Writer and blogger Pippa Stacey recently shared an article with the BBC on accessibility and outdoor socialising as a wheelchair user. Pippa’s article inspired me to share some of my own experiences, albeit from a different accessibility angle.
You can find the article here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/newsbeat-57072498
In September 2020, I became a first-time mother, and with that, a whole heap of accessibility challenges I hadn’t considered in my previous life. I am writing this not as a way to bash retailers or the hospitality industry, which, now more than ever before, need as much support as we can give, but as a way to hopefully raise awareness for those who, like me, simply may not have considered the consequences of innocent actions.
Over the last 8 months, I have experienced first-hand the inaccessibility of some of my local, very beautiful, towns. Here are some of the challenges I have faced since becoming a mother:
- Vehicles parking on pavements: Nine times out of ten the compromise for a vehicle parking on the pavement is to take the ‘half and half’ approach. I say ‘nine out of ten’ as I have seen cases of vehicles parking wholly on the pavement, leaving no pedestrian access whatsoever. Putting the Law aside, this may work for those who are able to walk between said car and wall, however; this is not helpful to those with a mobility aid or a pram / pushchair.
- Vehicles blocking dropped curbs. I am forever apologising to my daughter for my questionable steering as it is, so having to ‘bump’ her down from a high pavement due to an inaccessible dropped curb, I’m sure, has left her wondering if mother should have been allowed a pram at all!
- Dog fouling on pavements. Again leaving me with no option but to move onto the road to avoid it.
My first few points, you may be saying, are down to a lack of awareness of the general public, which, I appreciate, is somewhat uncontrollable, so I thought I’d drop in a few below which are perhaps a little more easily accountable.
- Temporary walkways created to direct a pedestrian safely around remedial works. Safer than having to negotiate your way around a parked car, however; not particularly helpful when the width of the ‘safety’ walkway is not wide enough for a pram. The looks I have received from passers-by when I have had to barge my way through. Looks, but no help, I’ll add.
- Step access to many stores meaning that at the most crucial point, in ‘buying local’, I was often left with no other alternative but to use our global, online friend. Of course, I did everything I could to support my local businesses, and fortunately many more do now have an online offering, however; it would have been nice to have done a little Christmas shopping the traditional way.
- Display cabinets and bookcases in passageways so even if I am able to enter the store, I am unable to browse, without abandoning my poor daughter at the entrance. Additionally, and possibly the most ironic of my encounters was a disabled toilet, with baby changing facilities, at the end of a passageway too narrow for the pram (due to a display cabinet).
- And finally, I think this one will resonate with many. Disabled toilets / baby changing facilities doubling up as a storage space, leaving little or no room for a wheelchair / pram, or in one case, not designed to house a pram in the first place!
I want to make it clear that I am not writing this to ‘bash’ retailers. Often it is the case that you only really notice challenges others face when you are faced with similar ones yourself. As an ally of disability awareness and a volunteer for the MS Society, it is with a very red face that I admit I didn’t appreciate how sometimes very innocent oversights can inconvenience so many... but I certainly do now! The above are just a few examples of my experiences, however; I am fully aware that there are many other physical and cognitive accessibility challenges which I have not considered and / or covered in this article.
What can we do?
Reach out for help and listen.
There are several, fantastic disability champions and charities keen to offer their expertise and / or lived experiences in order to help you design the most accessible space possible, so please reach out for their advice. I am happy to share details of my contacts with you.
Take a day in the life of …
I have also seen some organisations successfully run ‘take a day in the life of’ events in order to bring themselves closer to facing some of the challenges of their colleagues. Perhaps your Disability networks can support you with this?
Be an ally.
Call out some of the above (or other similar experiences you may have had) if and when you come across them – sometimes all it takes is a bit of awareness.
What challenges have you faced?
My experiences mentioned in this article relate mostly to my personal shopping and dining experiences, however; I’d like to know if there are any challenges you may have faced in the workplace which I, our Clients, or followers may not have considered?
Thursday 20th May 2021 is Global Accessibility Awareness Day, shining a light on digital access and inclusion, so don’t just tell me about physical challenges, I’d love to hear more about what we can do as organisations to improve our digital access too. Please also tell me the good stuff – has anyone acted upon your recommendations?