davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)

Virgin Trains just emailed me and asked how my journey went yesterday and whether I was likely to recommend their service.

I gave them 3 on 10.

We're sorry that we didn't deliver a great service for you.  Could you tell us, in your own words, why you gave us that score?

I travelled as a wheelchair-using passenger in the Standard Class wheelchair space. (Coach F). The wheelchair space on the left side of the carriage places me in line with the aisle as it passes the accessible toilet, making my space a bottleneck. Passengers were continually brushing past me and with no door between carriage and vestibule space the environment was so noisy I could not hear announcements, safety or otherwise. The right hand Standard Class wheelchair space, which does not have these drawbacks, was occupied by a non-disabled passenger for the entire trip. (And passengers were being encouraged to place bulky luggage in the space a chair would have had to occupy had one boarded at York).

Additionally the accessible toilet was out of service for my entire trip of almost three hours, including the nearly two hour fast section between York and Kings Cross. I recognise that mechanical failures will occasionally happen, but none of the on-train staff thought to check whether the lack of a an accessible toilet was an issue for me. Given that a disabled passenger being forced to wet themselves through lack of an accessible toilet had been national headline news within the past week (even if with another TOC), this reflects poorly on Virgin East Coast's standards of customer care.

If it is not already policy that train staff should check with wheelchair using passengers if the accessible toilet is out of action, then it needs to be made so urgently.

I would also suggest that if a train has a wheelchair passenger due to board, and an out of service onboard toilet, the message be passed ahead to station passenger assistance staff and the passenger offered the options of i) being boarded in the other class if the wheelchair space is available (obviously with a refund in the case of a First Class passenger forced to travel Standard Class), ii) travelling by a later train, iii) opting not to travel and receiving a full refund.

It rather boggles the mind that on a previous journey on-train staff specifically approached me to offer to fetch and carry for me as the trolley service was out of action, but on this trip didn't even speak to me when the accessible toilet was out of action, no matter that at least two interacted directly with me during the ticket check.

If you have any other comments or feedback please type them in the box below.

On my prior journey to Darlington I received an offer of an upgrade to First Class for £20, with instructions to approach the Guard on the train to see if space is available. There appears to have been no thought to how this offer would work, or rather fail to, for a wheelchair-using passenger. By the time I have boarded it is impossible for me to upgrade to 1st Class because I cannot move through the train, nor can I move through the train to locate the guard to enquire if there is space for me to take up the offer.

As there is only a single First Class wheelchair space, in comparison with several carriages of non-wheelchair First Class spaces, the overwhelming likelihood is that wheelchair passengers are much less likely to be able to avail themselves of this offer than non-wheelchair using passengers.

Equally, to the best of my knowledge there are two Standard Class wheelchair spaces, but only a single First Class wheelchair space. If both Standard Class wheelchair passengers have received the offer, the Guard could be faced with two people requesting upgrade to the same single space at exactly the same moment. There appears to have been no thought whatsoever as to how the offer would function for a wheelchair-using passenger.

The offer can only function in a fair and equitable manner for wheelchair-using passengers if they have the same likelihood of being able to access it as non-wheelchair-users. It cannot work for them at all if they must wait to contact on train staff, and needs to be modified so that they can approach station passenger assistance staff instead in order to be boarded in the appropriate carriage.

As the system stands, Virgin East Coast are running offers that can only be used by non-wheelchair-using passengers, which constitutes direct disability discrimination and places the offer in violation of the Equality Act 2010.

Home

Jan. 10th, 2017 09:16 pm
davidgillon: Illo of Oracle in her manual chair in long white dress with short red hair and glasses (wheelchair)
Finally back from Durham, normal service will be resumed as soon as I'm caught up with stuff.

No disasters with passenger assistance on the trains this time, but the accessible loo was out of action for the entire nearly three hour trip from Darlington to Kings Cross. I plan on gently needling Virgin East Coast about it on Twitter tomorrow. It gives a whole new meaning to #NoGoBritain ;)

And doubly troubling as lack of accessible loos was a headline story barely a week ago.
davidgillon: Illo of Oracle in her manual chair in long white dress with short red hair and glasses (wheelchair)
Professor Farah Mendelsohn (the author) mentioned this paper in the Fans for Accessible Conventions FB group (she's a well known UK fan as well as being a disabled academic) and it should potentially interest a few people: UK PhD Accessibility, A Pilot Study I don't think there are any astounding revelations, but it does collect a bunch of stats in one place and confirm there are issues.

