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Friday, 13 December 2019

Contrasting trips

I have undertaken three trips away in the last two weeks, and they have really highlighted the difference it makes when access has been thought through.

Trip 1


The first was a two day (one overnight) visit to one of our clients. I drove both ways (about 260 mile round trip and although not everything went according to plan, on the whole, it was a very positive trip. So what made this trip go so well?

Planning

The trip was planned well ahead of time and I was very clear about my needs, particularly regarding the room for the night. I let them know in writing that I needed a wet room, level access, and that Liggy would be with me. The client knows me well and did her part in ensuring that every meeting, activity and meal would be in a suitable space. 

Responsibility

As I said, not everything went to plan. In spite of measuring my wheelchair, there was part of a corridor that was too narrow and this made accessing the accommodation difficult. However, our host immediately took action, was very apologetic and ensured that alternative access was in place as quickly as possible. 

Training

This venue was very busy. There were lots of people there for all kinds of different reasons. There are also many working dogs on site, and because of this, everybody knew not to distract Liggy and to largely just ignore us. It was possibly the first time we have ever been in a packed restaurant and had to queue for ages, and nobody tried to pet her or even just stare at her. I wish the whole of society was this well trained and self-disciplined. They were brilliant!

Trip 2

My second trip was also just one overnight and was more of a personal outing. We were booked to speak at one of the Canine Partners carol services on the Friday evening. The venue was beautiful but also not without some challenges but it was a wonderful evening. Then we spent a night in a hotel before spending the whole of Saturday at Chatsworth House.

Fitting in

I always enjoy Canine Partners events! There are other people with mobility challenges and lots of other dogs. It could be difficult with getting everyone in and out and managing all the dogs, but it just works. The dogs are dogs so they usually want to greet each other and all the owners but they are all quite used to knowing when it is time to settle down and lie quietly. If your dog needs a bit of time out, everyone understands that. If you ask someone to leave you alone for a bit, they don't get offended. They know what it's like. I always feel more normal at these kind of events. People (disabled and otherwise) get in and out of wheelchairs and nobody thinks they are faking it. It's just normal life. And I feel normal, which is nice.

Accessibility is a choice and is usually possible

The church was part of the Chatsworth Estate and we also spent time in the house and gardens. It's an old building. It's a listed building. It's quite hilly. There is every reason why they could pretend that it's not possible to make it accessible. However, it is one of the best places we go for access. The staff are well trained and so helpful! The building and gardens are wonderful! We all had a really relaxing weekend.

Trip 3

The final trip didn't go so well. Granted it was 4 days (3 nights) so longer away, and Neil wasn't with me, but there were lots of things that spoiled it and shouldn't have done. It was a work trip but it wasn't work that was the problem, mostly. It was just general stuff... but it all happened at once. I will say it was Edinburgh. If you have to travel there and have access needs, just plan a bit more carefully, just in case.

Food

Okay so food is always a bit of a nightmare for me and only other people with allergies really seem to understand. My drama started on the first evening in the hotel. I'd booked dinner and was looking forward to an evening with my colleague who had travelled with me. My allergy is a natural food colouring (carotenes) which isn't on the usual allergen list. I looked at the menu and picked the nearest meal I could find to a possible option - salmon with hollandaise sauce, new potatoes and mixed green veg. I was fairly sure that if I omitted the sauce, I'd be fine but I thought I'd better check that the greens didn't include kale or spinach (which, as it happens, they didn't) so all should have been well. 

Asking the question caused all hell to break loose! The waitress couldn't take my order (my colleague appeared to turn invisible, as nobody took his orders for the rest of the evening!) so had to get her manager. He turned up with the allergy book and seemed a little put out that I had the audacity to have an allergy they hadn't got on their list. I explained that I know what it's in so just need accurate information but this didn't really help. After several return trips to the kitchen and pictures of ingredient lists on his mobile phone, he eventually took my order. This all took 30 minutes.

We waited and he returned with a laminated disclaimer which I had to acknowledge so that if I died it was my own fault. Then he returned to inform me that they had to cook my meal from scratch so they didn't contaminate it. That would take another 30 mins. During that time, my cutlery was confiscated and replaced with clean ones (I would rather hope for clean cutlery anyway)! Eventually we got food but by then I was very shaky and didn't really enjoy my meal at all. Plus I felt like a leper!

All this was repeated for pudding, which I wish I'd not bothered with but had paid for in advance.

The next night, I decided to eat elsewhere. I'd seen a KFC (surely you can't go wrong with KFC) and decided to walk there. I set off but as I got closer, realised it was in the middle of two roads off a very busy roundabout. I got closer before realising there was no crossing and no dropped kerbs. I ended up buying a weird concoction of items from Tesco and eating in my room. Again I didn't enjoy it.

