by Mik Scarlet
Mik’s column in the Apr/May issue of PosAbility shone a light on what the world would be like if everywhere really was accessible.
Believe it or not, this is my second positive column for PosAbility in as many issues. I have found 2018 to be filled with unexpected positive experiences. Let me tell you about one that really set me thinking.
A few weekends ago, my wife and I met up with a group of mates at a local restaurant. My wife had arranged it all, and had checked there was an accessible toilet and I could actually get into the building. We always check ahead now, as we live in Camden Town in central London, and we have had far too many nights ruined by poor or no access. In fact, we’re now so used to having our plans scuppered by a lack of an accessible toilet or a stepped entrance or the event we really wanted to attend being upstairs with no lift, that we have turned into real home bodies. I am constantly shocked at how my adopted home town has made so few moves towards becoming accessible in the 23 years since the Disability Discrimination Act came into being. The world-famous market is cobbled
throughout, so many of Camden Town’s pubs and clubs are closed to wheelchair users like me. Despite living in the heart of the action I rarely take advantage of all that Camden has to offer. But not this time. This time we had checked ahead and had been promised. So off we trotted, with hope in our hearts.
I must admit we were still filled with trepidation, as being told “yes we’re accessible” doesn’t always mean that. As soon as we arrived we knew our fears were unfounded. This obviously was not going to be another night where our checking ahead made no difference. The restaurant’s idea of accessible was actually just that, accessible. Totally level entrance, met by a very friendly and helpful staff member we were shown to our table. Then I was shown the accessible toilet and it was accessible. So we sat, drank, ate and laughed. We paid and promised we would be back.
Once we left, we all laughed as we admitted we’d been overly polite and had under ordered. It was a posh place and a bit pricey. Of course our politeness meant we were all still a little peckish. Our mates, who lived nearby, said they knew of a great fish and chip shop just around the corner. Nothing takes the edge of a post small meal hunger like chips! So two rounds of chips to share and coffees all round later, we sat chomping away. Then one of our gang popped to the toilet and came back aghast. “Check out the loo,” I was told. Off I wheeled, into what looked like the back of the chippy. There, in all its glory, was another accessible toilet. In a takeaway fish and chip shop. It even had an emergency cord!
By now we were in need of a refreshing drink, to ease the shock in my case, so we walked along the canal tow path in search of beer. To access the canal we took a ramp and wandered along the tow path, admiring the stunning canal at night. We reached Granary Square in Kings Cross and found another ramp from the canal into the square. Where I live there are no access points to the canal so this was a revelation to me. We wandered into the pub, had a couple and again, I popped to another accessible toilet. We all said goodbye and Diane and I jumped on a bus. When we got home, we sat in shock. This is what it would feel like if the world was all accessible.
A few days later, we stayed in an AirBnB in Cardiff. The Workshop is a wheelchair accessible apartment that was specially created for disabled actors to use when working with the various theatrical companies in the area but is available to everyone, thespian or not. This wasn’t only for disabled guests, but if you did use a wheelchair you could book with the confidence that you’d be OK. Again, it was amazing to visit somewhere that is accessible, without it being a big deal.
What these experiences prove to me is that access isn’t that big a deal. If people think, it can be created and thus become normal. If a little fish and chip shop can put in an accessible toilet then everywhere can. It shouldn’t be a postcode lottery. It isn’t too hard or expensive or any other excuse. All of these businesses, by making themselves accessible, will be able to attract more custom. It will have no impact on the non-disabled people who visit them, but for the disabled community it allows us to live like everyone else. It makes our money as good as everyone else’s. All £250 billion per year of it.
Now I’ve seen it, I know it can happen. It’s time to tell the world, if you build it we will come.
Follow Mik @MikScarlet