I had a really lovely time in Norfolk recently, but there were certain things that weren’t accessible that could so easily have been.
Whoever said Norfolk was flat lied. Especially when you’re using a wheelchair, I find you notice every incline and even the tiniest slope can feel steep! These kinds of things tend not to frustrate me because there’s often no way of combatting them and it isn’t a deliberate choice but rather just how the land lies.
I also understand that access needs can conflict! For example, the things that get put on pavements (with the raised yellowish bumps – I apologise that I’ve temporarily forgotten the name) are invaluable for blind or partially sighted people, but cause pain in my head when my wheelchair goes over them. Because they’re so useful for blind or partially sighted people though, they’re an important accessibility aid.
Likewise, not all buildings can be fully accessible because of historic importance or listed status. I was very impressed by a castle we visited (Norwich Castle I think, though I wouldn’t swear to it) – I was able to access most of it and the only thing I couldn’t do was get up to the walkway, which didn’t actually have anything new to see, merely a different perspective.
On the off chance that any town planners or property owners and developers are reading this, here is some advice!
There was SO MUCH GRAVEL.
It may sound trivial but my wheelchair threatens to fall apart when faced with gravel. There was a pub right next door to where we were staying, but because both the pub and our cottage were surrounded by gravel it was virtually impossible to get to without a car. Obviously, for a journey that short there wasn’t any justification for using the car but we’d have spent more time there had it not been for the gravel.
Steps are NOT accessible
I posted this on Facebook with the challenge to find what was wrong with this photo! I was as impressed with my friends’ responses as I was horrified by this door in the first place.
There are two main things that I noticed – that step, which is far too steep, particularly for an unaccompanied person or group of disabled people. There’s also the fact that the door is narrow and looks far too heavy. Even if asking or phoning the number produced a ramp, that wouldn’t solve either of these issues! Fortunately I didn’t need to go in, but this really isn’t good enough, and that’s before I get into whether I should have to ask for access or whether it is just an automatic right.
Accessible furniture and housing
This wasn’t actually something I’ve previously noticed very much, and I was grateful that our cottage had a downstairs bedroom. However, there were three major issues, none of which were insurmountable but they did undoubtedly make it more difficult than it needed to be.
Firstly, the living room was actually on a mezzanine level, and so up some fairly steep and scary stairs. It was really the only place to sit together with my parents and chat, read or watch TV. There was a sofa downstairs, and we spent a fair amount of time outside the cottage but it didn’t make for the most pleasant environment. There was also no toilet upstairs, and both my bedroom and the downstairs toilet had one steep step up to them – while not insurmountable it did make me feel a little bit trapped. In the house, I tend to use a walking frame rather than my wheelchair so these were things that were difficult, rather than actually impossible. The final issue was that all the furniture was very low down! It made it quite hard for me to stand up, especially because the sofas were leather (though that might have more to do with my personal dislike of leather!) – I’m aware this may seem like a very trivial complaint but I do wish that people would bear this kind of thing in mind when furnishing houses for other people!
I’ve probably forgotten lots of things and this is by no means an exhaustive list. My main advice would probably be that aesthetics don’t trump accessibility, and that if a castle can do it, so can you!