I've been shooting off my mouth to journalists again, and seem to be responsible for the title of :

Drop in Access to Work numbers shows DWP ‘is strangling the scheme’

TLDR: Disability employment figures supposedly rising, yet the number of disabled people accessing government support to work is actually down slightly - either employers are cherrypicking people with minor disabilities, or the scheme is increasingly difficult to access. (What makes this all utterly ridiculous, government was making £1.40 in tax revenue for every pound spent on AtW, so the Tories cut the scheme).

I won't link to anything as it's more a cumulative effect thing, but there seem to be quite a few people raising questions about how accessible Pokemon Go is. I'm not really a mobile game person, but I'm not remotely attracted by a game that requires you to walk around.

davidgillon: Illo of Oracle in her manual chair in long white dress with short red hair and glasses (wheelchair)

The counter clerk at Chatham Station managed to successfully book the wheelchair space for my journey up to Lancaster on Friday and without even commenting I wasn't using my wheelchair right then.

It's sad this is commentworthy, but he's arsed it up the last twice, so this is a distinct improvement.

I was still paranoid enough to ring Virgin trains and confirm that B63 was indeed the wheelchair space on the 12:30 from Euston, because it would be the middle of a carriage on the East Coast Main Line, but apparently it really is.

I can't help thinking going back to Lancaster for my college reunion is tempting fate. When I went as a student it started raining as we crossed the Durham/Lancashire border and stopped just after I graduated....


 

Whoops....

Feb. 27th, 2016 04:44 pm
davidgillon: Dina Meyer as Oracle, sitting a manual chair in front of a clock face (Wheelchair)
In the accessible loo at my usual Saturday place, go to leave and the door is so heavy the chair moves backwards. So I gave it a damned good push....

... into the passing waitress. Bowl of rice flies through the air and god knows what else lands on the floor, I had to slalom around a big dollop of mayo or cream when I  did emerge. (I said sorry, she glared).

It's their fault for having such a heavy door,  but...

Whoops!
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
I met a fellow local disability rights activist for coffee this afternoon - we've known each other on line for years, but because her job was in London until recently it's the first time we've actually met.

It was interesting, in the worst way, in terms of finding anywhere we could both go. I may be a wheelchair user nowadays, but if I run into steps I can hop out , they can't. That ruled out the place I meet friends on Saturdays, and while the place I go in the week is accessible to me in the chair, they didn't think they could get their powerchair in. Nor is the new Costa accessible - they gutted the entire place,  took floors out, but left a step at the entrance! Ultimately we ended up in the tourist info, which has a cafe at the back - ironically she then had to ask if I would be able to manage the internal slope in the building  - effectively a 50 foot ramp from front to back - to get back out again!

Cue an hour and a half of comparing notes, on activism, ridiculous disabled loos we have known, and experiences of discrimination. It shouldn't be like that, but it is. I had to give her the prize (?!)  for worst experience - I've never had a doctor look at the chair and try to decide not to treat me for something life threatening (emphasis on the try, she handed him his head).

Lovely to meet her finally, but also sobering. So much still to do.
davidgillon: Dina Meyer as Oracle, sitting a manual chair in front of a clock face (Wheelchair)
Into London last night to have a drink with university friends. One had suggested changing venue (Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese on Fleet Street, est 1538, current building 1666) given I now come with wheels, but we've been drinking there for years and it does good beer, so I said I'd be fine. And indeed I managed for find a step free route there from Chatham  - high speed to St Pancras, then Thameslink to City Thameslink, which is only 200m from the Cheese, a lot closer than my old route got me (the rather noticeable difference in the two legs being the Javelins from Chatham have multiple wheelchair spaces, while the Thamelink service expects you to sit in the aisle at the door). But the Cheese was worse for access than I remembered, with a foot high step at the door, and multiple levels separated by several steps at a time. I arrived first, so had to get myself in, just as well I can get out of the chair, but there was no way I could get it to the bar and no way I was braving that crowd on my feet without crutches or sticks. Fortuitously I found myself a table and defended it from all-comers for about 40 minutes until the first of the others arrived and I could finally send someone to fetch beer!

