Free-wheeling

It was a wet day here yesterday and so we went shopping in the afternoon. My husband had adjusted the brakes on Joshua’s wheelchair in the house in the morning and sadly I had forgotten to pack the footplates – or ‘legs’ as we call them. So it meant that poor Joshua had to exercise his muscles as we walked around, by holding his legs straight out in front of him as we toured the shops, to prevent them from dragging on the floor and he was surprisingly good at it.

We found quite a few stores that were inaccessible to him, which is unusual these days. When we stopped for a hot drink and a sandwich in a well known coffee shop chain, I had to move his wheelchair to let other wheelchair users get by as the aisle was too cramped. We followed my husband to an outdoors shop, and found that he was upstairs looking at walking shoes. The sales assistant asked if he could help us and I asked where his lift was to join him, but there was no means of getting a wheelchair upstairs so we waited downstairs.And finally we had afternoon tea in an independent cafe, in an old building, and Joshus had to vacate his wheelchair to walk inside up the steps – he is fortunate enough to be able to do that, many wheelchair users do not have that option, so they would be barred.

I thought that it was a legal requirement these days to make all public buildings accessible to wheelchair users but, our experiences yesterday suggest that this is not the case and I find it frustrating. Joshua should have the same rights as anyone else to go wherever he wants to and he should be able to move around as freely as able bodied consumers, with as little fuss as possible. Wheelchair users do not need to made to feel as though they are an inconvenience or a burden, but adaptations should be made to make stores accessible, even if it does mean giving up precious retail space to install a lift or ramps.A sign saying ‘disabled customers are not welcome’ would not be tolerated, but effectively that is what these shops are saying by not making their shops wheelchair-friendly. It is not good enough for us to restrict ourselves to the places where wheelchairs are catered for, we will continue to access all areas, to make a point as we go and to try to make staff realise how non-inclusive their facilities are.

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