Category Archives: Soapbox

The Struggle is Global

This is well done, and shows the struggle that Disabled People undergo in Bolivia.


This Is Important

I am not trying to start an argument with any parents with kids in prams that need to use the bus, but I agree with this ruling.

For the record, unless I am on a schedule, I will often take the next bus if the one I am trying to board is crowded and there is a baby buggy in the spot. However, most trips are scheduled, and so I believe that several points need to be considered as regards this territorial debate.

1. As a wheelchair user in London, I don’t have a lot of choices when it comes to public transportation.  The step-free tube stations are still scarce, and the overground doesn’t run throughout the city extensively enough to be a viable option. Unless I pony up the money to take a cab, my only choice is the bus. The bus is my primary, and almost only means of getting round London on public transportation.

2. I can’t fold up my wheelchair and sit in a regular seat. Buggies fold, and kids can sit on laps.

3. The space was originally designed for wheelchairs, not for prams. It’s fortunate for pram pushers that the space is there when there are no wheelchair users on the bus, but when someone in a chair needs the space that was designed for wheelchairs, then it’s only right that the person in the space relinquish it to the wheelchair user

So this is important.


I wish this were a freak incident.

But it’s not. I cannot count how many times I have had to tell the person on the phone that I am disabled (WCHC, which means i cannot walk or stand), only to have to tell the ground crew at check in that I am WCHC disabled, and then to have to tell the ground crew at the gate that I am WCHC and will need an aisle chair, only to have them act as though this is the first time that they have heard of it, and the personnel and aisle chair arrive late, meaning I get to board in front of a plane load of passengers.

“We’ve researched the details of this Denver customer’s travel and can verify that she checked in at her flight at Newark Liberty International Airport two hours prior to her scheduled departure. but a processing error in that check-in process did not alert our employees at the gate to her special need (wheelchair) in boarding the aircraft.”

This needs to be fixed, and it isn’t specific to any one airline.


This is really discouraging,

Helen and I were in Denver a couple of years ago, and since I’m rather fond of old train stations, we went down to see Union Station. It was being renovated; surrounded by scaffolding and rubble, so we couldn’t go in.

Well they’ve finished it, according to this article, but also according to this article, “The station’s Great Hall features a public area with seating and shuffleboard tables, but the area is elevated and unreachable by people who can’t climb stairs, according to the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition.”

And, “The Coalition says RTD has offered to set up a temporary ramp when someone needs it. The group’s attorney, Andrew Montoya, says that’s not enough.

That’s absolutely not the same experience, basically to have to go around, see that there is no ramp, and then make your way around, trying to find someone who maybe can get a ramp out for you,” Montoya said.

I know exactly what Mr Montoya is talking about. Equal access doesn’t mean that an able bodied person gets to walk up a flight of stairs while their disabled counterpart has to go find someone and ask them, “Excuse me sir/madam, could you please put up the ramp?”

How is this even possible? I could understand if the station were in its original condition, but they just renovated it and the ADA has been in force since 1990. How hard is it to install a permanent ramp?

Thank you to the Facebook group, “Representing Disability in an Ableist World” for this information.


Why won’t hotels invest £140?

In the absence of a worldwide – or even Europe-wide – code of standards, it can be a complete gamble for a wheelchair-user when booking hotel rooms. Often the access rooms are simply ‘wheelchair friendly’ i.e. the door is wide enough to get through and there may be a few grab rails in the bathroom for good measure.

Just this week, I booked a disabled room at the Premier Inn in Brighton. Luckily, I checked the facilities afterwards – just on a hunch – and learned that there is no shower bench. Just ‘ample room’, grab rails and a low bath. When I questioned how a paraplegic was supposed to get in and out of the bath, I was told that the rooms “have all gone through disabled access groups”. This room has been approved by disabled access professionals who have clearly mastered the art of levitation. Possibly too niche a group to be determining what is suitable for the wider population?

We are following this up with the accessibility coordinator at Premier Inn and then possibly via Whitbread HQ.  Watch this space to see how it develops.  I really don’t have the time to follow this up every time we encounter a problem, though.

Why can’t all hotels just follow the US standards, hard-fought, through the Americans with Disability Act?

One of the stipulations there is: “Identify and describe accessible features in the hotels and guest rooms offered through its reservations service in enough detail to reasonably permit individuals with disabilities to assess independently whether a given hotel or guest room meets his or her accessibility needs.”  This is the LEAST that hotels should be doing.  As an example, we were pretty impressed with this document available from the Thistle Hotel in Brighton.