Great catch-up with old friends, and just immediate acceptance of the wheelchair, which was nice.  Then we moved around the corner to an Indian restaurant they'd tried before. Not bad (though £5.95 for a bottle of Cobra is wince-inducing), but the doorway, for no real reason whatsoever, was up a step, with a dogleg from one side of their (very narrow) frontage to the other. Only way to do it was to get out of the chair and take it in backwards. Then the tables were arranged down that same narrow width, so no chance of staying in the chair, the extra depth with wheels would have blocked the gangway.

And then all off our separate ways, with me back to City Thameslink, where there had been a double signal failure and people were NOT PLEASED. Trains were running late and cancelled, but I just wanted to be put on the first one that arrived and go two stops to St Pancras. I was sat waiting at least 15 minutes, then another 10 minutes or so on the train through to St Pancras,

Where there was no one to get me off.

Lots of people offering to lift me off (probably with undertones of 'and stop delaying my train home'), and me insisting 'no, just please find the guy with the ramp'). Meanwhile they were announcing the train was fast to Bedford and the doors were about to close, so I had to position myself with foot projecting out of the doorway for the doors to close on to, at least twice, to stop myself being hijacked to Bedford. The non-closing doors seem to have reminded the driver (I was in the front coach) he did actually have a wheelchair passenger aboard, and he came back to unload me using the onboard ramp. And as I got off I could see someone from platform staff finally approaching with a ramp of his own. I'd have been at least five minutes on my way to Bedford if I'd relied on him. Yes the guys as City were harrassed, but they had more than enough time to alert St Pancras I was coming and St Pancras more than enough time to respond.

So I whipped upstairs to catch the Javelin back to Chatham, and was promptly homed in on by a drunk wanting to know if I needed help. He was amiable drunk rather than aggressive, but possibly too amiably drunk to have appreciated being told 'No!' if the train was there. Fortunately the train wasn't there yet,  and the guy with the ramp appeared just as it did - and apologised for missing me downstairs. The Javelin wasn't particularly busy and I ended up nattering with the guard for most of the journey - 'If I go off down the train then I might get caught up in something and not get back in time to make sure they get you off okay at Chatham'.

And then a final waddle up the hill home and to bed. Though I did have a neighbour knocking on the door this morning to tell me I'd left my keys in the outside - whoops!

Access is getting better, but there really is so much still to be done. Including public education, manhandling people in chairs off trains isn't a safe answer (especially at 11PM ten days pre-Christmas when most everyone will have had drink taken!) And this is London, which in many ways is streets ahead of the rest of the country.
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
 After yesterday's resting-up (my hips aren't screaming today, but I repeated the ibuprofen/ paracetamol cocktail given likely developments), I wanted another try at the city, but had some trouble settling on a target. Eventually I decided on just heading in and seeing how things developed. My first win came quickly, I finally worked out where the disabled access is at Megaros Mousikki Metro Station - this is the Concert Hall stop about 150m from my hotel right next to the U.S. Embassy. Unlike the main station access it's actually on the same side as the Concert Hall and my hotel, but a couple of inaccessible junctions without kerb-cuts have been driving me to the other side of the road. It's obvious when you see it, a glass-sided kiosk for the lift, a bit like those for Munich's S/U-Bahn, you just have to be looking in the right direction.

The lift gets you to the ticket-hall, €1.20 flat fare, unless you want the airport which is €8, then another lift to the trains. I had the perennial problem with my chair of getting the big front castor stuck sideways between platform and carriage, but another passenger grabbed my footplate and yanked me out - usual heart-in-mouth moment as to whether he rips it off, but it held and he moved faster than I could say 'don't!'. I just went one stop to Evangelismos (disabled access hidden in the hedge), with the thought of finishing off the Benaki Museum and taking a look at the War Museum, but the Benaki is closed Tuesdays and the War Museum entrance is down a hill and up steps. I thought about heading over to the Agora, the bit of ancient Athens I most wanted to see after the Parthenon, but my access notes suggested only about 30% was chair-accessible, so I decided to move on to Syntagmos Square, which was fortuitous as I got to the front of Parliament just in time for the changing of the guard, all hob-nailed boots with pom-poms and ludicrously high-stepping marching with distinct foot-waggling (and notable wobbling in one case). I have a high tolerance for military ceremonial, but this takes it to extreme levels. (This all takes place on a marble square with access from Syntagmos Square side, but up two marble steps with no ramped access - this seems to be pretty much an Athenian default for formal locations, wheelie access means going up backwards, either by climbing out and hauling the chair up yourself or having someone else do it for you, I'm not certain a powerchair, even with kerb-climber, could manage it).

