All too often getting anywhere is such a struggle for disabled people that the effort can feel too much and so we stop bothering. So, when you come across good access it can be extremely exciting (and yes, I do need to get out more!)
I was back in London this week for the Brandon Trust 100 Voices on Transport event at the House of Commons, hosted by MP Charlotte Leslie and attended by the Mayor of Bristol, Peers, a DWP Minister and representatives from transport companies. It was an exciting day for us all, but my favourite part was seeing people with learning disabilities supported by Brandon Trust giving eloquent, powerful, first person testimonies to politicians on their experiences of travel. All in all it was a successful event and happily I didn't spill tea or have to take my knickers off and we'll simply gloss over the glass of water I may have poured on myself.
Because travel is so difficult and exhausting I'd arrived in London the night before the event, so had time to meet the fabulous Fiona Laird for lunch. Fiona had organised where we went for lunch and said she got so fed up with places saying that either they didn't have access or that they did but it involved going into a different building, around the back etc to get to the venue that when Brasserie One said they had full access it was a simple decision - we were going there.
I'd had the usual experience of a cab company refusing a wheelchair fare, so it was great to travel with a black cab driver who was keen to make sure I knew all about the taxicard scheme and that it was being cut back and altered. When we arrived at Great George St, which is a Grade II listed building we were all a bit confused - there was a double flight of stone steps outside the building, so as is typical we all assumed the access must be around the side. While we were still scratching our heads the doorman sprang into action and started up the access which turned out to be the most incredible retracting accessible stone steps with a wheelchair lift embedded underneath them.
It's fair to say that complete overexcitement about the James Bond of the access world was the dominating theme at the lunch table, but we had a lovely lunch, and there were even scrummy gluten free bread rolls available. The waiting on staff were all fantastic - warm, considerate and funny, and the food as good as they'd promised us. There was also a properly accessible loo (although not a changing places one I'm afraid) which smelled nice and was decorated in the same style as the rest of the building.
Going to Brasserie One for lunch was an amazing treat - it is Westminster prices but not ridiculous for a special occasion or to be able to have the experience of amazing access and service, and there are starter size portions available for those of us with smaller appetites.
Unusually for a 'ladies lunch' we were quite keen to leave, not just because we had to get over to the Commons, but because the excitement of the stone steps was compelling and we wanted to film them for everyone to see. It wasn't until we were outside marvelling at the whole experience that Fiona and Charlie pointed out something really important, and something that disabled people like myself can get so used to not happening that we take it for-granted.
I got to go into a venue through the front entrance, the same entrance as everyone else, just in more style than most visitors. Once I was inside I was able to be independent as the access was so good, and it was really lovely to see the immense pride the staff clearly had in their fantastic access and willingness to use it.
Going through the front entrance, the main entrance of a beautiful old listed building felt like such a privilege, something I can't remember doing since becoming disabled. It made me feel wanted, that I belonged there, that I could, even if only for a lunch, access somewhere on the same terms as everyone else.
Fortunately before I got too carried away with this marvellous new accessible venue, how I might be able to move in there, and what the world might be like if everywhere made such a creative, resourceful, inclusive attempt at access, we were back to the House of Commons and the more typically experienced version of access. There wasn't a ramp to the podium when I went two weeks ago so I'd had to sit on a table to give my speech - but this time there was a special ramped podium being built. Access, but access the more typical way....and as its me, no-one was overly surprised at the dramatic moment the back wheel of my scooter slipped off the podium causing a bit of a heart in mouth moment for us all!