Open Your Eyes To Access Issues

Like any friend, I like nothing better than taking my friends out for the day. Some recent time off provided me and my friend with the opportunity to do all of the things we would like to do together, but rarely get time. Our itinerary for the day was planned excitedly in the morning, as my friend and I met over coffee, both keen and enthusiastic for a pleasant day ahead.  The day was to start with a bit of fresh air at the local park, followed by a spot of lunch in town. So we set off. It was good to see my friend, who recently stated using a wheelchair after health problems, wanting to still come out with me despite her recent changes.
Cobbles Posed a Problem
Any parent, close friend or carer of a wheelchair user will be aware of day to day difficulties that pass un-noticed by the majority of the population. Each stage of our day out was affected, although not necessarily spoiled, by some disabled access issues. The park is lovely and access and egress points are wide, gently sloping and safe, so entrance and exit from the park is not difficult. Within the park however, are several cobbled pathways with no alternative routes. These mean that when with my friend, we have to go the long way around. This is no great imposition, but does mean there are lovely areas of the park that she may never see again.  I contacted the local authority about these cobbles. I was told that they were ‘listed’ (believe it or not) and could not be replaced. They do look lovely, but they aren’t particularly practical. The very idea of listed cobbles astounded me.
A Feeling of Isolation
So we went on to the restaurant for our lunch. It is a very nice two-storey restaurant with fantastic food and lovely staff. The disabled access is great too, but only for the ground floor. As all of the facilities that one needs are on this floor it does not usually present an issue for my friend. On this day, however, the restaurant did not have many bookings and were only using the first floor. The staff were very accommodating and seated us on the ground floor anyway, took our order and brought our food. No complaints here. Unfortunately, because we were the only people on this floor, (once the staff had served us they too left and went upstairs) it left me feeling totally segregated and isolated. I repeat, this is not the fault of the restaurant – it is not something I would expect them to think about and all of our culinary needs were met.
I just feel that the experience was somewhat blighted somewhat and we lost the ambience of the restaurant. I mentioned this to my friend during the meal. She told me not to be so silly and that she doesn’t want to make the world bend over backwards for her. She’s getting used to this sort of thing. I don’t know if I could.
Both experiences struck me as I arrived home. Disabled access is a huge issue and in the most part companies and councils meet equality standards impeccably. In both cases on this day, the cobbles in the park and the ground floor restaurant table, acceptable alternatives were presented. However, the quality of experience was affected for me (although my friend didn’t let it worry her, as she says, she’s getting used to it). I would just implore everyone anywhere to put a little extra thought into their disabled access facilities. You may tick the boxes of the Equality act, but please try to go further than that, focusing on providing the best possible experience for wheelchair users.
Author Gem Wilson produced this article to highlight the problems with disabled access and to draw attention to the work produced by DDA Survey consultants.