How accessible are you?

I’d initially thought I’d write this about the humble Blue Badge and its accompanying cardboard clock, and what a difference these two tiny things had made to life. They have been incredibly enabling.

There’s a slight guilt when you’re issued with one of these, at least there was for me. Not that Alex isn’t entitled to it, because he is, but because I just felt that as he was being pushed around anyway, why did we need the space?

We need the space because it’s what comes with the space. It’s that huge cross hatching that goes around your car. That means I can get the door all the way open, not just try to wriggle Alex (a long flippety floppety 4 year old boy) and me out from between two badly parked cars. It means I can open the boot and hoof out his buggy without being run over. And sometimes, those spaces that we can access right next to the park, the school, the swimming pool… just mean that we will actually do the activity. We don’t worry about how far away we have to park, how many awkward roads we’ll have to cross. We’re just there. And that makes a huge difference. And I think sometimes people don’t appreciate that when they park in a disabled spot that they shouldn’t.

A couple of months ago I came home to find someone parked in the disabled spot we usually use. Fair enough, it’s not ours, just handy for our house and so I parked behind, on the single yellow which, thankfully, we’re entitled to do. As I did so, a young woman bounced out of the car in front and looked back and caught my eye and for once I was brave…
‘I’m sorry,’ I said (sounding all of my mother years), ‘but do you have a disabled badge?’
‘No, I’m just in a hurry. Did you want me to move?’
At that moment I did that thing we all do, thinking no, no, it’s fine, I don’t want to cause a fuss. But then I remember we’re only allowed 3 hours on the single yellows, I’d have to come out later to move my car, which wouldn’t be easy if no-one else was home to mind Alex.
‘Well, yes, yes I would, as we do have a badge’.
And I know how I sounded. But there’s a reason for that space. It facilitates our life.

But accessibility is so much more than this. It’s thinking about access – the ability to Just Get In Somewhere – that we have to think about every single day. Now Alex is four, this should of course be getting easier, we should have lost the buggy and the nappies. But we haven’t, and who knows if we ever will. So these things remain important.

People who are disabled, who have disabled people in their family group, their group of friends, they all like to go out, but they have to be enabled to do this. On every level. It does involve a little more thinking, not just ticking boxes, and I suspect that can be time consuming and costly. But think of the difference it makes to people’s lives and – critically for commerce – their ability to spend money (the purple pound, apparently).

We’d love to go out for dinner…. oh, no, there are too many steps.
How about the museum for the day? No, the disabled toilet may say disabled, may have ticked the ‘inclusive’ box but actually, it only covers those in a wheelchair with limited mobility. There is a toilet. With a handrail. Those with no mobility, those who need a changing bed and hoist? No, they’re not catered for.
Where am I supposed to change Alex? On the floor? In the boot of my car?

And – and this is my personal favourite at the moment – can I drop off my dry cleaning?
dry cleaners

Because I am a middle aged working mother I was ridiculously excited when a new dry cleaners opened because I cannot get Alex into the only other one in town. It’s down a narrow street with an awkward step by a very slim pavement. But this new one, being new and shiny… ticked its ‘disabled’ box..? by installing a handrail. By the not inconsiderable step.

When we needed to open a bank account for Alex… I chose the one I could get his buggy into. The one with easy access doors. Not a ramp you had to phone ahead for.

To truly include the disabled, to make them a real part of life… More thinking outside the box is needed. At every single stage. And they will reward you with custom, loyalty…and good reviews.

Alex in park

Mummy, Daddy says ‘are inclusion and accessibility really the same thing (and have you been watching 2012 again)?’

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