reception. Recently, they have made the bottom screen room (the smallest room) wheelchair accessible, if you ask someone at the desk they will come round and let you in the fire exit, but their flaw? The reception is up a flight of stairs, so if i was to go by myself, or with another wheelchair user, neither of us would be able to inform one of the ushers to let us in. Yes, we could ask a passer by, but you can't rely on that. also as it is the smallest screen room, the bigger grossing movies are shown in the two larger rooms, both of which are upstairs, and they have no plans to add a lift/stairlift into their building. When asked, the Cinema said it was a "listed building" and they have "no plans in the near future to change this". after 22 years of experiencing this, I am very shocked to see little change, I realise its not a huge place, but I don't feel thats a valid reason, because I would like to go to the cinema more often, but because of this, I either have to wait for it to come out on DVD, or travel further out, and as of yet I cannot drive, but on the other hand,why should I have to do that, when others do not? Again; Equality.

I have also had this problem with a few places in London. Over 2011 I have had to miss out on a fair amount of shows purely because of wheelchair access. The Camden Barfly, for example, have wheelchair access for their downstairs, but not upstairs, which are primarily where the gigs are held. Another being The Garage, again, access downstairs, but not up. Of course I can't put all the blame on these two places, these are purely places I've had problems with myself. One thing I will say about these venues, is that they are small venues used for small gigs, I'm not saying thats a good reason, but compared to the next place I'm about to tell you about, these don't even compare. 
G.A.Y club in London.
   One day in 2011 I found out that my favourite pop band The Wanted were performing at G.A.Y and I really wanted to go, and there was no reason why I couldn't. At least thats what i thought. I called up a week or so beforehand to check that I was going to the right place at the right time (as I discovered there is 2 G.A.Y's in london) and I'm very glad that I did. Whilst on the phone I thought I would ask if there was a best place to stand/place myself, so as to see the band (preferably at the front) and the best time, to which they then informed me that the venue only has stairs down to it, and there is NO disabled access whatsoever, and even went so far as to say that their bodyguards will not allow me into the building or assist in any way to get me into the building for "health and safety reasons". G.A.Y is the biggest gay club in the UK (to my knowledge) and pretty much EVERYONE has heard of it. So why does a place this famous, this big, not have wheelchair access? The person on the phone responded "we don't get any wheelchair users in here". Perhaps thats because you have no access?! After a long phone conversation that was heading nowhere I hung up the phone & with it, my hope of seeing that gig. I then sought onto twitter to try and get The Wanted to hear about what happened, and a lot of my wonderful followers tried too, but obviously with the amount of people tweeting the band, they were unable to see this, which is not the bands fault in any way, of course! But i felt it was worth a shot at the time.

