I’m no expert in disability issues, but I thought I had some notion. I sometimes use a stick, but haven’t used a wheelchair. I was used to managing my mum’s wheelchair for her last few years, but her other issues were so severe that we didn’t actually go to unfamiliar places
I do, however, talk a lot about aspects of rare disease, my own health, the value of listening to patients. Today was one of those days. I didn’t have too much to say, because we’d brought others along. G & J were brilliant, Dr C was content and A was glad he’d some along to observe. We were all delighted A was along, and not only because he solved a tech crisis of the sort created entirely by non tech folk.
The lecture theatre has a lift for disability access- at the end A, J and I headed towards it. ‘Press and hold’ said the button. A, a wheelchair user, did. And again. Nothing. Dr C arrived and set off to check the door at the upper end of the lift. It was closed properly so she went to find help. Maybe at Reception? Maybe a porter or a maintenace person?
In the meantime we were still downstairs. The next lecture was in full swing, all about bacteria, diarrhoea and gonorrhoea. I updated J & A on Dr C’s frantic efforts on our behalf. We whispered about our pets, tried not to think that we couldn’t access a bathroom, and got a little giggly. I wondered of A how often he’d be stuck like this, because of poor accessibility. ‘A lot’.
Eventually a man appeared through a door we’d been unable to open. He’d lead us out through the fire escape. It was more like The Poisedon Adventure; a trek into the unknown, shifting random furniture and debris, all in an attempt to move upwards. There were steps to be negotiated. Remember that A uses a wheelchair.
We made it back up to the ground floor in time to encounter the lift maintenance guy. While J, Dr C and I were horrified, he seemed to think it was all abit of a jolly jape- ‘That lift works fine. Have you got a key?’ A key? A key? Nobody mentioned a key. Dr C works in the building, regularly has guest speakers, and she knew nothing of a key. There was no sign on the door of the lift saying that a key was required. The key lives at Reception. But there was nobody at Reception any time J or Dr C had been there today.
A has a small adult wheelchair, which could be lifted. Had Michaela been able to be with us, we’d not have been able to use the ‘fire escape’. Her chair is much wider and would have had difficulties negotiating the rubbish, even if the route had no steps.
It was a mind boggling hour in a fairly new part of a prestigious university– where were equality, accessibility, safety or dignity?
The bit that I can’t get past isn’t the circuituous route through discarded bookcases and bits of machinery. It’s the fact that when the maintenance chaps arrived, they spoke to the member of staff rather than the most inconvenienced person. They looked over A, sitting in front of them. They spoke to him only to offer to get him a key if he used the building much. He doesn’t.
A completely avoidable situation, potentially dangerous and somewhat damaging. Well done, exceptional university.