That done I spent several minutes looking for the disabled access into Syntagmos metro station, which is just to the side, as I was likely coming back that way. I gave up after checking both sides of the road for 50m and went down into Syntagmos Square itself, emphasis on the down, it's a slope right on the edge of my chair's capabilities, even with both wheelchair-gloved hands firmly on my pushrims. There is access half-way down the slope if you can manage steps, but for level access you need to go all the way to the bottom. The Square is quite pleasant, mixed concrete and marble with water-features and trees, but seriously hot outside of the limited shade, the main reason I went in was I knew there was another metro entrance, and yes, disabled access tucked away in a corner. (The lifts are fairly well sign-posted inside the stations, but I didn't see a single sign on the surface at any of the stations I visited, even though all of them have prominent 'you are here' maps).

I'd decided to head down Ermou again, effectively Athens' Oxford Street, but I needed a drink and  to break into a €50 note, and it seemed unfair to inflict that on any of the little streetside kiosks and vendors, so I found myself in Macdonald's, ordering a McFlurry and a large coke. It's a pretty good illustration of the state of access in Athens that their flagship branch, at the junction of Syntagmos and Ermou (so think Parliament Square meets Trafalgar Square meets Oxford Street), on the prime corner location and in a new building, has a step up at the entrance.

Sinuses thoroughly chilled, I headed down Ermou, which was as bad as I remembered it from Sunday, with steep slope, paved to the sides with slippery bricks, and cobbled in the centre, with sharp rather than rounded cobbles - good for grip, I suppose, if you're walking, but appalling for ride in a chair. And unlike Sunday everything was open and crowded with shoppers and street-vendors, which meant I was constantly zig-zagging between surfaces, and my back was soon screaming (even on the level surfaces on the way down Embassy-row and past Parliament I 'd been hitting broken slabs or dropped drain covers every 50m or so that brought me to a jarring halt). I saw the second wheelchair of my Athenian stay (I'd passed someone being pushed on Sunday) halfway down Ermou, unfortunately it was someone begging (there are quite a few beggars about given the economic situation, one thing I've not seen outside of Greece is them approaching people sitting in cafes, though the guy in the chair had simply parked himself in a good spot). I needed something to eat by this point, so started using the chair as a walker and exploring the cafes filling the side streets. Even using the chair as a walker was too judder-y on four wheels, so I had to tip it back onto two, which of course means you can't really put any weight through it, so just as well I wore the AFOs - I keep forgetting I have them on when I'm in the chair, then stand up and think Oh, thank God! for the support. The state of the pavements and the lack of other chair users may explain the are you mad? looks I kept getting as I wheeled around, though people in general were fine about making space for me and so on.

Prices immediately off Ermou were a little too touristy, and the offerings a little too main-meal style - I really only wanted a snack as my stomach has been a little unsettled, so I went a street further over, catching occasional glimpses of the Parthenon looming overhead, and found myself on a large square in front of a church at the edge of the Plaka district - I think it was the Agios Eleftherious from my map, but I'm really not sure, and a cafe/bar on the Plaka-side had a menu offering what I wanted at reasonable prices. I settled on a small 'special pizza', and a large mug of Alfa beer, but the first things down my throat were a couple of ibuprofen as my back was making it really clear it had had enough (it was 2:30 now and I'd left the hotel about 11). The pizza was tasty, though I left most of the base as I'm not a fan of the Greek semi-deep pan style and I didn't think €6 in a touristy area was outrageous, the ice-cold half-litre of Alfa (€4.50) was very welcome.

Snack finished, I headed back up the hill (walker-style) to Syntagmos and the Metro, where I reverted to wheels and spent an interesting ten minutes trying to find the lift to the Airport side of line 3 - Marina side immediately obvious, Airport side tucked away down a corridor you can't even see without heading into the pedestrian tunnel to the elevators to the platform. Once I was finally in the lift I ran into one of those annoyingly helpful but clueless people who don't seem to understand that reversing a chair out of a lift and popping a 180 isn't actually difficult. He ended up forcing me against the edge of the lift and impeding everyone until he got out of the way. Incidentally, Syntagmos Station was where I saw my third and fourth wheelchairs of my stay, a powerchair in the lift from the square and a manual in the lift to platform level - four in three full days out-and-about in a European capital city and tourism centre is pretty shocking, IMO. The train was packed, but people were pretty good about getting out of my way - the web says there are dedicated wheelchair spaces on the airport trains, but damned if I could spot them.