Something I bet 90% of Londoners don't even notice, is lowered kerbs. Or lack of. I visit London pretty often and because of the Underground (which I am coming to next) I usually have to walk to places or get taxis. When walking around London I have noticed a lot of the time, there has been no lowered kerbs in-between roads, so when crossing, it becomes dangerous. I then have to try and get down a high kerb into a road and back up another high kerb (which is virtually impossible) before getting run over (and most of these roads don't have proper crossings) so if i can't get back up the kerb, I then have to dangerously walk along the side of the road until I can find a lowered kerb, which is not safe, and I would NEVER recommend to anyone. I have only ever done this if I absolutely HAVE to, and I have been extremely panicky whenever i have.
My initial reason for writing this is the London Underground System. For most it is an amazingly fast, cheap mode of transportation around London. For me, it has been a nightmare.
Out of 275 underground stations, less than 20% of them that are classed as "wheelchair accessible" but if you look deeper into it, they're not really that accessible at all. Bar a couple of randomly placed "accessible undergrounds" such as Wembley Park, St Pancras & Hammersmith, a vast majority (basically ALL) of the stations are on the outskirts of London, mainly places where people live, which is great if you live there, but then perhaps not, because even if you live there, you can't really get into Central London anyway, because there aren't the available Undergrounds. If you're like me and DO NOT live in London, I tend to go to places that are in the Centre of London, such as Leicester Square, Oxford Street, Covent Garden, Camden etc, tourist attraction places, and nowhere in the centre of london has any Underground wheelchair accessible stations, meaning from Kings Cross Station (where my train comes in) instead of being able to jump on St. Pancras Underground to my destination, I have to get a taxi, paying out usually over £20 at the least rather than a less than £10 ticket on the underground. adding into that the return journey, and if I've moved from the location I was dropped off (which is likely!) I've racked up a LOT of cash purely on travel, which could've been prevented had I had access to the Underground.
On one particular trip I went to Hammersmith & I was ecstatic to find that the Hammersmith & City station was wheelchair accessible, so I happily strolled into St. Pancras, bought my ticket & asked for someone to help me onto the train and politely requested someone be at Hammersmith to help me off (because of the gap and floor to train height) That was fine, no issues. On the way BACK however, I did the same thing, asked a man to help me onto the train, and he told me it was "health & safety" that I was not allowed to be helped onto the train and demanded to know why I was on my own. I calmly explained that I am a perfectly independent 21 (at the time) year old who doesn't need a carer, I just need someone to help me on the train, and that someone be there at the other end to help me off, he then proceeded to be aggressive, and could not understand why I was on my own. Pure ignorance. In the end, he called someone in his office, who agreed to help me, and apologised for the other person's behaviour, and everything was sorted. Now this is the part where I would LOVE to tell you this was a one time deal. Sadly, this happened again about a month later, but with a different person. So either both of these people were rude and ignorant...or this is the sad fate of my life. Being subjected to the fact that I am supposed to have someone with me at all times. No. That's not going to happen. I don't see myself as any different to anyone else except that I cannot walk, so why should I be treated any different? If a place is classed as a "wheelchair accessible" station, there should be adequate wheelchair accessible trained people and/or equipment such as ramps.
My most recent issue with the Underground scared me quite a bit. I went to Wood Lane, because I needed to go to Shepherds Bush Market but it wasn't accessible so I went to the nearest one and decided I would get a taxi/walk to Westfields (depending on how far it was) I got on the train no problem and the person said there would be someone at the other end waiting for me to help me off, sadly, there wasn't and I was stuck on the train. Thankfully, some kind passengers could see I was in distress and helped me off on the next stop. Unfortunately, this stop wasn't accessible, but the tube had gone before I realised. I was then stuck up on a platform by myself. After a while a passer-by came along and asked if I was okay, I explained the situation and she said she would get someone from downstairs to help. There was no-one working at the station. At all. Bearing in mind this was around 12pm, Lunchtime, so it wasn't even a quiet time of the day, and there was no-one around, this kind Lady waited with me until two Men offered to carry me down the stairs, if they had not come by, I would not like to think how long I'd have been there.
I realise it may seem like I'm going on a bit, but this is all for a reason. This has to stop. This kind of thing is not just affecting me, its affecting people all over the UK and nothing is being done, I realise now that when these things happened, I ranted about it when I got home, but actually, I did nothing about it, and what good did I do? None. So this is why I'm writing this. I want people to see things for how bad they really are becoming, and to become more aware, and get talking about it, because this problem is not just gonna go away if we ignore it. And this is where I come to you, the readers.
I want to get this message out to as many people as possible. I am hoping if possible that I can even send this on to members of the Parliament/Council, but as of yet I am not entirely sure of the right people to contact, so please get in contact with me if you know whom I should inform or if you have a way to help with my cause, because this isn't just for me, this is for every Disabled person who has ever had these troubles and just kept it in the dark. Now is the time for these people to speak up and let the world know that we aren't taking it anymore, and that something NEEDS to be done. Action needs to be taken. Now.

If you have any information, whether it be your personal experiences, experiences of someone you know, contacts of whom I need to speak to/email/contact or you just want to get involved,and stand up for what's right, I would really appreciate as much help/support as I can get on this, whether you are disabled or not, Equality is what matters, 
United we stand, Divided We Fall.

Video blog I made connected to this:

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"It is not our ABILITIES, but our CHOICES that make us who we are"