You know those grey February days when you think it should be spring but it just isn’t quite yet? When the deliciousness of summer beach picnics and lounging about in the park has faded just a bit too far round the memory corner and your feet have forgotten what it means to be flip-flop ready?
So, for me, that’s today in a nutshell. Sat under a blanket for the third day running in the inhospitable company of a vile and flu-like thing, I’m going more than a little four-wall-crazy. And when daytime TV becomes intolerable the internet is my friend between naps, nose blows and making irritating requests for water and ‘something spicy and scratchy’ to eat.
So I’m planning some family days out.
This year we promised ourselves we would do better at getting out and about to explore the beautiful part of the country we live in. Nestled in south east Cornwall, we have all of not just Cornwall but also Devon right here on our doorsteps but we have fallen into routines and habits that mean we often visit the same places. Partly because we like them but also because for us they are ‘safe’ options.
We know that the Eden Project has a Changing Places loo with a bench and a hoist so we can change Orange and that the whole place is a wheelchair accessible, sensory paradise where we can always get something delicious, allergy free and mashable for Orange to eat. It’s an easy, enjoyable and inspiring day out for all of us.
And the wine is good. So it’s always a win.
We know that we can get an all-terrain wheelchair onto any of the beaches in St Ives, and that the food options there are top notch but that the disabled parking only lasts three hours and the alternative, the train in and out from Lelant, isn’t wheelchair accessible.
We know we can easily get a wheelchair round the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth then go across the (flat) square and eat lobster at Rick Stein, or visit the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth and dine like kings at Rockfish afterwards but, while all of these venues have plenty of room to install one, there is no Changing Places loo at, or even near, any of them.
It’s a car boot job or filthy floor of the ‘disabled loo’ (is that mud or poo, water or wee I’m kneeling in today?) to change the boy, risking basic hygiene, spines and dignity as we go.
We know that any beach with a slipway is our friend for a sunny day out with a picnic, and some beautiful wheelchair friendly walks can be found on the moors to either side of us but the same changing challenges abound.
Sometimes, the sheer planning of a day out with Orange means we don’t do it at all. Because family life can be pretty exhausting as it is, and honestly it’s often too much of a bore to try to figure out if a new place we have never been before, a new walk, attraction or picnic spot might be accessible enough for us.
Strangely, access statements don’t seem to contain the information you need if you are going out and about with a disabled child who is 100% reliant on a wheelchair.
We’ve had some pretty dire experiences on days out where the accessibility has not just been an afterthought but where there has been no thought at all.
It was on a ‘challenging’ family day out to Cotehele, a local National Trust property, just before Christmas when I figured that since over half a million tourists visit the south west every summer and 2% of those are likely to be wheelchair users, that’s over 10,000 people a year who are being poorly catered for.
10,000 people a year. Most of whom are probably here on holiday with their families, because wheelchair users don’t travel alone any more frequently than ambulant folk do.
So that’s actually 30,000-40,000 people a year visiting Devon or Cornwall who need better disability provision, and clear information about that provision, so they can enjoy a family day out.
Even with the distinct advantage of living in the region and knowing where to look, planning a family day out and being confident we will have everything Orange needs is a military exercise.
Just last week, I was planning a walk on Dartmoor and had to visit six or seven different websites just to find an accessible walk, nearby accessible parking, whether there was a Changing Places loo (there wasn’t), and whether there was an accessible child-friendly pub/restaurant/cafe anywhere within wheelchair striking distance that would serve something Orange could eat and that we would all enjoy. That wasn’t booked three weeks in advance.
I’m ashamed to say, I gave up. We stayed at home.
We can’t keep doing that, though. Because venues and owners of public facilities simply won’t be persuaded to install accessible facilities if they don’t see the need. And they won’t see the need if we all stay at home.
I know the National Trust staff had never even thought about the negative impact of keeping their accessible entrance and exit at Cotehele under padlock and key (that you had to go into an inaccessible building and join a queue to request to be unlocked) before we pointed out to them how exclusionary that was.
I filmed it and everything, because I had total National Trust hives by then and really needed to leave…
But fresh in anger we made a promise to ourselves. That we would go out and about with Orange in his wheelchair in a much more intrepid way than we have. Because we need to get out and about for our health and wellbeing. It’s a fundamental need, as well as a nice thing to do.
I also made a promise that I would use this blog to start to build a useful resource for people who might be planning a holiday or a visit to Devon or Cornwall and who are finding it hard, like we do, to find places to go on wheels. With information that’s more user friendly than a tick box access statement. A little mini guide to getting out and about as a family with a wheelchair user in the south west.
It will start small but, since we’re never, ever moving house again (not just because we love it here but also because disabled adaptations will see to it that we can’t, but that’s another tale), I figured that over the years it might build into something really handy for people.
Having sunk to a new flu-based low of watching Parliament Live for two days now, this morning I stumbled across the #disabilityinquiry in which Changing Places loos were a hot topic.
It reminded me of our promise to get out and about with Orange, to go to new places and to start to build a place online where families can find genuinely useful accessibility info about our beautiful part of the country.
So I suppose this is the distinctly low key launch of what I am going to call #wheelygood. Or not. Watch this space for our first trip out, once this flu-vile thing-bug interloper buggers off.
Orange This Way will be taking part in Disabled Access Day, 10th-12th March 2017