One thing that still bothers me after all this time of having mobility issues, is the problems that visiting new places brings. I’ve just spent the weekend in London as a birthday/Mother’s Day treat for my mum.
Trips like this involve a lot of planning. One particular issue is finding close parking, but it’s pretty hard when London’s involved as it’s such a maze. Even having parking near enough doesn’t mean there will be dropped curbs, or that the wheelchair won’t get stuck, or the battery won’t run out, and many of these issues you can’t plan away.
On Sunday we went to the Ideal Home Show. Online a ticket was £14, but because we needed a carers ticket, you couldn’t purchase it in advance so we had to pay on the day – now £18. (Strike one!)
The Earls Court website informed us there was plenty of free blue badge spaces close to the entrance – great! This helps with the dropped curb issue (which doesn’t just happen in the middle of nowhere, it happens all over the place.)
We arrive to find a whole row of blue badge parking, except every single one is cordoned off. Not filled, which we’d just have to live with – just roped off for no reason. The car park is available though, they tell us with a smile, but it charges by the hour. Having a wheelchair takes a lot longer to get round things, so that added an extra £25 to our day. (Strike two!)
The car park is at the back of the building – so getting to the exhibition was quite the trek. (Strike three!) It would have been totally impossible without the wheelchair, so how ambulant disabled people coped, I don’t know. Actually, I do, having been to The Back Pain Show at Olympia recently, the same company as Earls Court, we found the parking at the back of the building and having to pass two other exhibitions to get to the right entrance, once of which being a wedding show. I’m not saying disabled people don’t get married, but one assumes more disabled people will be heading to the show about combating pain. We were hiring a wheelchair at the exhibition, but they hadn’t thought about bringing it round to us – so by the time we got there I was almost throwing up in pain.
Back at the Ideal Home, my wheelchair battery was playing up, and by the time we made it from the car park all the way there, I only had a tiny bit left. We headed straight to the top floor for lunch, as I worried about how the hell we were going to get around with minimal battery. We’d bought the charger with us, in case there was a spare plug, but they were all up too high to reach.
We spotted a tea room style area for lunch, and headed over. There was plenty of free tables at the back, but when I asked if there was a route for wheelchairs, we were met with a blank stare and told it would be a half hour wait for a table we could get to. (Strike four!) Instead we headed to an Italian styled cafe, which sold nothing Italian. We shared a sandwich, one packet of crisps and a drink each for £15. Ouch.
The layout of the exhibition was pretty good, with enough space to negotiate and view the stalls. A kind stallholder allowed us to charge my batteries while we tried out some pain relieving equipment.
I do have some rules regarding navigating with my wheelchair. It’s actually quite hard to steer, so I really appreciate those that step out the way. I really do. I avoid people as much as possible of course, and I do my best to halt for children. However, if you stop dead in front of me, or walk backwards into my path – you are fair game. Be warned. Plus, nobody needs to walk backwards, so why do so many people do it?!
Even with the space, having to constantly stop for people and wait to look at things, it took pretty much the whole afternoon to get around the top floor. By the time we got down to the actual ‘home’ section, we only had forty minutes to go. To be fair, we don’t have any money and don’t own our home – so kitchens, bathrooms, etc don’t interest us. And no, I don’t want to buy any goddamn solar panels.
The show homes were not wheelchair accessible, and seemed to only be accessed by stairs, which was a shame, as I’d have been interested to see them. (Strike five!)
We were both pretty exhausted by then, and tried to head to the exit. After going round in circles, we asked a member of staff the way out – one of which who grunted and pointed to the lift. We got out at the next floor after getting the wheelchair jammed in the lift due to it not stopping straight, which broke my footplate, only to be told we’d been on the right floor previously. The next member of staff we asked pointed vaguely, and again was wrong, and when we finally found the exit no one was there to operate the stairlift. When we called for help they said we had to find another exit. (Strike six!)
All in all – a tiring day, that wasn’t worth the money we paid, although we got some interesting bargains whilst in there.
Above all, I was disappointed such a big organisation hadn’t thought more about accessibility. Signs to the exit and signs for wheelchair access would have been helpful, and why an earth did they prevent access to so many disabled bays? Staff should be trained better as well. Lower-cost parking for blue badge holders would be very appreciated – many of us don’t have a choice but to drive there, or not come at all.