This weekend my wife and I decided to venture out and visit an alternative fashion market that was being held in East London. While we live in Camden, home of freaky fashion, it is always nice to visit somewhere new and check out what's on offer. So we jumped into my car and off we shot. The journey was a bit of a nightmare as the traffic was awful, but as most of public transport is closed to me as I am a wheelchair user the car can be the only choice. Finally we arrived in a street that looked like it was out of post apocalyptic film... totally deserted. One of the joys of holding this kind of event in an area inhabited by offices is that at the weekend those of us who dress on the weirder side can wander around without fear of attack or ridicule. I was a little concerned at the terrible state of the pavements and the road that I was forced to wheel on due to the terrible state of the pavements, but it wasn't too far to travel so I gritted my teeth and asked my bum to put up with the bumpy ride. However as we arrived at the venue we were met with a flight of steps, with the front door being about three foot off the lunar landscape that was the pavement. I looked around to see if there was any directions for disabled customers, but seeing none my wife and I, now feeling rather over dressed for a walk through a business district, turned and went back home chalking our misfortune up to being one of those things. Thus is the life of a disabled person.
It is a daily experience that anyone who is disabled will know all too well. I have been a wheelchair user for 35 years, and while there is now a law stating that businesses should make every "reasonable adjustment" to ensure that they are accessible the real experience is that many places are still closed to disabled people. It's part of what it means to be disabled so when we find ourselves stuck on the outside unable to get in, we mostly turn and find somewhere else to go. My wife and I went for a very nice Italian meal at our favourite (and accessible) Pizzeria, Al Parco in Camden Town. I won't deny I was a little upset, as I did ask the venue if it was accessible. While they said "yes", any disabled person reading this will know saying that a place is accessible does not automatically mean it is. As I looked at the steps outside the venue I thought that what they meant was "we can lift you up the steps outside". Sadly I refuse to be carried in after a rather nasty incident where I was dropped many years back, so thought best to leave and live to fight another day.
As we live in the world of social media when I got home I sent of a quick message on Facebook to say "I tried to get in, but couldn't. Not sure if you are accessible or not but maybe you could do better, say with some signage?" Instead of getting an apology my message was met with "we had other wheelchair/pram (?) users attending the event. We weren't told you were coming and you didn't tell us you were there". Eh? Without knowing what I should do to get in, and with no external signage to tell me, it was my fault that I didn't just know what to do. I am disabled, not psychic! I replied that as part of a businesses access provision it is vital that any venue makes their access policy known to their customers, but yet again was met with a "Not our fault, it's yours. Other people got in!" type reply. By this time other disabled people who follow me were getting involved and to be honest the person who handles the social media for the event stepped from being offensive into breaking the law with their attitude. This is another experience that anyone disabled will know all too well. Time and time again we are blamed for not knowing exactly what to do to gain access to a building. We are not born with some sixth sense allowing us to just know if a building is accessible or not. We are disabled, not psychic!
What is funny is that the event organizers obviously did book a venue that they thought was accessible, but didn't deem fit to tell anyone. With no such information on the event Facebook page or outside the venue it really is a case of suck it and see. I am really pleased that some disabled people did manage to catch the eye of someone inside of the venue and were given the assistance to allow them to get in, but without knowing that was what was expected I wonder how many others just saw the steps outside and thought "oh no, not again"? You see we are disabled, not psychic. We need to be told if a place is accessible and if so, how we gain access. The root of this issue is that we still live in a society where access for disabled people is seen as a bolt on. This venue, like so many others, does not have access via the same entrance that everyone else uses. Disabled people are expected to use a back door, with the assistance of a member of staff, never to be out alone, and to always plan ahead. I ask you, dear non-disabled reader is that how you live? Do you call that reasonable?
Yes, the message of this piece is... disabled people are not psychic. If you have access TELL US!
Graphic made up of design courtesy of - Ju Gosling