The most common problem we face at hotels is the failure to provide adequate seating in the bath tub or roll-in shower area. They cost about £140!  Much, much less than the price of our planned stay at the Premier Inn. If I were the manager of the Premier Inn in Brighton and I’d had an email from me, complaining about this ridiculous situation, I would have said:  “You are not coming here until October, we have plenty of time to purchase a shower bench, which will be a fantastic investment for other guests who may have special needs too.”  The manager was very professional and very polite but did not take this initiative, sadly.  **(See update below)** So we cancelled the booking and have now opted for the MyHotel which has a shower seat in the wet room.

I could rant for much longer about the poor facilities in other Brighton hotels (including the Holiday Inn which is normally our go-to chain for reliability of suitable adaptations and provision of a shower transfer bench!) but life is short. Stuff to do, innit.

** Update: I have discovered that the manager of the Brighton Premier Inn has in fact enquired about benches with the accessibility co-ordinator.  Everything they buy must be from an approved supplier and authorised by our head office, especially around disabled access rooms.  “This particular issue of seats have never come across before in this hotel and if my head office is happy for us to purchase some, then it would not be a problem (they would in this case recommend us a particular brand and supplier).”  Looking hopeful!


EU Prorities : SNAFU*

Image

Dublin at night

A few years ago I bought a little MP3 player. I bought it for a number of reasons, one of them being the ability to drown out annoying sounds, such as screaming toddlers and other people’s asinine phone conversations while using public transportation.

I was really happy with the product when I first got it; it was affordable, compact and very user friendly as regards loading and playing my music on the device. Unfortunately, it wasn’t any good for drowning out annoying sounds, as even at full volume I could still hear screaming toddlers and asinine phone conversations over the sound of my music. I was really disappointed, and left a negative review online, which prompted another customer to reply with instructions that enabled me to fix the problem.

What I was told was that the European Union has set restrictions on the volume that EU citizens are allowed on their MP3 players and since I had purchased the player within the jurisdiction of the EU, my MP3 player would only play as loudly as the EU permits. What I needed to do in order to get my MP3 player to play as loudly as I chose was to rest it to “Factory Settings” and then when prompted to choose “Region”, choose either North America or Rest of the World from a selection of “North America/Europe/Rest of the World”. I followed the instructions and it worked. My MP3 player now plays loudly enough to drown out all unwanted sounds. Maybe even loud enough to damage my hearing, if I so choose.

Yay, problem solved!

So how does this relate to wheelchair travel? Let me explain…

In 2008, we traveled to Dublin, Ireland for a few days. Ireland is a member of the European Union. We booked a disabled room at the Radisson. We’ve had good experiences at Radisson hotels with their disabled access room, and we’ve found that most chains have comparable facilities between the individual establishments.

The first thing I always do when we get to our room is to check the bathroom to see if I am going to have any problems taking a shower. The bathroom looked good in our room, except that the door opened toward the door of the room instead of swinging open to the room itself, and there wasn’t enough room for me to get into the bathroom unless I opened the door of our room, went outside into the hall, turned around and then approached the bathroom from the front door.

It’s a little difficult to explain, but visualize yourself in your hotel bathroom, facing out. A normal hotel bathroom door will open facing the room, and what you see is your hotel room. In this case, what I saw with the bathroom door open was the door to the room. This meant rolling out into that little space, and then trying to get the door closed in order to get past it into the room.

There wasn’t enough space to do that. Their carpenter had hung the door backwards.

I immediately went down and calmly explained the problem to the front desk, and a very polite member of staff took me upstairs to see if their other accessible room might be suitable. It wasn’t. The bathroom door was just the same as it was in our room, and in fact, the staff member even showed me several standard rooms and they all had the same problem. I asked the manager if they might be able to get a carpenter out to fix the problem while we were staying there (I used to be a carpenter when I was able-bodied, and I know from experience that hanging a door is only about a half hour job), and she expressed some pessimism that it could be done at all, since it was a “structural issue”.

When we checked out, we requested at least a partial refund. Radisson hotels operate with a policy of issuing a 100% refund if you’re unhappy with any elements of your stay and they are unable to fix the problem. I was definitely not happy with the fact that I had to roll out into the hall with nothing but a towel on my lap (I have to get undressed in bed ) every time I took a shower. The manager again stated that the problem was structural and thus beyond their control to correct, and so we left it at that.

Not really. I don’t give up that easy, and so I started digging around in order to find the EU designation of a wheelchair accessible room, as I was certain that one requirement would be sufficient space for someone in a wheelchair to get into and out of the bathroom without having to actually leave the hotel room itself

Guess what. There is no actual definition of “wheelchair/disabled access” according to the European Union. I know this because I chased it on the phone all the way up to EU Headquarters in Brussels, and was told (with sincere apologies) that “No, we are very sorry, but there is no legal definition at this time for disabled access according to EU regulations”.

What this means is that the folks that make up regulations for the European Union have managed to decide how loud my MP3 player can be, but they haven’t managed to get around to legally defining Disabled Access.