The lift at Megaro Mousikki delivered me to the surface almost in sight of the hotel, but it was quickly clear my back wasn't up to wheeling, or even sitting, so it was back to using the chair as a walker. (On reflection, waddling past the U.S. Embassy muttering 'Ah, Big Brother', and 'Well, he's obviously the outer layer', at security kiosks and sensor masts, and civilian security guard respectively may not have been entirely wise). A quick stop at a kiosk for a couple of soft drinks and I was back at the hotel with my Athenian Odyssey pretty much done. Back in my room it was a case of air-con on and fall into bed. Three hours sleep later and my back is a whole lot happier.

Figuring out the Metro today actually changes my plans for tomorrow back to what they originally were. I'd switched to planning on taking a taxi to the airport given I couldn't find the disabled access into the Metro, but now I know it's just 150m away on this side of the road I'll just take the much cheaper Metro option, though annoyingly I'll have to waddle rather than wheel given the lack of kerb-cuts (which rather nicely sums up the very mixed access situation).





davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
 Our party split up once we got back to Athens: two flying to the UK, two to Munich and two staying in the apartment one of them owns. Meanwhile I caught a taxi to my second hotel. No problem with check-in, but then I came to use the lift - and my chair was wider than the door. The receptionist was convinced it should fit, but the edges of the doors were hitting wheels, never mind pushrims, so I have to climb out and half-collapse the chair every time I want to use the lift.
 
The room is great, even the accessible bathroom (mostly) makes sense, but the arrangement of furniture means you can't get the chair into the window half of the room, I'm not even certain it would be possible without taking at least the coffee table out and probably the drawers as well. That isn't too much of a problem as the room looks out on Vassilious Sofias Ave, which combines being the road past parliament, embassy row, and a six lane motorway (eight lane for the more adventurous). Glad I brought a good pair of earplugs!

Breakfast today was good, also leisurely, then I headed out to meet my friend Julia, and decided to be adventurous by wheeling all the way. Considering the whole embassy row/road past parliament thing, accessibility is pretty dire. If you find a good kerb-cut then 50% of the time it either has a dumpster in it or someone is using it for parking. Half the kerb-cuts don't have matching kerb-cuts on the other side of the road and I only saw one traffic island with kerb-cuts to match those on the pavement. Even the Hilton didn't have kerb-cuts.  By the time I was half way there I was muttering dark threats against whoever is in charge of pavement maintenance, there's a man who needs to spend a few days in a wheelchair trying to navigate his city.

Julia and I met at the Benaki museum at about 1pm, but only got about half of it done before it closed at 3pm (Jules had already done the Parthenon, the jewellery museum and part of the open-top bus ride before we met up), then we wandered past Parliament to take pictures with the Efzones on guard, through Syntagma Square, then down Emlou, the main shopping street (mostly closed given it's Sunday), finishing of with a meal in a streetwise cafe (moussaka for Jules, a chicken and pork gyros for me, which had so much meat it beat me). And then I caught a taxi back to the hotel as I was pretty knackered - and it's up hill all the way (fare 7 euros, I pay nearly as much for the 5 minute ride between the station and my house - and more on Sundays!).

davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
 Got to the hotel about 23:45 Athens time, up before 7AM to grab breakfast, then taxi to Acropolis to be in queue for it opening at 8AM. Glad I decided to go with stics, not chair. Theoretically wheelchair accessible and actually wheelchair accessible are two different things! Bit like the hotel, whose lifts turn out to be smaller than UK standard wheelchair, and the bathroom, which has all the right bits, but in a not very sensible arrangement - e.g. towel rack at above standing head height in a wheelchair accessible room. Rest of room is okay (once I rearranged the furniture), but only here the one night so not a major issue.

Acropolis and Parthenon are spectacular, even half-shrouded in scaffolding, also saw Greek military doing their flag ceremony (not too sure about their singing!)
davidgillon: Text: I really don't think you should put your hand inside the manticore, you don't know where it's been. (Don't put your hand inside the manticore)
With laptop finally delivered (purple! it's purple! did I mention it's purple!) I was finally able to get out and about and do the errands that have been queueing up all week.