The last night, I preordered the exact same meal that I had on Sunday, as it seemed the most likely way of getting food. The meal was okay but I still felt like a leper and had to have my cutlery confiscated.

Edinburgh doesn't do dogs?

I managed with Liggy at the hotel and there was plenty of grass around for toileting, though when I asked on arrival (because it was dark outside) the lady on reception told me there was no grass but they had an accessible toilet. I asked her if she was sure she wanted Liggy to use a hotel bathroom and she finally twigged. Not sure why she thought I would want to pee/poo outside, but hey ho! Liggy was on best toileting behaviour (thankfully) and peed and pooed very willingly on demand. I always have bags and pick up and put it in a.. Where are you supposed to put it? There are no bins... anywhere. The hotel was opposite a railway station in a busy area. Only one bin and that was well out of reach for me, behind a load of tables. It was a letterbox style bin and literally the only one. I tried to aim but my aim isn't what it was. I even told the staff, in the hope they might move the bin or the tables... but no. They seemed quite happy for me to aim badly and leave them little black bags of poo all over their decking. 

The area around our offices was even worse. No grass, pebbles or bark anywhere, except the cemetery. And absolutely no bins. Day one, I took Liggy in the cemetery. She only peed. There was a sign banning dogs but assistance dogs should be exempt, right? Day two, they had chained all the gates shut. The weather was also foul that day, and I had to try to persuade a dog that is trained to not just pee/poo anywhere, to go anywhere.

Blame the weather

On the final evening, by the time I got back to the hotel, I had had a very difficult day. I'd hurt myself several times trying to overcome barriers that should never have been an issue and I really just wanted to eat my preordered salmon and go to bed.

Traffic was awful and I dropped a colleague at the airport, so I was whacked out when I got back. I got my chair out and assembled it and headed for the door... only to find the whole entrance fenced off. Eventually I realised I was going to have to wheel all the way round the building to the other entrance, so I set off, less than happy. 

In the car park, they have spaces for coaches. A lorry was parked in one but the front of his cab overhung the pavement, blocking my way. Once I'd got Liggy fed, I asked at reception what had happened and whether they knew whether it would be fixed by morning. I was really concerned about how I would load the car by myself. Without the diversion, it's very difficult. With it, I was worried that I would end up even more hurt and my pain levels were already sky high! 

The man at reception seemed very angry that I had the cheek to ask and immediately defended the hotel, blaming the weather. I know he can't control the weather! I'm not stupid! I just thought he might know whether it was just a precaution or the building was falling down, or somewhere in between. I guess I was also hoping for a pre-emptive offer of help in the morning. Not likely! Fortunately, when the time came, a different chap was there, who was considerably more helpful and kind.

The weather caused other difficulties on the drive home. Automatic doors at one of the service stations were broken (but left closed, rather than wedged open). At another one, a path was blocked by a sign that had blown.

I get that weather can't be helped but this really was just a windy, rainy day. We live in a country where wind and rain happen, not just occasionally but often. So why can't we build buildings that don't have flimsily attached metal bars on the side and cover motors with some kind of insulation to protect them. I'm pretty sure that if aeroplanes were built with so little care, people would start complaining! And if the weather does cause problems, would it be beyond the wit of man to think through access for people like me? Would being helpful and kind be so difficult?

Election

I woke up this morning to find that our pretty good Tory MP, Andy Percy, has retained his seat. I've never been a Tory voter but he did me the courtesy of engaging in a brief conversation on social media last night. I don't even know how I feel about the election result but I do know this...

There are too many battles to fight. Whilst Edinburgh made me angry and caused more physical pain than I should have to endure, there's no point in wasting my energy fighting battles so far away. Andy Percy promised me he would raise issues that affect our local area. I am going to decide what are the most pressing issues and try to get his help in fighting some battles. Because life can be easy or difficult for people with disabilities of all kinds. We can blame the age of the buildings or the weather but at the end of the day accessibility is a choice. Those who are in power either care or they don't. Society either cares or it doesn't. 

I see a repeating post on Facebook. Loads of my friends share it. The idea is that if I'm ever suicidal, they will stay up all night to listen to me. They will be there for me. They care. They all claim this applies to everyone... strangers even. I don't need you to stay up all night. I just need you not to be the last straw. And I think that applies to all of us, but definitely people living with disabilities. Just try to make life easier sometimes. People seem to like to be seen to be helping. That's sometimes great but even better to build a society that enables people to manage without help... without getting to the end of their rope. 

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