As a new mobility scooterer I’ve found some enormous pleasures from being able to leave my house relatively safely — well, better than on my failing legs.
And the fine #weather means outdoor seafront cafes are good places to meet friends without a risk of infection. I’m on a waiting list for major surgery which may sort the legs out. Or may kill me, to be brutally honest! Infection would delay everything and the risk of my demise or increased disability makes me keen to see people while I can. But preferably outdoors where the bugs flee the sea breezes.
But this week I’ve been stopped in my tracks by incidents that are easily solved but paralyse the newbie wheel user.
The Broadstairs Pavilion is a favourite place for outdoor coffee and food. It has a huge terrace —the sunniest spot for your morning latte in Thanet. It’s got a large garden and apparently access for wheelies. So off I went, optimistically to try it all out.
It took me a while to have the courage to go down steep slopes like Broadstairs Harbour Street and I’m having to use the road where the pavements are narrow. It’s quite thrilling to be counted as proper traffic when you’re riding something that’s little better than an electric tea trolley.
The main entrance to the Pavilion is off a narrow pavement, a sharp right turn for a wheelie as there is — of course — no dropped kerb from the road to the entrance.
But — wonderfully— at the bottom of the street is another entrance with a long concrete ramp up from the road to the side door of the restaurant. Up I go easily. Wheel over a tiny ramp into the building. I’m in! Hurray. Wheel to the door to the terrace thinking it looks exactly the same as the entrance. Big mistake! Suddenly I’m paralysed halfway, completely stuck!
“Your scooter’s too low” says someone nearby trying to be helpful. Oh, my fault then? People rush to try things, pulling, lifting, giving me a big shove in the back that sets my back pain zinging….
Eventually they find a chair I can tumble off into and the scooter is rescued from the doorway. I’m torn between weeping and screaming while reminding myself to be basically polite and grateful.
We finish up in the garden, opened specially for us, with a nice coffee. Of course, it’s a luxury being able to get into a café with a spectacular terrace overlooking the sea, but I’m left worrying about other places with apparent disabled access that might not be as wheelie friendly as you’d expect.
A friend who is a retired occupational therapist and so can speak more freely, told me about the battles she had with housing estate developers. Her job was sorting out housing for disabled people in a big London borough. Her experience was of building companies always trying to cut corners on provision for the disabled or health and safety. The excuse for cutting costs was that this was public money being saved.
But it often involved cutting down on housing for the disabled as it was more expensive to provide things like flat entrances, wider doorways, two lifts in a building in case one failed etc etc. Imagine a wheelchair user housed on the second storey of a block of flats with only one lift.
The friendly folk at the Pavilion are investigating better access for me onto the terrace. I’m sure they’ll find a way.
All buildings need disabled access, especially new ones. What we want is to do what everybody else can do, even if we have ride a tea trolley to do it.