We've all seen the adverts about places that claim to be 'family friendly' or events that are 'suitable for the whole family' haven't we and I'm sure the marketing gurus who come up with the adverts truly believe they are selling something that is exactly that.
But my family is one of the many families that actually can't go somewhere that claims to be family friendly or suitable for the whole family, without first checking that it actually lives up to those claims.
You see, having someone disabled within your family, be they a child or adult, means that your family isn't always considered when making these grand sweeping statements.
I recently saw a post on social media where a well known UK theme park was claiming that it's new ride was going to be something for the whole family. If this was in fact true it would need to have something that currently only 1 UK theme park has.. a 'stay in wheelchair' carriage. (Cadbury world have a wheelchair carriage on their Cadabra ride which is really only suitable for very young children)
Of course it isn't practical for high speed roller coasters to have a wheelchair carriage and no one would expect it (even though a wheelchair user can safely travel in their wheelchair at high speed on a motorway). But this new theme park ride claiming to be suitable for the whole family led me to assume that it wouldn't be such a ride anyway.
This particular park is very accessible in every other way, it has a hoist assisted (Changing Places) toilet, allows free entry for carers and disabled guests are able to register for a pass so they don't have to queue. But if you are dependent on your wheelchair, as my son is, then despite all the effort this park has made to allow you to visit, you still cannot go on a single ride.
Would any other family take their child to a theme park, and pay for them to get in, knowing all they can do is watch? Doubt it!
Disney World parks however have invested a lot of time and money to make some of their rides suitable for 'stay in wheelchair' rides carriages, so it may surprise you to hear that although they have rides for wheelchair users, they've not been forward thinking enough to provide toilets for those same visitors! Disney Parks have no hoist assisted toilets which means that those with a need for a hoist and/or large changing bench cannot actually use a toilet during their day unless they are lifted manually (read as unsafely) and are willing to lie on the toilet floor to be cleaned and dressed afterwards - hardly the magical family day out they advertise.
But theme parks aren't the only place that can't claim to be suitable for the whole family.
If you are a family who love football then you'll be disappointed to learn that if you have a disabled family member it is likely that you won't all be able to watch the game together because only 1% of space at sporting venues is available for disabled fans! One family I know of have to choose between taking their disabled son to the match or their other 2 non-disabled sons - they can't take all 3 as they can't sit together and they are too young to sit separately.
Theatres showing family friendly productions aren't suitable for many families with disabled members because of the lack of hoist assisted toilets - you've seen the queues in the interval, its fair to say most visitors need to use the toilet so why would a severely disabled person not need to?
Cinema's are the same, they have family friendly showings, some even have special screenings for autistic visitors but we can't even go to those because of the lack of suitable toilets and because the wheelchair spaces are always so close to the screen - why do wheelchair users not get more options in where they'd like to sit (and let's not even mention how loud they have the volume)
Even the local parks in most towns aren't actually suitable for the whole family unless they include some equipment which wheelchair users can access, such as wheelchair swings and roundabouts. Why would a child want to go to the park with their siblings if all they can do is watch? We are lucky where I live as we have a fantastic park (We Play Too) with equipment for everyone, but ALL parks should have wheelchair accessible equipment so that disabled children have as much choice in where they play as their non-disabled friends do. In a time where 'inclusion' seems to be the buzz word when it comes to education, why are we not including disabled children in all learning opportunities?
In 2016 I would have liked to have thought that the Equality Act 2010 would have ensured there are more adjustments being made nationally to ensure that families like mine are no longer being excluded. It's time families with a disabled member were acknowledged and made to feel wanted by society and included in all aspects of it.
But until places start to appreciate that the average family isn't the only type of family out there, and make adjustments accordingly, families like mine will continue to question whether something being advertised as 'family friendly' or 'suitable for the whole family' actually includes their family.
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