Firstly into Chatham and park in the most convenient car park (not actually the disabled car park as I still haven't renewed my blue badge). The whole car park is on a slope, making it annoyingly difficult to push in a straight line to get out of there, and while there's a kerb cut to get out of there (as there are a couple of disabled spaces), the corresponding kerb cut on the other side of the road is about 50 metres away. Somewhat amused by the parent who picked up a 5yo, scooter and all, and physically moved her out of my way once I was back on the path (she had actually steered out of my way, but her parental unit evidently decided there wasn't sufficient clearance). That bit of pavement does at least get me into the back of Debenhams, with a convenient lift down to street level.

First call at the phone store. (Note to phone store employees, calling me 'buddy' doesn't impress (note to American readers, British use of 'buddy' is negligible to zero, so it comes over as false, even patronising)). 'Hi, I need to stick some credit on my PAYG phone' 'Have you got your swipe card?', 'Ah, no', 'Well in that case we can't do it, but you can go to Sainsbury's (nearest supermarket), buy a credit voucher there then come back and we can do it then, or if you have the swipe card at home you can ring in and do it.' - Your system, it does not make sense! 

Then to travel agents (Thomsons), I'd passed it on the way to the phone shop and realised access was going to be a sod, to the point I had a quick scout around to confirm there are no other travel agents about. Heavy door, with a lip. I needed one of the staff members to get the door and then had problems getting the front castors over the lip. Finally got in, and access wasn't much better inside, long, narrow space with a row of desks down the middle, they had to move chairs just to let me speak to someone. So I explain the issue - sailing in Greece, want to book flights, and hotel for a few extra days, and hope they might be better set up for working out which hotels are wheelchair accessible than the online apps seem to be, but it seems they're so tightly tied to particular companies they wanted to charge £160 more for flights I already thought were overpriced, and the best they could do on hotels is "we'd have to ring our broker and they'd probably have to ring the hotel". So that was a complete waste of time.

Head over to Rochester, intending to go to GPs and then go get my hair cut. In parking up behind the cathedral I realise that I've complete forgotten about the GPs (fortunately before I got the chair out), so head back over to there, navigate their nightmare of a car park, drop off repeat prescription request, head back to the cathedral, and fortunately there's still a parking place. Wheel into town, which seems to be mostly over cobbles, rattle, rattle, rattle (to the point I've had to re-tighten two of the screws holding the push-rims on, and I just checked those the other day), get to the barbers and there's only three of them working, with seven people in front of me (and of course every one of them opts for a wash and blow dry, when normally you can bet on most guys having the quicker dry cuts). If I hadn't been so irritated by how hot and sticky the weather has been I'd probably have given up. Indeed the guy who walked in just after me was told "about an hour and a half" and did turn around and walk out. It actually wasn't as bad as it could have been, I was done within the hour ("number 2 all over" really doesn't take very long once you get started).

Head back to the car, cursing cobbles, though at least I can now do the whole distance without needing to stop, even though it's uphill on the way back (and new summery wheelchair gloves, recommended by [personal profile] kaberett are truly excellent).

Drive home, cursing rush-hour traffic, only to discover it's yet another crash just opposite my house, with a police car blocking off half the road while they recover three cars (none looked particularly bent, but they had to haul at least one away on a loader).

And I've still got to sort out flights and phone, grr!


davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)

There's another festival on in Rochester (Fuse, which is Jazz IIRC), so they were building a prefab stage in the castle moat as I wheeled past (don't worry, it's a dry moat...). When I wheeled past again on my way back to the car they were building an access ramp to get you over the kerb that separates the footpath and the moat. And I do mean building, they had a carpenter making it on the spot from rough timber (never mind that they had a perfectly finished and properly surfaced one in exactly the same spot for Dickens only a couple of weeks ago).

As I got up to it the carpenter stuck out a toe and prodded one of the planks (yes, he'd built it from planks, longways, with no reinforcement other than at either end, rather than using a sheet of board or properly reinforcing it). Plank promptly deflects downwards two inches under just tow pressure (I'm not exaggerating!). When I glanced back over my shoulder they had it turned on its side and were muttering about 'battens, maybe we could use some battens underneath'.

I did think about offering to try it out for them, but nope, not going there, because I'm pretty sure 'going there' would be 'going through'!

