I live in a beautiful old historic market town in the east of England, there are a number of listed buildings and structures and some beautiful old beamed properties. Wymondham Town Centre is limited in space and I believe shop prices are at a premium, so it is no surprise that we see out of town developments being built with some larger shops in. Having set up Wymondham Access Group, with our mission statement being;
“The Wymondham Access Group is a voluntary community group with one aim in common, and that is to campaign for better access to all aspects of day to day life in Wymondham and the surrounding area. Our aim is to promote a change of attitudes and culture in dealing with people, understanding many could have invisible needs. We want to work with local, businesses, other volunteer and access groups and local, district and county councils to educate an understanding of what potential barriers are and how they can be overcome, promote sharing of information and good practice, giving people who face barriers a voice and working towards making Wymondham and the surrounding Towns and Villages accessible to all.”
It would be remiss of me to not cover this cartoon with a little caveat. I fully appreciate shops and services in the town centre can only work with the floor space they have and they cannot magically grow bigger like 12 Grimmauld Place in the book Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix when someone with mobility needs attempts to or enters a shop although it would be good if they could 🙂 .
Recently though when I went out with a town Councillor we were talking about stopping for a coffee. I said where we usually go as a family The Coffee Shop as the staff in there are always lovely and friendly. The minute my wife opens the door to push me in, in my wheelchair a member of staff comes and removes a chair from the free table (we always check through the window to see that there is room before trying to get in) so that I can be pushed straight into place under the table. They then bring some crayons and pictures for my LG. In short they could not be more accommodating if they tried. They do however only have very limited space and if memory serves me right no more than half a dozen tables inside with I would estimate a maximum of 25-30 place settings. Her response to this suggestion was along the lines of “I’m not sure they’d appreciate two of us in wheelchairs trying to get in such a small shop”. Now I know she meant no offence by this, she had after all volunteered to give up her own free time to join me in my spare wheelchair and experience first hand some of the difficulties with negotiating the town. I also know it was said knowing how small the coffee shop is and therefore how difficult it would be for us both to negotiate getting in and out. I have no doubt in my mind that had we tried they would have been helpful and moved furniture etc for us. I did remark to the Cllr though imagine saying the same sentence removing the ‘in wheelchairs’ part. In the end we went to a different place with outside seating that has plenty more floor space. It does beg the question though how do you or can you always be helpful and lawful with limited space and it highlights the need to be understanding and to make sure that you apply common sense when assessing places for accessibility.
All this said and done the Chair of the branch of the Norwich Access Group recently posted this and it made me laugh and reflect on this conversation. We all need to think about this, how we view disabled people in our community and how we can embrace multiple forms of disability into every day life. I regularly encounter these scenarios on our pathways, and with so few dropped curbs we enter a stand off like this (minus the gun’s and cowboy spurs).