Having to use a wheelchair is something that takes some time getting used to. I started using a wheelchair back in 2006 and to be honest I am still getting to grips with it. I find each day to be a huge challenge that begins when I get out of bed. It took me a long time to master the banana board that helps me slide into my chair first thing in the morning, but that’s just the start of a challenging day in my life and the lives of other wheelchair users just like me.
Getting out and about is hectic and has to be well planned. It reminds me of those times when my children were small. Back then I had to be organised and run the routine of getting out the house almost like an army drill. We would always spend ages finding lost shoes, packing up the baby bags, ensuring the pushchair was set up and the children had coats, drinks and nappies for the whole duration of the trip. As your children get older you forget those hectic times, but now I am reminded because I have to plan my whole day out simply because I use a wheelchair.
Better Design and More Thought is Needed in the 21st Century
You see the outside world really isn’t designed for people like me, which is disgusting considering there are so many people like us. Attitudes are changing though and more help is available, especially if you ask for it, but really it should be readily available anyway.
The London Paralympics did make some progress for us, some of the London transport was improved and thoughtful businesses that made improvements in time for the onslaught of tourists did bear in mind their legal responsibilities when making alterations to their properties. Thank goodness for the Equality Act that’s all I can say. However, despite all these good intentions and changing attitudes (thanks to shows like The Last Leg on Channel 4) there is still so much that needs doing.
My Legs Don’t Work and I Freak Out
Let me tell you my problem. When I started using the wheelchair I became very depressed. It took medication, counselling and patience to come out of that dark despite and even now I am not fully recovered. I have accepted my situation and I’m making the best of it, but life outside my home makes that difficult. With depression came anxiety and panic attacks. These are common I am led to believe but that doesn’t help me when I am in the grips of an attack outside with nowhere to run and no easy way of fleeing back to the sanctuary of my own home.
Shops make my panic attacks worse. Too many stores forget to consider wheelchair users. If I end up getting stuck in a doorway or needing help because I have discovered a few steps inside the store that immediately causes me to have a bit of a panic. When I have to ask for help or I am treated like some sort of fool simply because of my chair it makes my heart beat faster and I begin to feel like I can’t breathe or worse, like I am going to pass out right there and then.
Come on UK – Make Your Shops More User Friendly!
Shops can help me to avoid these situations simply by ensuring that their premises are suited for people like me. Access statements are easy to get with the help of consultants who know exactly what it means to the disabled population who simply want to have the freedom to move around the towns and cities just like everyone else can.
The Equality Act is helping, but more businesses need to consider how urgently they need to start making improvements. Once I have had a bad experience in a shop I won’t go back. What’s more I tell my friends not to go there too. Likewise, if I am able to go to a store and leave with what I went in for and no feeling of sheer panic I will return time and time again.
Aki Hashimoto is a freelance writer with an interest in the Equality Act in the world of business. Access statements are just one of the services businesses can benefit from in providing a better service to create greater equality for all.