Where do they find these people?

davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)

First time at new polling station at Balfour Road school (I refused to vote for PCC*). I took the chair just to make sure I looked at the access practicalities.

It would have been a nightmare to walk to, impossible to wheel to (down a very steep hill, then up the other side), just as well I can drive again. It does at least have offstreet parking, which neither of previous two polling stations did (they had similar hill problems).

If they've got disabled spaces in the parking I couldn't see them.

There was a ramp, but poorly signed.

Someone held the door for me going in (more on this in a moment)

Internal signage was poor.

They did have a wheelchair height booth, but they'd divided the hall in two lengthwise with benches and the last one neatly lined up with the front of the wheelchair accessible booth, you definitely wouldn't have gotten a large power chair in there, and it made the approach awkward for a standard sized manual wheelchair.

A teller asked me how the access was, and I suspect from context that meant I was the first wheelchair voter they'd had, at 3:30PM. That's worrying. I told them about signage and the bench issue and she seemed to be headed for the bench when I wheeled out.

When I got to the outside doors again they were shut, heavy, and only opened inward. I can open a heavy door in the chair, but that forces you to come at the doorway at an angle, and the footplates on the chair therefore went straight into the pillar outside, absolutely no way I was getting out on my own. Two women following me out tried to open the other door, it was locked shut - they opened two bolts and it still wouldn't move, fortunately with one of them holding the door I could back off and come straight at it, but the overall conclusion has to be that I couldn't independently access the polling station, which isn't good.



*PCC= Police and Crime Commissioner - for non-Brits these are newly introduced, politicising the former Police Authorities,  many people, including me, opposed the change and felt voting would legitimise them. I otherwise always vote, but this was a rare occasion in which not voting was a valid form of political expression.

Access Fail

May. 7th, 2010 05:15 pm
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)


As a disabled person I'm unfortunately well used to the environment failing to cater for me, which is why in the Social Model of Disability we define disability as the discrimination we face from the failure of society to provide us with equality of outcome. 

Yesterday was the General Election here in the UK and unfortunately I found myself facing not one but two major access fails in a single day.

Taking the election first, the press have been focused on voters having the doors slammed in their faces at 10PM, which is rightly a scandal, but this is far from the only problem people, and particularly disabled people,  have faced voting. If we look at my experience then the problems started the moment the polling card dropped through the letter box.

The Polling Card: as in the past it wasn't clear on the map where in the sprawling local comprehensive school you need to go, usually made doubly worse in reality by a hedge hiding the door that is the access. The new problem was that the polling station wasn't actually there any more.... They have moved it to the infant school a couple of hundred yards down the road on the opposite side, but not updated the map. The confusion wasn't helped by both schools being 'St Johns'

The Location: at the top of a large, steep hill, not exactly ideal for anyone with mobility issues. (Particularly as there is a larger junior school with on-site parking at the bottom of the hill, and a large church, also with on-site parking and ISTR a hall right next to that).

The Parking: no disabled parking bays whatsoever, nor any on-site parking. It's all resident on-street bay parking in the vicinity, so there's no hope of anything available post-6PM and it was getting seriously iffy post-3PM when I voted. The closest I could park was about 100 metres away and just getting to the polling station and back left me shaking in pain.

The Signage: Very poor, One large 'Polling station sign (apparently taped together out of sheets of A4 paper), but for pointing you to the appropriate, and very unobvious, gate to get inside they were using unbacked paper strips about 10cm by 75cm taped to iron railings, so that the ends (with the arrows!) had curled around the railings.

The Site: a small, Victorian-style primary school. The entrance was sloped somewhere betwee 1 in 5 and 1 in 10 in rough-poured concrete, and roughly vee-shaped down that slope -- not a flat surface in site. Not exactly great. The relevant entrance to the polling station could have been much better sign-posted, there were at least three different doors in sight and it took me 30 seconds to figure out which was relevant. How someone with a visual impairment was meant to find their way I have no idea. The corridor through to the room in use could have been much better lighted. There was a portable ramp at the entrance to the polling room, which I tripped over - not because I missed it in the lighting, but because it was about 32" wide with 4" lips at the side, while I stand about 36" wide from crutch to crutch....  I don't use any of the legally required access provisions for completing the poll form myself, but I had a general check around for the required facilities. At first glance I couldn't spot the low-level, wheelchair accessible booth, but I think that was just because someone (non-disabled) was using it; the template for VI voters wasn't apparent, but may have been hidden under a desk somewhere, but more worrying WRT that there are multiple reports already of VI voters finding polling officers who had no idea what the template was for nor how to use it, having had absolutely no briefing on access issues. If I had needed to sit then there were no seats ready, though a few were pushed under tables that had been shoved to the side. Overall I think the new polling site is worse than the old one, and the old one wasn't good enough to start with.

