Well I might want my blog not be focused just on disability, but it seems life keeps pulling me back to the subject. Today I have been made to feel the way I did about my disability when I first started using my chair back in 1981, excluded and second best.
This morning I decided that I have hit that age where I need to start visiting the gym to fight the joys of getting old. I wheeled up to the Mornington Crescent Leisure Centre in Camden, ready to join up a get fit. I had already visited it twice before. The first time I was turned away as they had no wheelchair access. However they were about to undergo a refit and access was going to sorted during that. I was a bit shocked that in the 21st century there could be sports centres that still weren’t accessible. So much for Sport For All eh? The second time, I was turned away as the ramp was broken. Yes it seems that access has not been built into the centre, but instead they got a temporary ramp that would be put out if anyone on wheels needed to get in. Not an inclusive solution, but one just about fits the current laws. I was told that next time it would be fixed and that I would not need to ring ahead, and so with this in mind my wife and I set out for visit number three.
While I sat around outside, my wife went inside to get the ramp organised. After a short while I could hear my wife talking and instantly knew she was upset. She was not shouting or anything like that, but when you’ve been with someone for nearly 15 years you just know. I could also tell that she was trying to keep whoever she was talking to from going outside to talk to me, to prevent the fire works that she was sure might ensue. However the door to the centre opened and my wife and a member of staff appeared still deep in discussion. I was informed that the ramp was unavailable to me at present as it was stored in a room where a class was in session. The staff member begrudgingly said she would get it from the room, as long as we understood it would disrupt the class. My wife tried to point out that it was not our problem and this kind of emotional black mail was very unfair. I tried to keep my fury under control, kind of failed and told the member of staff that I would not want to come into any venue that made me feel so excluded. We left and walked away with me shouting like a mad man. Sorry to anyone who saw a peroxide haired crazy wheeling down Arlington Road around 11am.
I hope that anyone reading this can understand why I was so cross. Why do people think it is OK to treat disabled people this way. It was nothing to do with me where the ramp was, what was happening in that room or what trouble getting it might cause. The ramp should have been easy to hand and where ever it was, it should have been fetched with a smile. I have as much right to enter this sports centre as the people in the class have not to be interrupted, and I sure as hell have the right not to be made to feel guilty for wanting to use the place. Time and time again I am facing this attitude. To be excluded from things able bodied people take for granted really gets to you after a while. But to be made to feel guilty for feeling upset about it cuts to the core. Especially when you trying to get into a council run amenity, that is there for everyone. The maddest thing about this is that this centre has accessible gym equipment, but doesn’t have level access. Who the hell thought this was a good idea?
For all of my adult life I have been a wheelchair user, and have been massively of proud of being one. The early years where spent getting used to my new life on wheels and fighting to get places in my home town of Luton more accessible. Back then it was the norm not to have access, but people really wanted to get it right. I had quite a good success rate, and slowly the town became quite a good place to live for us wheelies. Typically I then moved to London for the night life and for my career. Of course London is actually like a series of smaller towns all connected together. The first borough I lived wasn’t too bad, and it got better during the period I lived there. The same happened in the second borough. Even in central London, which is not the most accessible place on Earth, everyone I met really wanted to get you in. So I was allowed into places that appeared to be totally inaccessible, thanks to helpful staff and my ability to crawl up and down stairs. Nothing could stop from a good time! Seeing that disabled people wanted to get into their venues made the owners want to make sure they were as accessible as was possible. Things did take a few steps back when the DDA came into law, but slowly we getting back to where we was before everyone ran scared from the new law.
Then a few years back I moved to Camden. In my blog of July 18th I wrote about how Camden seems to going backwards on the issue of access. I can honestly say that I have never lived anywhere that makes me feel so excluded on a daily basis. I am growing to hate where I live, and I am sure you will agree that Camden council, it’s staff and residents should hang their heads in shame about that. What upsets me the most is the fact that Camden has become a place where disabled people should either put up and shut up, or fight for rights that they should now be entitled to by law. I have only lived here for around five years, and this constant battle to live a normal life is really starting to get me down. I almost never go out in Camden, a place I once spent almost every night of my life in as I am sick of being turned away from places due to poor access, of never knowing if somewhere that was accessible last week is still accessible this week and of being treated as if expecting the same service and experience of living here as I would get if I could walk is unreasonable and demanding.
To be honest I am so sick I being angry about this, and feeling the need to write about it. I am sure you are sick of reading about it too. I will try to write about something else next blog. But if my blog seems to go quiet, watch the news. I may have cracked and gone postal on Camden’s inaccessible arse! (Joke… ???)