Christine Tongue: Access makes my heart grow fonder

There are large numbers of people in Thanet who have mobility problems and use sticks or wheel chairs. Christine Tongue looks at life from the point of view of the Lady with the Stick:

Four-year-old speeding down the pavement. “Be careful of the lady with the stick!” shouts mum. “Why has she got a stick?” asks child, not slowing down and brushing past me with a bright smile. So now I think of myself as the lady with the stick and I don’t care if you know why I use it or not. I’m an armed pensioner is all you need to know!

We’re everywhere if you just look, but as we’re mostly elderly we’re also almost invisible, unless we block your way.

We’re the stick and wheelchair users – stickies and wheelies. And your world is not really geared to us!

We need handrails on staircases, ramps into buildings, chairs in public areas so we can sit down a lot, removeable seats in cinemas and theatres and access to get in.

We need lifts wherever there are steep steps – ideally open, not just Easter to September. Why should my friend in a wheelchair be barred from Broadstairs beach for half the year? My friend with lung problems who has to wheel oxygen everywhere needs a ramp and lift as much as a wheelchair user.

And TOILETS! We need ones we can get to and then get into. Many “disabled” toilets are locked much of the time and you’re supposed to have a special key or ask someone if you can use it. Asking to go to the loo? I haven’t done that for 60 years! A special key isn’t good enough – a lot of us stickies prefer disabled toilets – even when we can use the ordinary ones – as we feel safer. My legs are rubbish so I like a handrail beside the toilet to haul myself up off the seat – too much information?

Think about why people use a stick – weak muscles, poor balance, fragile bones, painful joints etc etc. But we like to think of ourselves as normal people who might just fall over every so often. I’m grateful if someone picks me up but remember not to make my life difficult by parking on the pavement outside my house.

If we are noticed, a lot of people behave as if we take up huge amounts of space – I’m less than five feet tall and weigh around eight stone but I’ve seen people flatten themselves against a wall and wave me past – often with a cheery “there you go, love” as if they’re sacrificing their space to do me a good turn. Don’t bother, love, you’re doing me no favours pointing out I can’t walk or I’m on wheels. Just treat me like any other pavement user!

What do we want? Good access to every building we may need to get into, handrails everywhere, lifts that work and, most of all, understanding but not patronising from all of you.