Monday, July 02, 2012

Accessible Ireland?

Travelling alone can be a daunting prospect, not least to attend a wedding alone.  The original plan had been to go with another neighbour, but she slipped a disc in her back and was unable to fly. Having fully absorbed the message from our esteemed Minister for Disabled People that everywhere is now fully accessible and disabled people don't need any extra money to pay for that perfect access I wasn't put off by such trivial concerns and on thursday I went to Ireland to see my lovely neighbour marry in her home town of Swinford.

Despite Maria's assurances of perfect access it seemed to take me much more time to arrange my travel and be more expensive than for the other guests. Travel Insurance cost double the standard amount, then there was arranging support at each airport before I went, which could only be confirmed on a 10p a minute phone line. The Bride had booked a hotel with access for the reception, in which I had to stay because whilst all the cheaper accomodation 'just over the road' was within comfortable drunken stumbling distance it certainly wasn't within any kind of deathwalking distance. 

Although I'd been most worried about the airport part of the journey and specifically flying with Ryan Air (who have a certain reputation among disabled travellers) that did all go according to plan. I was running late by the needing access clock, which dictates anyone needing help must be there hours before everyone else to hurry up and wait, but Scousers give assistance in a distinct style so when GG explained I wanted to buy a book before I got on the plane the guy shouted across to the two ladies who came to collect me that they had to make sure I had 50 Shades of Grey before I got on the plane.

I knew there were alot of people travelling to the wedding on the same flight...but unfortunately I didn't actually know any of them properly, and couldn't spot any of the people I would've vaguely recognised. But, I did have to give Maria some credit as I got the crip perk on the plane of a row of seats to myself. The flight was of the variety where people sit in stunned silence apart from the odd involuntary scream. The weather was dreadful and Liverpool to Knock is a notorious route for turbulence so it was a white knuckle 40 minutes fighting the need to vomit.

My neighbour had booked an accessible mini bus to take us from the airport to hotel which we eventually managed to find after a somewhat disturbing Mrs Robinson moment. There was a very attractive young man who looked in his early 20's on the flight who was also going to the wedding, who helped with my bag. I began to think it might be great fun until he told me had never flown alone before and his mum hadn't given him any money for the mini bus at which point I felt like a paedophile!

When the mini bus arrived it was accessible in that it did have a ramp and some grab bars. Except the ramp didn't work and it was only accessible if you could get out of your wheelchair and be helped onto the bus. Oh and have a child sized wheelchair that can squeeze into a very small space. I had a moment when I realised the powerchair I've been dreaming of to increase my independence would actually have made me more dependent and left me stranded alone at the airport. But it's ok, that shouldn't be a barrier to spending £6500 on a powerchair, the UK's definitely all accessible and that would never happen. I trust that nice Maria, she looks awful sincere when she says that.

The mini bus journey was similar to the flight...with the added smell of old diesel for ambience. We all sat, in somewhat shell shocked silence, fighting the urge to vomit. Eventually we got to the hotel in Westport and then it got really tricky. But, I was in I offered up my prayers to Maria. I knew she'd fix it.

There were plenty of people attending the wedding booked into the hotel, plenty of whom had said they'd be happy to give me a hand when the bride asked them. And they were...but I couldn't find any of them until late that night, by which time I was feeling horribly vulnerable, scared and upset. The accessible room was way too far from the lift, as they often are in hotels, and the wifi was only in reception. The instructions about putting towels on the floor when I had a shower struck me as slightly odd in a 4* hotel, but I was initially impressed by the newly built wetroom. It had a proper level access shower, adapted loo, sink alarm cord and a shower chair. It was a bit weird that it was directly off a non accessible bathroom, but well, access, hurrah! And then I had a shower....

Despite six towels on the floor when I came out the outer bathroom was completely flooded and the carpet by the bedroom door saturated. Which explained the awful smell in the hotel room, it was damp and mould so pervasive that when I opened my bag on returning home, everything in it stank. It turned out that somehow, the builder had neglected to put any kind of slope into the wetroom floor so that when it was used it was just like pouring a hose onto a normal tiled floor. As both bathrooms flooded beyond the capacity of any towels to deal with it was also really dangerous. But, it was access. I gave my thanks to Maria once more.

I went to bed early knowing it would be a long day, only to wake up at about 3am when the great vomit experiment decided to go international. After a long night during which I was able to ponder the relative different ways medications appear after being thrown back up, including several supposed to stop throwing up medicines I was in a bit of a state. I'd booked room service the night before to avoid the deathwalk up to the reception, ignoring the additional cost because I have such faith in Maria, so I was hoping that I might be able to keep some food down and make it to the wedding. But breakfast never arrived so just after 9am I staggered into reception, grey and shaking and burst into tears at reception. With only one noteable exception all the Irish people I met were incredibly friendly and willing to offer help, and the hotel staff were lovely. After I'd managed to explain I didn't need a doctor, they found me some lemonade, promised to send breakfast down to the room and get the flood cleared up. The lemonade made it to the room but breakfast never did and flood clearance didn't happen until late afternoon.

