An Evening in the Pub

I wasn’t going to blog about this but one of the others on my journalism course suggested I should.

Earlier this week a bunch of us from CAB went to a pub in a nearby town to eat.  It was our post Christmas, Christmas social (we always have it in January).  It’s not a town or pub I know. But based on what I’d heard of the access I didn’t have alarm bells ringing

Then we got to the pub and as my colleague drove past the main entrance and into the car park I could see it had a step. I didn’t know about that step.

Across the dark car park we go. I’m hoping I’m not about to wheel into a pothole I can’t see and tip myself out – the downside of the manual is it tips so much easier than the powerchair. And we try to go along to the back entrance. But the path in the beergarden is narrower than my chair and so my wheels are sinking in the mud where it’s been so wet. I can’t wheel myself through it and nor can anyone else.

Round to the front to look at that door. It’s not happening. Two inch step and a then a tight right angle turn to go through another, narrower door that no one thinks my chair will fit through even if we could get me up the step.

I’m beginning to think I’ll be ringing my Dad to come get me. I don’t know that I’m going to get into this pub.  But then a staff member appears and she suggests getting me in through the kitchen.  It wasn’t level and I needed help to bump up and over the lip and negotiate the tight turns in this old, listed building.

At last, surprisingly, I am in the pub. I greet my colleagues and get a drink.

Then I go to wash my hands because they’re muddy from the attempts at crossing the garden. I come back out of the disabled toilet with clean hands but the knowledge that I won’t be buying the “next round” I’d said I would. Because for some reason there’s only one grab rail in there. By the sink. So I’m making my drink last and putting up with my thirst and hoping I don’t need a wee.

I did enjoy the food and it was really nice to see everyone and have a proper chance to chat. I saw several people I’d not seen for ages (possibly not since the last social in the summer in one case) and met someone new who volunteers on different days to me. It was good.

Then it came time to leave. As they were getting me out, a different staff member was helping. He made some comments, I forget what, and I said “I was told you were more accessible than this.” And he told me the problem was that I was using the wrong door. Wheelchairs always use the front door. “But that’s got a two inch step.” says I. He didn’t reply to that but as he moved out of my way and I wheeled towards the car I heard him tell one of the others that they might look into getting a ramp.

The person who organised our meal emailed me a couple of days later to say she’d sent the pub a message to thank them for our lovely evening. She copied part of the managers reply (who might have been the person who helped my out, I’m not sure) and he apologised for the difficulty in getting “the wheelchair” in and said they are going to look into what they can do to make the front door better accessible within the limits of how old the building is and it’s listed status.

That’s brilliant. I’m pleased that they saw my difficulties and say they are going to try to resolve them.  I’m even more pleased that it didn’t take me writing a letter or making a complaint afterwards to do that.  I won’t go back but it’s nice to think that maybe, just maybe, another wheelchair user who comes after me won’t have so much faff and struggle.

But I really would love for someone to explain to me just how people forget to mention (or don’t even notice) the bloody great step to go in.  Because sadly places do that all the time. And I just don’t get it.

 

In defense of First World Problems

I’m annoyed.

I’ve seen a few blogs over the last few weeks suggesting that a good new year’s resolution would be to ditch First World Problems.  We should ask ourselves about our worries and decide if they really matter, recognise how lucky we are to not have more serious problem and then move on.

But here’s the thing.

I had what some might consider a first world problem this week. Many people would hear what I was stressing about and wonder what the hell I was worried about. I’d found a solution, it was something I’d been thinking about doing anyway and I could afford it so why was I so annoyed and worried about spending the money?

It’s a first world problem, Emma.  You’re lucky you can afford that money. Get over it and stop moaning.

And that little aspect of it? I could understand why people might think that.

But the problem isn’t really about the money.  And luckily those I reached out to about that understood that (and in one case I’m not sure they know what a first world problem is).

That’s the bit I’m focusing on because it’s the bit I’m comfortable with. There’s a lot behind it and it’s too big and messy and not something I can do anything about. I’m happy with my solution. My solution isn’t the problem. The problem is the cost of my solution.

I have a really fun opportunity coming up. I can get there easily. I’ve been there before and I know it’s accessible.

Because of what time it finishes I can’t get home. So I’ve booked a room at a Premier Inn.  I’d been thinking of going away for a couple of days and batting around ideas so when that came up I didn’t hesitate to RSVP yes.  I’ll do something else there before my event and spend the whole day mooching around doing something the next day.  Then after I sent my RSVP I looked at hotel cost.

Right in the centre of a city on week night that room is hideously expensive. I could have got two nights for not much more on a weekend. I can afford it and I think for how much I should enjoy what I’m going for it’s worth it.

But it’s not comfortable.

Behind all of that problem however are the bits I don’t usually talk about.

The fact that cheaper hotels exist really close by but aren’t accessible.

And that public transport isn’t fantastic which means I can’t get between where I’ll be and where I could get home quickest from (or on the very quickest form of transport home) so as always I’ll travel a different route.

The difference in times between the accessible transport at the station people expect me to travel to/from and the one I do is minimal when the difference in times to get places on arrival is considered but when it’s a case of trying to beat the magic hour of midnight when your local station operates unmanned are a problem. It should just about be doable but the slightest delay and I’d be screwed. So whereas many people who live here could go there and get home easily I’d rather not risk it.

I’m fine about all of that. I’m looking forward to a couple of days away and planning and plotting all the things I might do whilst I’m there to fill the few hours before and the whole day after. I keep changing my mind.

