Last weekend I went to Colchester Zoo for a Sensory Day with some members of Fair Access to Colchester.
I tried to get a scooter from Shopmobility for the day – they usually have a Paris Shoprider that easily breaks apart to go in a car, which I’ve taken on holiday numerous times. Sadly, someone had taken it out for sixteen(!) weeks and they only had one.
Option two was an electric wheelchair they found in the corner of the storeroom. It hadn’t been used in some time, and didn’t fold up. They charged it up and we went to collect it. We put the seats of the car down, and three people lifted it in with some difficulty. The massive battery underneath made it incredibly heavy and it didn’t disconnect.
Uh oh! How were we going to get it out? Luckily my mum, with help from two other people managed to get it out, and we were off.
The chair was the size of a normal wheelchair – not those massive things you see, and the battery tucked underneath nicely. It went at a decent speed, and was easy to control.
The zoo is incredibly hilly, although they have a yellow line going round that follows the most mobility-friendly path but it was still pretty tough going. It was fantastic. I could choose where I wanted to go. I could keep up with everyone, and no one was exhausted pushing me. Unlike a scooter, I could go right up to things, and manoeuvre myself to see what I wanted.
There were a few hairy moments on steep hills where it didn’t respond to my controls, and someone had to grab the chair before a bowled over an entire family!
Then the battery started draining. It started on five, and seemed to dip down with increasing speed. But we hadn’t reached the elephants – basically what we’d come to see! Determined to make it, we rushed on, skipping the smaller attractions.
We made it just as the battery died completely at the furthest point of the zoo. The zoo had an elephant feeding for what they deemed as “registered disabled” people only (although there is no such thing as registered disabled anymore.) We then crowded round the chair to try and find the switch to make it manual, but realised with horror there wasn’t one. It was a dead weight, the wheels totally locked, and weighing a ton.
Finding a zookeeper, we told him off our plight. He radioed the office and asked someone to bring a manual wheelchair, and send help for the other chair. Four zookeepers joined us, and three of them picked up this heavy chair to walk it all the way across the zoo to put it in our car. My mum went with them to direct them, and they then found out our location and drove her back to us. They were total stars and saved the day.
The manual chair was fine for the flat bits, but they were few and far between. My guilt wouldn’t let me ask others to push me up hills, so I had to keep getting out which meant I reached my limit extremely quickly, my back went into spasm and I was totally exhausted. Everyone took it in turns to push me on the flat sections and were so helpful.
So massive thumbs up to Colchester Zoo for rescuing me, although please don’t try and attempt it with a manual chair!! We sent a letter of thanks to the men that carried the chair back to the other, and the one that brought the manual and pushed me for a little while to reach the others who’d continued to the next section.
Colchester Zoo have regular Sensory/Disability Open Days which include BSL Demonstrations, feeding sessions for people with disabilities only, and more.
Their events page shows when they will next be having an open day.