What THAT means, is that there is no legal obligation for a hotel in any country within the Eurpean Union to make any adjustments whatsoever to a room in order for them to be able to advertise it as “accessible”, nor is there any legal recourse for a disabled guest to pursue if the hotel has not made the necessary alterations to a room that they have designated “accessible”. Luckily for us gimps, and with thanks to the hotels that do offer accessible rooms in Europe, “Disabled Access” rooms are usually reasonably accessible, and with only a few exceptions I’ve been able to take a shower in every hotel we’ve been to.

A post script: Like I said, I don’t give up easily, and so I thought that if the EU didn’t have a legal definition of Accessible, maybe the Republic of Ireland would have it. I did some digging around, and discovered that while there aren’t any Irish laws pertaining to Disabled Access in particular, Irish Fire Code does require that there be 90 centimeters (about 36 inches) of clearance in the sort of door layout that I described. In other words, with the bathroom door open in our room, I should have had 36 inches of space in order to allow the door to open with me in between it and the front door.

I know that there wasn’t anywhere near this amount of clearance, as my chair is only 25 inches wide, from outside of handrail to outside of handrail. So I wrote and sent a snail mail to the manager of the Radisson in Dublin who had refused the refund, and I sent a hard copy to the district manager and even one to the owner of the Radisson chain himself, explaining that as they were, their rooms were in violation of Irish fire code, and that I had not had legal access to the bathroom according to Irish fire code.

A week later, we got a full refund.

I don’t know if they ever got around to rehanging the doors at the Radisson Blu in Dublin (it’s this one) , so I can’t tell you if you’d have any better luck with the doors than I did. I guess it would be worth a call if you’re planning on a trip to Dublin, because other than the problem with the door, we had a lovely stay there.

One more thing. I just did a little checking since starting this post to see if maybe the EU has gotten around to defining “Disabled Access” in the seven years since I spoke with the woman in Brussels, and apparently the answer to that is still “No”.

Lots of talk, but according to this newsletter, they were still just talking about it in 2012.

*Situation Normal, All Fucked Up


I Was Only Trying To Help You, You Jerk!

I Was Only Trying To Help You, You Jerk!

 

As of this writing I have been in a wheelchair for twenty-seven years. During that time I have been offered assistance of various kinds from kind strangers, but I have in most cases politely declined their help. My philosophy is that if I let everyone help me do everything, I won’t learn how to do anything on my own. I would have to depend on other people to do things for me.  Sometimes it takes a lot of struggle on my part to learn how to do something from my wheelchair, but if I keep at it and don’t let anyone do it for me, then I have gained yet another ability, and that has enormous benefit for my practical as well as my emotional existence.

There is a certain belligerence to this idea, but it has served me well over the years since I first paralysed myself, and instead of being a helpless cripple being pushed around in my wheelchair with a pitiful look on my face, I am self-propelled,  fairly self-sufficient, and very active, even if I don’t always look as though I am having a really good time.

I live. Just like you. That’s me

There have been a few cases where I have been offered help by able-bodied people because I am in a wheelchair, and when I have politely declined, the person offering me assistance has actually taken offence and gotten angry with me. And when they do, this sort of person feels compelled to express this anger.

This has happened on more than one occasion. Most common is the helpful driver of a car, who sees me waiting at the corner so that I can cross the street. I don’t mind waiting to cross the street anymore than anyone else, and unless there is a big line of cars behind them it’s no problem for me to wait for one of these helpful drivers to go past. In fact, if they are the only car, it’s actually kind of silly for them to stop to let me cross when all that they would have to do would be to continue on so that I could cross in one or two seconds behind them. Some of these helpful drivers do not agree with this idea.

Here’s what happens…I am waiting at the corner. A car comes along, and I wait for him to pass (it’s always a dude that does this). He stops and waits for me to cross. There are no cars behind him. All he has to do is drive past and I am good to go. Instead, he waits for me to take advantage of his generosity. When this happens, I studiously look the other way so that I don’t have to acknowledge or respond to him trying to wave me across. I don’t need or want this “favor”. I have found that if I look the other way that usually they’ll decide that maybe I am not waiting to cross the street and am in fact waiting for something else and they will drive off.

It’s not that I am trying to be rude, it’s just that I don’t like crossing the street in front of a car unless I have to. If I take advantage of this helpful person’s generosity, then that means that I have to cross the street while he waits for me to do so, and the fact that this dude is sitting there waiting puts all kinds of pressure on me.

Come on, man, I am only trying to go to the store. Just go past and I can go.

This seems to anger some of these guys, and I have had them start honking their horn at me. As if to say, “Come on, accept my favor, asshole!” When I have been honked at,  it annoys me and I have on those occasions asked the guy, “What, you’re HONKING at me?”

At which point they have screeched off, yelling out the window, “I was just trying to help you, you jerk!

