Visit to the Ideal Home Show 2012

Visit to the Ideal Home Show 2012

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!)

Credit to: edouardo

Credit to: edouardo

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.


Trip to Colchester Zoo

Trip to Colchester Zoo

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.

A African elephant at Colchester Soo

An African elephant at Colchester Zoo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.