The amount that hotel cost however much I can afford it and however much it’s a one off and a treat and it doesn’t matter still feels like too much.

So people can roll their eyes about first world problems all they want. They can laugh and joke and blog about new years resolutions to get over them.  But I think I’ll keep them.  Because for me they’re often the part of a larger but hidden problem that I am capable of dealing with.

Parody

I love music.  And I love parody songs. Sometimes I hear the parody songs first and then discover the ones they’re based on – because I rarely listen to the radio a lot of new songs seem to pass me by for a while lately.

At the moment I’m particularly enjoying this parody of All About That Bass by Meghan Trainor – All About That Change.  It’s especially cool because it’s a parody that Meghan Trainor sings herself (along with James Corden who I’ve never really seen much of).  Apt for this time of year and it made me laugh.

But if I’m honest the number one parody song is always going to be All About That Chair by Heather Schouten. I love it. And sometimes I struggle not to sing those lyrics when I hear the regular version.

“Special Needs”

Language around disability is a really tricky thing. Some terms are acceptable to some people and completely unacceptable to others. Some are fine for disabled people to use amongst themselves or to refer to themselves but problematic when used by strangers.  And there are times when disabled people argue amongst themselves about the terms.  People first language and identity first language are two of the biggest culprit’s there.

One term that I’ve been saying I don’t like and arguing against for the last few years is “special needs”  I can explain why I don’t like it but it’s something I find others always agree with although some people do come to see my point after I explain even if they don’t agree with me.  Basically as a disability specific term it makes no sense.

For the last few days I’ve been reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon.  I finished it this evening and it’s safe to say it’s one I’ll be thinking about for a fair while.  The main character is Christopher, a teenager with Asperger’s Syndrome.  I’m not qualified to comment on his portrayal – I liked him as a character but I’ve heard and read various things from people who are on the autistic spectrum that it’s quite problematic. Which unfortunately isn’t that unusual when a disabled character is in a book.

But that’s not what I wanted to blog about.

There’s a moment in the book when Christopher is talking (as narrator) about the term “special needs” and it basically sums up what I’ve been saying about why I don’t like the term. It was a big “yes!” moment of validation for me. So instead of explaining my dislike I wanted to share the quote. It’s one of those that if I was sharing a link to it on twitter I’d probably just caption it “this.”

“All the other children at my school are stupid. Except I’m not meant to call them stupid, even though this is what they are.  I’m meant to say that they have learning difficulties or that they have special needs. But this is stupid because everyone has learning difficulties because learning to speak French or understanding Relativity is difficult, and also everyone has special needs, like Father who has to carry a little packet of artificial sweetening tablets around with him to put in his coffee to stop him getting fat, or Mrs Peters who wears a beige-coloured hearing aid, or Siobhan who wears glasses so thick they give you a headache if you borrow them, and none of these people are Special Needs, even if they have special needs.”

– From The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (chapter 71, page 56)

I is for…

I is for Impossible

As a disabled person and particularly as one who is both life long disabled and a woman there can be a lot of barriers in my way.

Actual physical access is the big one although awareness of that and facilities are improved a lot and the amount they’ve changed just within my lifetime is huge.  That’s not to say there isn’t a long way to go because there is.  I just read an interesting blog by Anika about that.

Attitudes and awareness are in many ways a much bigger barrier.  If people refuse to understand why I can’t be carried down a flight of stairs or tell me to stop making a fuss then access can’t improve because they don’t understand.  And understanding is huge.  I recently tweeted a shop in a town I was going to visit and asked if they were accessible.  They replied “the shop is wheelchair accessible, just a step to get in.”  Which, if you know about wheelchair access you’ll know means it, in fact, isn’t accessible.

Today I’ve been trying to book a weekend away.  I’m undecided about where I want to go and after poking round and places to go and things to do I took a look at hotels.  The website of one of the chains didn’t have exact accessibility details online and their twitter person told me I had to phone the actual hotels I was interest in.  The first had accessible rooms but not ones that I can access. So then I had to phone the other hotel.  That does have rooms that meet my needs – in fact all of their accessible rooms meet my needs – but it’s a way away from the centre of town and all the places I thought I might visit.  That town is doable in a day from here so I’ll maybe do that instead.  And as for a weekend away I think my second choice of city to visit might be back in the running.

And sometimes my own attitude and experiences can be a barrier to doing things. After 30+ years as a wheelchair user it’s easy to be jaded and think “the last time I travelled to that train station things went wrong” and not go there again.  Or “I heard that chain has a terrible rep for access, I’ll give it a miss”.  I try not to but it’s easy to fall into the trap.

People will often tell me not to do stuff – that I won’t be able to.   I have a bit of a habit of proving them wrong.  I used to say people should never tell me I couldn’t do stuff because it would just make me determined to prove them wrong.

Now I am older and perhaps wiser I rarely say that.

I can and do point out to people that I can do things they think impossible for me.

“This isn’t recommended for people with mobility problems due to long distances involved” – not a problem I use a powerchair and it’s got good batteries.

“Sorry, there isn’t accessible tube on the route we’re taking, so hope you don’t mind not coming” – if I get the train to a different station I arrive in London at a place that does have accessible tube, I’ll meet you there.

“don’t go in there, there’s no room for you to turn round you’ll never get out.” – I can reverse my chair that distance and turn when I’m outside.

It can and often does take a lot of creativity, some courage and most of all bucketloads of determination but I find that despite what many people think there will always be barriers in may way there’s not much that’s truly impossible if I really, really want to do it.