I didn't make it to the wedding, which was a 45 minute coach journey away. Fortunately I managed to stop throwing up and get some sleep so I did make it to the reception at around 5pm. It was a lovely night, and I even had a bit of a dance....well, the bendy version of dancing which is wiggling about a bit. It's often easier for us to do that than stand or walk. At the end of the night there was even some wheelchair dancing...the instructions for which were a much needed 'hang on tight!'

One of the other girls offered to push me back to my room and we sat outside before heading back. Which is when we met the noteable exception. He looked down at me in my wheelchair and loudly accused me of faking it as I'd been walking earlier. This was met by a kind of stunned, uncomfortable silence as people who didn't really know each other all looked at each other in confusion. Had he really just said that? He had. And chose to follow it up by looking me up and down while explaining he was from Kerry* and therefore rude, then sneering that I would clearly never get laid again. The silence got a bit more stunned and not really knowing what to say to a drunk stranger who looked as happy with his opinions as Toby Young is about wheelchair ramps I smiled, and said everyone had to have a talent...his was clearly offending people.

Irish weddings don't finish until the last person keels over so there was many a sorry looking person waiting for the mini bus back to the airport the next day. We'd booked the same driver and bus so all stocked up on stemetil in preparation for a rough ride. Unfortunately we lacked enough sick bags to go around, and after half an hour or so in the diesel scented rollercoaster ride at high speed no-one was looking happy. One girl had managed to discreetly fill her vomit back...which she was generously willing to share with others who needed it. Another eventually shouted to the driver to stop and shot out of the bus into the driving rain to throw up on the side of the road. I rapidly followed her and sat on the side of the bus while another girl got halfway out desperate for a wee only to find nettles everywhere and head back into the bus trying not to laugh at the vomiters for fear of peeing everywhere. We were an awful sorry bunch when we fell out of the bus at Knock airport, soaking wet and smelling of vomit and chewing gum.

I'm really glad I got to see the bride and groom on their big day, but I can't help feeling that Maria really let me down. I had such faith in her, she tells us all often enough that everything's great and kind of wasn't great. More a bit crap really. So next time I think I can travel alone, without any support I'll have to remember Maria and her magical misleading missives. 

*Apologies to the people of Kerry who I'm sure are all very nice


sad times said...

That s why I don t go any where now, the highly sociable, friendly , loving and caring woman stays in housebound depressed, lonely, isolated, money worries, care worries and sooooooo angry. How many dare declare this or have access to net to do?
Congrats to the newly weds and BRAVO Kal x

hossylass said...

Imagined quote from The Blessed Saint Maria of Basingstoke, patron saint of Goblins and the disability ignorant;

"Once you leave UK airspace you are officially on yer own - tough.
Please contact your local Saint, relevant to destination origin.

Please anticipate that ANY local Saint will be equally as abrupt and ignorant, and realign your expectations accordingly."

If its any consolation, the Irish have Kerry-men as the but of all their jokes, with good reason.
He really shouldn't have projected his lack of a sex life onto you though... whilst probably staring at your busom (bet he did, bet he stared lots, the sad act).

britishroses said...

Excellent post Kaliya, very well written. Sorry things didn't go better for you, not that it's not expected to anyway. This needs to be read by all in government, not that it would make any difference though. Loved your come back to Mr. offensive, don't know that I would have been so polite; TV and billboards need to run a campaign on educating people to the different disabilities and especially invisible disabilities, so sad that in this day and age there is so much ignorance around.

sad times said...

Well Kal it has to be said you look flattered you pulled....the difference being you we nt going the distance Sam Taylor Wood did. You cheer me through it all showing your strength and determination as wll as learning limits as time goes by.......even though Gov say there are none. ;)

misspiggy said...

Thanks for posting this. I forget how sheltered I am by having a hubby in tow - or, no, what actually happens is that I conveniently blank out how hideous things were whenever he couldn't be there.

For our wedding we tried relatively hard to ensure accessibleness for our wheelchair using guest, although being in a listed building meant he couldn't get upstairs for the marriage ceremony. We visited the accommodation (100 yards away on the flat from the reception venue), measured it, photographed it, judged it according to the very useful criteria you have posted. But he declined to come, because he'd had such a horrendous time visiting other 'accessible' venues and finding out they weren't really.

He just couldn't risk the health consequences of turning up to find things weren't actually as he needed them. This is why it's such a tragedy that accessibility isn't thought through from the perspective of what people really need.

Anonymous said...