Now I got to vote, at the cost of a significant amount of pain, but how many disabled people faced similar obstacles and found them insurmountable? If I wasn't a driver I couldn't have made it to the polling station, never mind the difficulties I faced inside and getting from car to door. I've talked to the staff in the past, and they genuinely have no idea of the issues disabled people face, or even how to show them common courtesy -- one online friend reports being fairly comprehensively patronised yesterday. Beyond the physical issues there is obviously a general failure in training. Some people might think that if disabled people find accessing the polling station difficult then we should use postal votes instead, but that misses the whole point of democracy and equality, we should all be able to access an equivalent and identical voting experience.

So what can we do? Blog about it, obviously, but you can complain (and I plan to): to council officers, councillors and press, in the most egregious cases to the Electoral Commission, and you can log your voting experience at Scope's Polls Apart website and hope that we can bring enough pressure to bear that they will do better next time.

Moving on to the second major access fail of the day....

After December's farrago with Flexible New Deal -- yet another epic access fail which I talked about here  -- the Job Centre decided that Job Seekers Allowance couldn't begin to cope with the limitations my disability imposed on my job search and that I would be better off on Employment and Support Allowance (the replacement for Incapacity Benefit). As a result of this I have been working my way through the ESA hoops since late January.

Today's hoop: ESA medical assessment, looking into the work-limiting elements of my disability, of which the major one is that I can't sit without escalating pain (and we're talking sharpened stakes being hammered into places best not elaborated on, not some minor discomfort).  Not something I was looking forward to, the government has outsourced the process to ATOS-Origin, whose reputation precedes them, and it isn't a reputation to be proud of. 

After voting I had to head home, sort out the papers they needed and head off; luckily the Assessment Centre is local. There's no disabled parking on site (hmm, bit of an oversight there for a site focused on disabled clients), but fortunately the local disabled parking is just a touch over 100m away and at 6PM I could find a space -- not something guaranteed any time between 8AM and 5:30PM. I signed in and was waved through into the waiting room. That had about a dozen chairs, not plastic bucket seats, but not much of a step up from them. None of them had any adjustment, only two of them had arms, the nearest of which I grabbed. After a minute I was already getting hypersensitivity (and that hurts), after two I couldn't sit flat on the chair anymore and I had to roll sideways so I was sitting on the outside of my hip with legs stuck out sideways and generally curled up in pain. By the time we got toward 10 minutes I was physically shaking and realised that there was no way I could sit on a similar chair any longer, so if they had similar chairs in the consultation room then they were going to have to go and find something better.

At that point I was called through. And it turned out that they didn't have the same seats in the consultation room, they were actually worse! Three chairs, no adjustment, no arms, the cheapest style of upholstery.

I didn't even sit down, I just propped myself against the examination couch and told the guy (who never introduced himself) that I need an adjustable seat if we're going to go through with this.

His answer was that that was all they have and that if I need an adjustable seat then they'll have to reschedule.

They have dragged me down there, I am shaking in pain because of it and they can't begin to offer me the most basic accommodation for my disability. It is fair to say I lost my temper, but I kept the criticism to the company rather than the staff, pointing out that amongst other things they had failed to meet the DDA's requirement that they make reasonable adjustments, and were expected to have thought about the needs of their clientele in advance in making those reasonable adjustments. The guy I was seeing said that they had raised the seats issue themselves and had been told to make do with what they had and that he would back my complaint.

So they bring me a complaints form and point to where I should write my complaint. Hello? Disabled person here! Amongst other things I can't write comfortably (or legibly).

And what makes it worse....

When I filled out the ESA medical form that is a preliminary to the assessment (by stapling a page or more of typescript to every page of the 28 page form), what was the last thing I wrote: "I have major problems with seating, if any extended wait is likely then ideally I need a chair adjustable in both height and seat angle."

Not exactly an unexpected requirement then....

It seems ATOS' reputation is fully justified.

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David Gillon

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