It’s funny, whenever I call for a taxi or try to shout one from the street, you can instantly see the drivers face drop when they spot my wheelchair, and often a dog aswell. They see me as awkward, needy and what the hell will they have to say to me. It sometimes means getting their hardly used ramps out, and having to get a little too close to this one legged woman as if I have something contagious and they will lose a leg within a week. It often leaves me feeling the need to say “I’m sorry, don’t worry, my wheelchair comes to pieces, sorry, don’t worry my dog is well behaved, sorry she won’t sit on the seats…”
I apologise for being me.
I’m sorry I entered your bubble and I’m different.
I’m sorry I make you feel uncomfortable.
I’m sorry I represent your personal nightmare of being in a wheelchair.
Is that fair on anyone?
It’s often the same in restaurants, that’s if you can actually get in!
I recently went to London and was pretty disappointed at how often wheelchair access was really poor, even into newer buildings. Coming from York, an ancient historical city, the standard excuse for poor access there is the age of a building, not enough space, or being protected as a listed building etc. But I fail to see how wheelchair users aren’t considered in some new buildings. Steps at the entrance, toilets upstairs or an accessible loo being used as a store cupboard or just out of order. Really??
I recently went to one place where there were steps at the entrance, so I was shown to a side door with level access. However there were two people sat at a table right in front of this door, and the waiter had to ask them to pick up their dinner and move to let me in. I was so embarrassed, people were looking, I felt guilty, so we sent drinks over to apologise to them. Then there were more steps down to the accessible loo, that was full of junk. They produced a set of rickety ramps that had never been used, and manhandled my chair down them to the loo. It made me feel conspicuous and different, when all I wanted was steak and chips and a quiet night out. This was in a brand new building with no excuse for not being accessible. #gaucholondon Poor poor poor!! We have the right to access like anyone else and I know you’ll likely have your own version of this story yourself.
So flip this experience into a dreamy one where you visit a building and there’s an automatic door to greet you, a working lift to all levels, and a working accessible loo with an alarm string safely hanging down to the floor. It’s not hard, it’s very achievable. There’s a place I go to where a set of inconspicuous steps magically transform into a wheelchair lift with a turn of a key. I always feel very grateful when I go there, because the architect who designed it thought about someone just like me and decided I should be made to feel welcome.
Isn’t that important… to feel welcome, to feel included, and for a place to say come on in, we’ve been expecting you.