Lots of places claim to be inclusive of disabled people while also not making it possible for us to get in the door. Sometimes it’s understandable – people’s homes can sometimes be difficult, and there’s a few cities and towns I don’t think of as being particularly accessible! Unfortunately Durham is one of these, which is probably my favourite city in the UK. Overall, I haven’t had too many problems, although I am often surprised at where is and isn’t accessible – the Motability shop where I bought my wheelchair from has a small step up to get into it. Fortunately it is small enough not to be too much of an issue for me, but it seems a strange place for one. The Cancer Research shop in Harborne also has a step up into it – again, I can get into the shop with help, but I would have thought these kinds of places would be more aware of mobility issues. I know that before I became ill I didn’t really notice these things at all, and it’s only since diagnosis that I’ve become hyper-aware of it.
On Friday 21st September, we went to see the film adaptation of Sarah Waters’ ‘A Little Stranger’. I’ve always been impressed with the accessibility there – parking is relatively easy, I’ve never had an issue getting into either the cinema or individual screens, and importantly for me, the wheelchair spaces are towards the back of the room, rather than at the front which can be painful for my neck. After the film, however, we were planning on going for a meal. There’s a Frankie and Benny’s just by the cinema, and despite not having been to the franchise for over a decade, we thought we’d give it a go. Because I’ve always had such positive experiences at the cinema itself and chains tend to be good for access, I didn’t think we’d have an issue – but it was the worst place I’ve tried to get into. We ended up giving up and had a very nice meal at Pizza Express instead, but not only was it really hard to get from the cinema to Frankie and Benny’s due to the lack of drop kerbs, there was no way of getting in because of the huge step outside. The website does say that there is disabled access, but none of us saw any sign of that – not even a side door. Beyond saying that it exists, the website gives no information about disabled access. I do at least know now what a nightmare that is, whereas most pubs and restaurants that we go to I also know that I can get in and how to approach it.
I’m in a better position than many – if I know in advance, I can take an additional mobility aid and then manage stairs, and it’s very rare (it hasn’t happened yet) that I’d be going out alone – someone can always go into wherever I want to go and ask about access, but that assumes having a person with you who can do that, and not all disabled people do.
Obviously this post has focused on mobility and physical access, and there are other access issues which are just as important to address, but those aren’t an area of experience for me. If they aren’t an area of experience for you and you are someone who has a level of responsibility for access in a restaurant/theatre/cinema , please do consider these things. It is not enough to say you’re accessible for disabled people when those people are blocked from your establishment. Even a sign up pointing towards the accessible entrance is important!