So far I am 0 from 2 in trips to see my LG with Father Christmas. A few weeks ago we went to our local garden center and having queued in my wheelchair for 45 minutes we got to the final stretch only to realise that the raised, chip bark, pathway and small grotto meant that I had to leave the queue. Today we went to Hoveton Hall. I knew from contacting them before going that there would be large parts of the Santa Trail that I would not be able to access in my wheelchair as it went around their extensive gardens although I was told there was an alternative route for wheelchairs. All was going well and although the weather was against us I was wrapped up and waterproofed and kept meeting up fleetingly with our group as they zigzagged their way through the gardens, and my mum helped me around the wheelchair trail on the tarmacked driveway. We got to a final sign that showed wheelchair access to Santa pointing into a field with a very muddy entrance, as we spun round to go backwards and 4 strangers (thank you whoever you were) offered to help it soon became apparent about 8-10 yards into a very muddy field that it wasn’t happening. It was too far for me to use my crutches to walk to the grotto and the 1hr waiting time really would have finished me off. I was somewhat surprised and incredibly disappointed how they had got it all so right up until the crucial moment and once again I missed out on seeing my LG visit Father Christmas. The one saving grace was that there was good coffee and hot dogs in the marquee amongst the craft stalls where I sat waiting for my wife and LG to join me (over an hour later).
The short amount of walking I did do today meant I had to spend 15 minutes upon arriving at our friends cleaning my crutches. I’m going to have to try and convince OT to supply me with indoor and outdoor ferules! Finally we went out for a meal this evening and my friends had called at the point of booking and made it clear that one of the party was in a wheelchair so we would need to be in the downstairs seating area. Well we got there and it was only luck that enabled us to park at the top of the hill as one car pulled out as we got to the point of no return up the hill and there was no chance of us turning around (there was no designated disabled parking despite the restaurant being at the top of a hill). We got in and were shown to our table, only two issues; firstly although the tables were regulation width apart as shops do not think about the width of aisles once clothes are hung on their rails restaurants seem to forget about aisle widths once people are sat at the the table so a lady had to get up from her meal and allow me through. Secondly we get to the table and there are seats all around it and I am asked if it would be easier if they were to remove a chair….erm do you think? On the way out I again had to have someone move so I could fit through. Now in no way did this spoil my meal as I was there with good friends who had done all they could to make the experience of going out in a wheelchair as painfree as possible and I soon forgot about the minor inconveniences. I think I am also being accustomed to things like this, I do not blame companies after all I was ignorant to the many nuances that wheelchair users need a turning circle with feet room in front of them, gaps between aisles/tables etc that allow for your arms to propel you, tables high enough to get your legs under the list is endless, and unless you have first hand experience you really cannot appreciate how difficult somethings are that you take for granted I know I didn’t. I also appreciate that disabled people do not come in one size so wheelchairs are not one standard size but it has got me thinking as to how I can help educate or rate places. I know how difficult it has been for me to overcome being seen out in public and I am lucky that I rarely go out on my own in it so there is this safety in numbers feeling. I do however see how easily it can be to feel isolated, taking a clothes rail with me in a shop, making diners move for me, waitresses clear chairs away, and two failed attempts at seeing my LG with Father Christmas and I could be forgiven for not venturing out again. I will however, and I will think about how I can make businesses adapt for disabled people as we have already adapted to so many other things in our life and if I help just one person take that extra trip out I will know I have achieved something positive!
So maybe my mission in retirement should be making the world accessible one place at a time!