Does accessibility really matter?

In fact, let me re-phrase that, does accessibility matter to you? If your differences aren’t as different as mine, then the answer is probably “No” for the most part. I know you’ll nod in agreement if you hear me complain about accessibility, but it’s really difficult to understand the impact these issues have unless you’ve experienced them.

I recently became aware of the Changing Places campaign. Changing Places are campaigning for a truly accessible toilets, which contain either a hoist or adjustable adult changing bench (click here for more details). Imagine, disabled toilets aren’t accessible? Sounds crazy, right! I’d never even thought about it. Until that point, I was the friend that didn’t really understand. I may not have experienced these issues first hand and sure I’ll never really understand the complexities of planning an artic like expedition, just to get into town, but at least now I’m aware.

It’s frustrating, as I read blog posts, and news articles I know people are facing discrimination based on their abilities. Although when questioned in national media  we always sympathetically state “It’s better then it was”. Well better just isn’t good enough! We have laws in place that are meant to see that this sort of stuff doesn’t happen, but it does! I remember looking at the some of legal framework which is meant to help protect us. It doesn’t! Acts are littered with caveats and interpretation that limit the potential for change.

The following extract is taken from the Governments Equalities Office Equality Act 2010, Duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments for their staff (Link):

 

Making adjustments to the workplace and disability
Making adjustments to the workplace and disability – Governments Equalities Office Equality Act 2010, Duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments for their staff

 

If an adjustment cannot be reasonably made, then you can lawfully decline the request, I mean really?! What’s reasonable to you, probably isn’t to me. We all have different needs, but when you use the term “reasonable” around the context of an accessible toilet it’s plain to see the law doesn’t work. I think we all agree that it’s reasonable to have access to a toilet, no matter your ability.

So why are we here? I hate to say it, but I really think its lack of caring, experience, exposure and also ourselves. As someone with CP (Cerebral Palsy) I hate to think that I am inconveniencing others and have in the past let things go, although I still remember these incidents along with feelings of utter embarrassment, nobody wants to be pointed out for their differences, especially in a public setting. Ultimately, this ends with me trying to avoid the potential situation, which in turn means the issue never gets dealt with. Catch 22.

During my thesis I gave a talk about disability to a group of sport science students. We were discussing accessibility issues, when one of them made a comment regarding issues they experienced when using public transport with a pram. The student started explaining what a struggle it was and that there wasn’t any lifts, then it struck me, the student was facing the same issue that I have, although her disabling factor was a pram. This was a situation which was more relatable, and something I’m sure many parents would have faced, the difference being this period of disadvantage or struggle is short lived, and when it’s no longer your reality you become dis / less interested, although you can still relate to the experience.

 

So what can we do? I’m not sure, but it’s something I’ve started to think about, maybe watch this space? But, just not too closely!

 

 

Lost in the system

Some of the most prevalent memories of my childhood are made up of various hospital and physio appointments. Sitting in waiting rooms being prodded and poked, serial plaster casting and days off from school all became my norm. As I grew older I noticed that these appointments became less frequent, the physio stopped and my mobility deteriorated. Strangely at the age of 19 I was rediscovered. I was lucky, I had an uncle who took a keen interest in my mobility and wanted to see what could be done to improve my situation. Until this point I hadn’t undergone any surgery as mum thought it was best to steer clear of any long term intervention (something that I now know to be rear in cases of CP).

 

After a few redirected letters I was referred to a brilliant consultant (who I still see to this day). After a series of tests, discussions and visits, he decided that surgery would be necessary and scheduled me in for the summer just after my graduation. The operation was a success and I continued to progress with a regular physio, hydrotherapy until I reached a plateau. I was referred to my local gym and was then expected to continue alone. As time went by my gym sessions stopped and mobility generally became more difficult although I struggled on, until one day after experiencing several falls in quick succession. I’d cut my hands and knees and was helped in side by my cousin. I still remember this day so vividly people around me had noticed this decline, I think I did too, although I just put it to the back of my mind. I had to do something and decided to book an appointment with my doctor who later went on to refer me to a clinic for physio.

 

This got me thinking how did I get lost in the system? I went from regular meetings with specialists and physiotherapist to nothing. How did this happen? The consultant I now see for my CP runs an ‘adult clinic’ as there isn’t anyone that caters for this market. What do they think happens to all of the cripples, are we packaged with a use by date that fails to exceed our teenage years?