I try not to let it bug me, but it does. If you are an able-bodied person, imagine how you would feel if someone acted like that toward you. I think it would bother most people to have some stranger in a car bossing them across the street, and then getting a big attitude about it if they didn’t comply.

That’s the exception rather than the rule, however, and most people graciously accept it when I politely decline their assistance, with a “No thank you, I’ve got it”, and even when I get honked at it’s only slightly annoying.

But then I had a little encounter with a guy at the supermarket the other day that went way past “annoying” on the dial.

Here’s what happened…

I had done my daily shop (I can carry a lot in my rucksack and a Primark bag that I hang off the back of my chair, but I still find that I need to make a store run on a daily basis), and I was using the self-checkout till. I almost always do this instead of using the manned tills. I know that this jeopardizes the jobs of the people who man the manned tills, but here in the UK, the supermarkets don’t employ baggers as they do in the US, which means that the customer is expected to bag their own groceries as fast as the checker can check them.

This is really stressful for me, since I need to pack my bags a certain way so that I am not loaded too heavy in the front (rucksack) or the back (Primark bag) which would create a condition of unbalance, which can be dangerous in a wheelchair. It’s hard to keep up with the boop-boop-boop of the checker, and most times they’re done checking my groceries while I am still frantically trying to bag everything. So I have to pay the checker and finish bagging while the next customer behind me is standing there with all of their groceries on the belt, waiting for me to hurry up and get out of the way.

It puts a lot of pressure on me. Like I said about the car thing, I get stressed when people are waiting for me to do something. So I use the self check, where even if there is a queue/line of people waiting for the next available self-check till, at least they’re not waiting for my till, or for me specifically.

On the day in question, I had about a dozen items, and I’d rung then up and was about to swipe my loyalty card in the card reader when I noticed some motion close to me by my right shoulder. I looked over, and the first thing I saw was a muscular, tattooed arm putting my groceries into one of the bags on the little bag hanger that they have on all of the self tills. In other words a stranger was bagging my groceries.

I turned and told him, “No thanks, mate. I got it.”
I expected him to stop but I was wrong. Mr Helpful with the muscular tattooed arms kept bagging my groceries. At this point I stopped trying to swipe my loyalty card and turned in my chair to face this guy. I told him, “No, seriously man…I GOT it.”

He stopped, held up his hands as if to say, “Ok”, but what came out of his mouth was, “You don’t have to be a jerk about it!” and he walked back over to where his wife was waiting with their baby in a pram at the manned-till and got in the queue behind her.

I was a little annoyed at this point, but then I heard him say to his wife in a loud voice, “What a fucking jerk!”

That annoyed me a lot. I turned in my wheelchair to face this guy so that I could address the problem he seemed to be having with me, and I got a good look him. He was a short man in his early thirties, maybe 5’6” with spiky hair, wearing a t-shirt, shorts and full sleeves (tattoos) on both arms. He looked “scrappy”, and in fact if I saw him in a bar, I would do my drinking at the other end of the room. I have done enough drinking in bars with enough different types of people to be familiar with his type, and unless one wants to get into a scrap, his type is best avoided in the pubs. He’s the kind of guy I would call a “walking fight”.

This is a somewhat abbreviated version of our exchange:
Me:  “Excuse me?”
Him: “I was just trying to help you, you jerk!”
Me: “What, because I’m in a wheelchair I look like I need help? You feel sorry for me?”
Him: “NO.”
Me: “Then why did you do it? What made you think I need help?”

At this point his wife, a little brunette, also in her early thirties stepped into the conversation.

Her: “He was just trying to be nice!

Now I know better than to address a man’s wife or girlfriend when they feel compelled to get involved in an argument between myself and their husband or boyfriend, because if I do, from that point on it becomes a case of me arguing with the man’s girlfriend or wife, and suddenly chivalry kicks in. It “complicates” things and the argument can very quickly escalate into a physical fight at that point. Wheelchair or no, I was pretty sure that if I got into it with Mr. Scrappy’s wife, he would lose control and swiping my loyalty card would definitely not be the next thing that happened to me.

He’d been standing behind his wife up to that point, but as soon as she got involved he stepped back out of line and got up on the balls of his feet and told me, “Yeah man, you didn’t have to be rude about it!”

I avoided looking at Ms. Scrappy and told him, “Dude, what you did was rude. Next time, mind your own business.” At which point he put his hands back up and told me “Ok, I’m done with you!”

I let it go at that point. There was no point in taking it any further, and I tried to just get on with what I had been doing, but it really got to me, and in fact I was shaking with rage so badly that it took me three tries to swipe my loyalty card in the card reader.

Imagine how you’d feel if some stranger came up and started getting their hands all over your food, and when you told them no thanks, they kept doing it, and when you insisted, they insulted you.

As if you’re the jerk.

That’s me.


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