YOu look so beautiful (Then again you would look beautiful in sack cloth lol)

I rarely go out now - since i had my sticked kicked out from under me and the time they refused to sit down in a closed cafe in the local mall, since then my life has got smaller and smaller.
To be hoinest I only have one true friend who lives like an hour away and doesnt drive. I feel so isolated sometimes, but when i am in here I am safe - I am not annoying people, I am not getting dirty looks, and my fear and I just exist in this small life I have. (Notthe life I planned, but our friend Maria wouodl deem me fit for working a week if I dared to go out on a better day anyways)

So life is very small. Friends are nowhere to be found and I wonder what I did to get this.

But - I am still alive at the moment so that is a plus, I love my family, and I live vicariously through others who blog LOLOL

I love you taking us with you on your adventures thorugh the accessible world of the UK...

Hope you are OK and have got over the stress of your trip now <3

Jane said...

Ah, now I understand the 'Ireland didn't go well' comment in your email earlier! Poor you, that wasn't much fun at all. I expect you were relieved to be home and on 'terra firma'!!

Ron Graves said...

No extra costs for access? Asking for a disabled access hack if I want to take my chair (Quickie Ti - weighs little, I can just pick it up and put it in, no need for time-consuming ramps), to the pub here in Wirral jacks up the normal fair by about £1.50.

Not so, though, if I don't have my chair. Clearly discriminatory.

Timian Training and Development said...

Brilliantly written blog. Again!
You should do a Rough Guide version of international travel!

Anonymous said...

I have stayed in those special hotels where you get to flood the bedroom. Also lovely wheel in showers but no shower chair or you thought it would be hard for people like me to get in and out of the bath so you are know making us sit on the floor! Or those excellent key cards that you have to put in slot by the door to keep the light on , but you need to come in turn around and make way to reach slot before the door closes and it's pitch black.

The Slug Wheelie Guy. said...

Ttch. Chap just walk in while I was changing my trousers. Most embarrassing. Particularly when you are on the floor alone with no kegs on. Us fella's are quite shy y'know...

He wombled out a bit embraced. Awww. I would have preferred a hand up. helped up. :(

Achelois said...

Kali, where do you find clothes that fit you and are gorgeous. You are gorgeous anyhow but to find a dress that fits a short, well endowed bendy is difficult.I know for I am one. I love that you wear clothes that fit you, I don't have the confidence anymore, where did that confidence go.

As I am just about to get albeit an NHS powered wheelchair, I have been under the illusion that it will enable me to be free to roam! Although, as one has to pass a test, and they cancel if it is raining... I actually wonder if it will ever happen, a small part of me wondering if it is actually right to not allow someone with a disability to not take the test because it is raining. Does that mean the disabled aren't allowed out in the rain! With the current weather I imagine this could go on and on. But I have to believe, so perhaps I should buy a St Christopher to wear around my neck and the world will become accesible.

I have had a thought, is this hotel part of a large chain, if so, a letter of complaint, detailing the problem with the shower etc, may well bring about a refund, at the very least some vouchers for the chain, where you could go away for some respite accompanied! If its a small hotel its a bit tricky. But the shower scenario is downright dangerous. The fact that you write with such humour hides well just how stressful a lot of this trip was. Via twitter, I know, the vomiting etc was horrendous and you were distressed.
The rude drunk - a classic example. I too admire your dignity in the face of adversity.

I too worry that people will think I am a fraud when I eventually get out of my car, walking a teeny way to sit down in my wheelchair that will I hope eventually arrive. Thank you for sharing, you help me to learn that I must stop worrying so much about others bigoted behaviours. I know it wasn't all good but I bet you are still pleased you went. alone not such a good idea but hun YOU did it. I hope you are very very very proud of yourself. I just hope you are not still suffering the consequences. I went to a wedding reception on Saturday, accompanied, and as usual with EDS now I am none too well. I knew there was a reason why my social life is no more. You BG deserve a medal.Please be very very kind to yourself this week as pacing did not happen for you in any way this weekend gone. I am still jealous by the way that you got to go to Ireland. x

sad times said...

Katie price has tweeted for models all shapes or sizes! are you going to give it a go for all young disabled people as you certainly do sparkle. Just a thought?
Think she is becoming aware of all drawbacks as parents and herself are having to set up schmo as Harvey's is closing and they want the pupils to stay together cos of friendships and routine, as we all know how especially this is important.

Clarebelz said...

Dear me, what an ordeal; you looked great though!

After I got ill in 1996, it took 3 years of holidays and days out to realise that I just couldn't do it any more. During the last full holiday in 1999 in Menorca, which I paid 2 grand for, I was bedridden the first week, so it was a waste of money. The last day I had out was in 2000; I was so sick that people thought I was drunk!

I miss the holidays, but I've accepted it now. I can't risk the knock on effect of months of even worse health than usual.

You were very brave to do what you did!


that northern bloke said...

"then sneering that I would clearly never get laid again"
If you ever want to prove him wrong,I'm right here Bendy,at the back of this very long queue :D
*jumps up n down waving his arms*