12th March is Disabled Access Day. Did you know? I didn't until yesterday but I think this is a great thing to be more aware of and in turn to try and raise awareness for.
This day was set up last year by Paul Ralph, after being inspired by a 'try it out' day at his local bus company, for disabled transport users. He thought the initiative could be spread out over a wider scale allowing many different companies, venues and events to have a day where they can offer people with disabilities the chance to visit somewhere they perhaps have been too worried to, or didn't think was accessible or were unsure if their needs could be met on an average day. It could also encourage people with disabilities and their carers/families to perhaps try out something new, which believe me can be a scary prospect. If you'd like more information on what is happening locally to you, please take a look at the website www.disabledaccessday.com
In Bromley borough and our surrounding areas we have Bethlem Museum Of The Mind (Beckenham), Caffe Nero (Beckenham, Crystal Palace, Croydon), Barclays Bank (Beckenham, Sydenham) and Strada (Blackheath) as some of the places taking part tomorrow. Again please visit the official site for more information - I am happy to see local places becoming involved in something that is a relatively new and growing venture that I believe could be great for our borough's disabled residents.
I got my wheelchair just before Christmas, just passed. It had been a LONG time coming with my GP and Physio referral originally back in March '15. I have been relying on cabs/crutches and long rest periods for the inevitable excruciating pain which follows or my trusty self-bought beauty of a mobility scooter. She has an I <3 Penge sticker and is awesome, but I digress. Now scooters don't really have a great rep. They are large and get in people's way (no matter how much you try not to) and their users are often stigmatised for being lazy rather than disabled. Sometimes they are used for the wrong reasons, I can't deny that fact. However sometimes the person using one, like myself, has no other option of getting her (also disabled) child to school and back every day.
It was a huge challenge for me to brave the looks, comments and laughter from people when I first started using my scooter. As a wheelchair user too now I can now compare that when using my 'chair I am generally looked on more politely (people don't tend to laugh), I take up less space so therefore people don't tut or climb over me AS much (yes, it still happens though) and generally people are nicer - they will stop at a zebra crossing for example whereas in the mobility scooter usually at least once a day out of my minimum 4 daily journeys I will be gestured at or completely ignored at such crossings.
Due to these experiences, I was nervous to go anywhere in my wheelchair. It is not until you become someone with a disability that you truly realise the magnitude of *everything* outside. Not only do you have to cope with taunts, stares, being invisible or too visible for everyone's liking (and feeling like the world's biggest burden to society), you also come across pavements you can't ride on, curbs you cannot mount or dismount, shop doors to narrow or without ramps/flat access at all, internal shop layouts too narrow and cluttered to navigate with items on shelves you can't reach. Transport that isn't designed for you and people who aren't patient enough to allow you a little bit of time and help. I can't remember the last time I shopped in a charity shop, one of my favourite ever fun activities, or went out for a meal in one of my old favoured places. It's really heartbreaking. You know, there's this stereotype of the hard done by angry disabled person. I hope most of you reading this know me as someone who always strives to make the best of a situation, always aims to be positive and have a smile on my face but this past year has really dented that side of my personality and it's simply down to how loss of mobility and accessibility can make you feel. On top of that you're also coping with the thing that is making you have the loss of mobility in the first place, so team those emotions and feelings with near constant pain, autonomic dysfunction and guilt in my personal case and hey presto... you start to become someone very different to who you were. Nervous, afraid to venture to new places, lack of spontaneity, lack of confidence...
So that's why I feel Disabled Access Day is something to be shouted about. It is small and new and needs our help to get more businesses, events and venues involved next year and into the future. To try to help so many people feel that they aren't perhaps as trapped as they may feel. That there are workable places and options and friendly people who think inclusion for all is important.
Do you have any positive or negative experiences with mobility or access locally? Are you a local business owner and would like me to come and try out your accessible premises? Let me know below.
Who is Julie?
30 something, mother of two gorgeous boys, lover of one gorgeous husband, perpetually living in a dream world full of wine, chocolate and artsy crafty things.