Faith Restored

On Monday afternoon, my struggle against inadequate disabled facilities continued. Keeping the recent experiences outlined in “A Long Way To Go” firmly in mind, I considered things to have hit an all-time low when I was guided to a cubicle in a local car park by a friend in my time of need. I had my RADAR key with me, so opening the door was not a problem, and although it was a touch on the heavy side, my upper body strength meant I could move it independently. When the doorway was clear, the daylight revealed a room that should have been just the right size to accommodate my wheelchair – doubts remained, however, so I only tentatively moved in. Unable to hold the door behind me any longer, I relaxed my arm, and it slammed shut with a hefty thud. It was then that I faced my biggest challenge yet, and not in negotiating the toilet. I was suddenly finding myself stuck in pitch darkness, and unable to find a light switch!

There was absolutely nothing for my eyes to adjust to, so aside from the fact that the door was behind me, and the toilet somewhere in front, I had no idea where anything else was. I had no choice but to unzip the bag strapped to the left side of my chair and fumble for my phone. I pulled it out and the screen came to life, only to illuminate the positively disgusting lavatory visitors were expected to use. It was almost full to the brim with long sheets of discoloured and soggy toilet paper, as well as the leavings of the last poor soul who struggled in there. The walls and floor weren’t much cleaner, and the sink and taps – ironically for items that exist to wash your hands – were most likely dirtier than the fingers of anyone who has just done their business. I will admit that I can’t recall what the handrails were like, or even if there were any proper ones at all, but in any case, this was a toilet I simply could not use without a light and some degree of sterilisation.

I was desperate and without relief once again. I was also naturally angry, since I was having to take yet another detour just to perform a common bodily function, but thankfully the next disabled cubicle was only a short distance away. Out came the RADAR key again, and with the help of a kind stranger – who waited and held my umbrella outside whilst I did my thing – I was in. This new toilet was not spotless either, but it did at least contain a window, so natural light was in abundance. Space was plentiful too, and upon approaching the bowl I was grateful that it was positively poo-free. Lovely. Well, it wasn’t perfect, but it would have to do. Within a couple of minutes I was done, having been able to wash my hands without touching anything thanks to an automated system. I emerged onto the pavement again, and the stranger handed me my umbrella with a smile. The kindness of ordinary folk can manifest itself in the most insignificant ways, and that was one such way – but, with my toilet ordeal now over, the stage was set for another to appear.

The time came to go home, and that meant getting on the bus. This particular bus had evidently seen better days, however, and any modern designer with a shred of common sense would surely have made the wheelchair space much bigger – not that I could access it anyway. The issue on this occasion lay not with another wheelchair or a pushchair, but with a sea of suitcases belonging to several holidaymakers. Bear in mind that the disabled space must always be given first and foremost to someone who really needs it. In this case, I was that person, but before I’d even edged onto the ramp to board the bus, the owners of the cases were complaining about having to move them. Luckily for me, the driver stood firm, insisting that I had to be allowed on and they would have to do what they could to fit me in. What followed was a series of inch-by-inch shuffles and slides as I did my best to squeeze, but even when it seemed impossible, we managed it – almost certainly defying physics in the process. This was in no small part due to the determination of the driver, who showed a great deal of patience as I lurched into my slot. Indeed, she held the bus at the stop until I was safely seated, and when I needed to get off again ten minutes later, she made a very nerve-wracking departure a whole lot easier. People like her are those I probably don’t give enough credit to when I’m moaning about others, but now is her moment and I wanted to express my thanks for her consideration here – not forgetting the umbrella-holding man either. Your contributions to my day may have been relatively small, but they have not gone unnoticed. My friends and family are there for me on a daily basis, and they should always know how valued they are, but in your own little ways, even you help restore my faith in humanity.

Mason

A Long Way To Go

Whenever nature calls, wherever we are, we must answer it. This is obviously the case regardless of whether you are able-bodied or disabled, but as some of you will know from “The Sixpence Test” – which I wrote last year – I have had a number of wildly different experiences where toilets are concerned. When said experiences are not so good, I am sadly reminded that society still has so much more to do before it can be truly accessible to the disabled, and I was unfortunately faced with yet another one just last night. It came in a local restaurant, which I was eating at for the first time. I found it easy to get into, thanks to a ramp the staff folded out for me, and the meal was to die for. The establishment would, however, lose crucial marks when it came to me needing to spend a penny later in the evening.

Having been told by a fellow diner that the toilets were just around the corner from where we were sitting, I excused myself and left to look for them, confident that I would be able to cruise into the disabled cubicle with ease. Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that there was no disabled toilet at all – and that neither of the others could accommodate my wheelchair. I initially wondered if there might be another one located elsewhere in the restaurant, but they promptly indicated that this was not the case. Hearing this both angered and frustrated me. I had assumed that it was a legal requirement for public places such as restaurants to provide such facilities for disabled customers, but it would seem that either I was wrong, or there is a loophole allowing proprietors to avoid including them. Either way, people like me were clearly going to be in for a nasty surprise if they wanted to do their business in this particular eatery.

The lack of a toilet did, of course, make the situation at hand more desperate for me. By the time we had established that there was definitely nowhere I could use in the restaurant, I really did need to go, and the only alternative was to do so in the pub across the road. Just getting to that involved a short detour, since there was no dropped kerb in front of the restaurant, and that meant another unwelcome prolonging of my discomfort. Having crossed safely, though, we got in, and I weaved through the throng of drinkers to reach the toilet door. I grabbed the handle and frantically tried to open it, but to no avail. It was locked, and we had to ask for the key at the bar. This seemed unnecessary to me, and in the circumstances it only annoyed me, but I still understood that it was most likely done to prevent misuse of the toilet by people who really did not need to be in there. In any case, whatever annoyance that made me feel was nothing compared to what I felt when I finally got in. Up to now, we had been inconvenienced to such an extent that I could only just hold it in when I was able to relieve myself, and the configuration of this toilet also did little to help me. I found it at the end of a small corridor, and whilst I had all the space necessary to manoeuvre my chair as I needed to, moving my actual body once out of it was less easy. The toilet was positioned between two walls, as you would expect – but they, and the rails bolted to them, were rather far away from it. That meant they were completely useless, since I was unable to lean on them, and was left with no choice but to perch awkwardly on the toilet seat when adjusting my trousers.

I was astounded that it had taken so long to do what other able-bodied patrons could do in no time at all, and upon emerging I was certain of two things – that I would relate my latest tricky experience to you here, and that as long as there is negligence and a relative lack of education regarding disability, daily life will continue to present many unnecessary challenges to the disabled. I am now wondering how such education might be made more prominent in society. Maybe I will use Third Time Enabled to let you know again, if I have any ideas. In the meantime, we still have a long way to go – in my case, literally!

Mason