This is the story that didn’t get blogged at the time it happened. I’ve told several people and I’ve posted snippets on facebook and twitter but I never shared the full story here. This isn’t really the full story because it misses out the rude questions and inappropriate suggestions and the stress involved. I wasn’t going to blog it at all but I have another story I wanted to share and it’s easier to explain that if I post this – but they are very different so I’ll post the second one in a few days in a different entry.
In December a group of us were supposed to go and see Dirty Dancing for my birthday. Two attempts and ridiculous access fail to do with a broken lift and frankly appalling staff attitudes meant we didn’t get to see it. I spoke with many people and sent several emals and phone calls but it wasn’t to be. I was really upset.especially because the theatre staff appeared to think that it was my choice not to see the show (they had an alternative access suggestion but it was incredibly dangerous and not safe for a powerchair user – although they deny this)
Ever since I went to uni fighting access battles has been my responsibility. My family and friends sometimes support me to do so if I need them to, sometimes I don’t need that support and sometimes they suggest I should let things go. But I’ve always been the one doing the fighting. And with this particular battle I hit the point of “I can’t get through to them” I was going to leave it, never go to that theatre again because it seemed to me as though they were viewing having a lift as a luxury and I was very much getting the impression from what they were saying they didn’t plan on fixing it (although they never actually said “we’re not getting this fixed”). My mum however wasn’t having it. She’s sent many other emails to the staff there. And I left her to it. It’s been really weird for me not knowing what’s going on with a complaint but I didn’t have it in me. The fact that this, finally, is the one thing that has my mum taking over rather than suggesting I leave it is also a sign of how serious and frustrating it is. It’s been a month and I’m not sure but I think she’s also given up on them having not been successful at making them see the point.*
Which is that you can’t put a moveable ramp on a flight of seven steps and then take a powerchair down it safely. The safety mechanism will kick in and kill all momentum if I even thought about trying to drive it down it. So it would have to be freewheeled (taken out of gear and manually pushed) down. But it weighs 15 stone by itself. And it doesn’t have a braking system when in freewheel. Even when we pointed those two facts out they were adament it would be fine and they’ve done it before – they’ve got strong guys. I personally believe trying to do so would have a very high probability of going wrong and had it done so would likely have killed me – seriously injured me if not.
My friends and carers and I went to the theatre several times whilst I was at uni in Stoke. I’ve been to the theatre a few times a year in the ten years since I came back from uni. Often in Oxford, sometimes elsewhere (Reading, London, Birmingham, Milton Keynes) and many more times a year since the arts centre opened in Didcot with it’s cheap tickets and carers go free. But that theatre was the one we went to most often. I got on the train every few months and made that journey – got off the train wandered up through town, often via waterstones if we had time to kill, sometimes a stop at Sainsburys for a cheap bottle of water and a chocolate bar and then on to the theatre.
And now it’s somewhere we can’t go any more. I’m no longer welcome. I was upset not to see the show. And I was upset that my friends and family didn’t see it either – I felt I’d let them down (although I know they didn’t want to see it without me). It feels like a big part of my life has been taken away.
I don’t like it.
Earlier this week I was at a CAB meeting. People were there from many different bureaux and I was talking to someone who worked at a different bureau. She asked me what the hardest thing to deal with about being disabled is. And I said “people’s attitudes.”
I mostly said that because her attitude had annoyed me. I’d just met her and she had asked me personal questions about my disability. I don’t mind answering if they have a point like they have a disability too or have a newly diagnosed friend or family member and are wondering if we share a diagnosis. But really “have you always used a wheelchair?” and the like should not be your opening the conversation questions if we’ve not met before.
The thing is though as much as my response about attitudes was because I was annoyed with the person asking it is the truth. Because the sad fact is the biggest problem with what happened with the theatre wasn’t that the lift was broken. It was the attitudes of most of the four staff I dealt with and their responses to me. Because those attitudes are what’s making it unsafe for me to go back to something I’ve loved and do it as often as I used too.
*Actually, after I wrote this I talked to Mum and she said the theatre told her the lift has been fixed.