Living in the heart of a city means that everything I could desire is practically on my door step, or perhaps more appropriately, my door ramp. Therefore it should hardly be surprising that I like to take advantage of this fact and spend a great deal of my time in the various bars, pubs, cafes, restaurants, shops, and cinemas in the local area, and as such I have encountered every standard of accessibility from “I don’t think my insurance will cover that” to “world domination is nigh”. It is from these experiences that I have learned a peculiar fact, one that by most accounts would seem counter-intuitive; accessibility is about more than having ramps and lifts.
I have discovered that it is not enough for a building to have ramps, lifts, and disabled toilets; they have to be usable too. I have been in many fully accessible buildings to find ramps and corridors needlessly obstructed, lifts shut down, accessible doors locked while the inaccessible main entrance remains open, or even disabled toilets being used as storage cupboards. Sometimes facilities have to be blocked off if they are unsafe but the fact that routes are blocked is rarely communicated to the buildings users, and I have spent a great deal of my time backtracking down corridors when a simple sign at the entrance would have sufficed.
The people in charge of these buildings pride themselves on their accessible facilities, as they should, but in their pride they fail to implement them. Many a manager has failed to see why I am so adamant that blocking something accessible renders it inaccessible, or why having to wait outside in the Yorkshire rain getting soaked to the skin while my able-bodied counterpart goes inside to get someone’s attention is an issue (God forbid I ever go out with other disabled people, or worse, on my own); the general attitude is that I am making a fuss about nothing and this often means that the same mistake is made over and over again. I believe that in this attitude lies the problem.
When I attended one of my beloved wrestling shows at a new venue, an older building in an industrial complex, it was undergoing building work at the time. There was a central courtyard and on the right was a building containing the bar and the toilets which had two steps up to the door. The manager of this building spoke to me, informing me of his plans to have a concrete ramp put in along with all the other work that was going on, and also to ensure that the disabled toilet had running water supplied to it as soon as he could. On the left was the room containing the wrestling ring and the door was too narrow to pass through without leaving behind some nasty scratches on the wall, and also had a very small step down which my wheelchair may or may not have been able to manage, mostly depending on the level of sobriety of the driver. Thinking quickly the manager opened the double doors around the corner which was serving as the wrestler’s entrance, and guided us down a wide, level corridor into the room. On the way out he made sure that the passage was clear for me and my fellow compatriots to exit the event safely.
This building did not have the same resources available to render it accessible, it being an old, re-purposed building with a cheap rent, exacerbated by the building works. Despite this, the buildings’ staff went out of their way to make sure that I could get in to see the show with no major compromises, and also to reassure me that the standard of accessibility would increase. While they lacked the resources, their attitude meant that the problems were resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.
It struck me as I was going home after the wrestling show that accessibility is far more than just having the right car parking spaces, toilets, changing rooms, hoists, ramps, lifts, hearing loops, and other facilities. Accessibility is using those facilities appropriately, not misusing them, and making sure that they are available to those that need them when they are needed. Accessibility is also in the welcoming attitude of the staff who don’t make me feel like an inconvenience on wheels. Accessibility is just a visual representation of equality.