Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Back to Reality

I've just re-read my last post, and can't help feeling a wave of despair at my seemingly optimistic outlook. Arrgh.

The last hotel plumbed new depths of awful, ones I'm sure many crips will be already acquainted with. I suppose my witterings on last time " ...I'm a fairly able wheelchair user, I'm pretty sure if I can't manage... any room that puports to be physically accessible to a wheelchair user would be a nightmare for anyone with less ability to get around" prompted fate to reach up and smack me down, big time.

I was, as mentioned earlier, staying for 6 nights rather than my customary overnight stay. This being the case, I'd taken particular care on picking somewhere. I asked more questions, and in fact, had this place recommended by someone at the organisation I was visiting - which works with disabled people. This hotel is undergoing extensive redevelopment and had made it known to the organisation who recommended it, that such enlightened things as ajoining rooms for carers were being planned. At the time I felt this signaled a high level of awareness that made me feel more secure. I checked their access statement online, which clearly had a row of happy looking green ticks alongside the question "Are the following locations accessible by ramped access with a 1:12 gradient or less (which could be portable), or by lift, or without using stairs? Hotel entrance, Bar entrance, Leisure facilities entrance, Restaurant entrance, Lounge entrance.

Yeah, right.

It was that week when we had all the rain and high winds. The room was in one building on top of a hill. The reception, breakfast room, bar and dining room were in another building, at the bottom of the hill. Hurrah!
No indoor corridor. No 1-in-12 on the walkway between the two buidlings either. In fact, it was so steep they'd staggered the path into 3 sections to make the distance and the gradient manageable. For able-bodied people. So before I got my key, I negotiated room service, but it's not as much fun when you're there for a whole week without the prospect of leaving your room.

The room was fine - it had the best shower and bath arrangement I'd ever seen. Whilst I was being shown to my room, the lady mentioned the whole thing was being ripped out a week after I left and 'upgraded'. Haahaahahahaahahahahahaaaa. Ha. Hah.

On top of this, in no particular order, the following occurred.
Recovering from a dislocated shoulder, I trapped my arm in the heavy entrance doors to the accomodation block, brusing my arm. The car park was occupied by builders - guess which spaces they'd put up their little huts in? The pathway from the car park to the room had no dropped kerb. After the second day the builders blocked off the car park from the pathway. On the third morning I found they'd blocked access from the accomodation block to all routes except the steep walkway between the two buildings. The manager promised me it wouldn't happen again. It happened every morning until the morning I left.

And, it's a small point, and one I can personally get around, but why, oh why, when you stay in a wheelchair accessible room, do they put a bloody PEDAL bin in the bathroom? It's like a, a jaunty little hat on a serial killer! It's godamn EVIL!

So I won't be going back there.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Nag for Victory!

I'm currently nursing a poorly shoulder and searching for accommodation for my latest work trip.

I'll be away for a week this time. Usually it's one or two nights. Lots of variety at the moment, because hotels in the town I am working in have very varied notions of what disability access is. Luckily I can use crutches a bit for short distances and put weight through my good right knee joint, but quite frankly, if I couldn't, most hotels would be virtually unusable on my own.

On the first visit, I stayed in an establishment with 'quality' in it's name. Oh dear. On arriving in the car park, I sighted a ramp so steep it was clearly impossible. At the top of it, like evil icing on a rancid cake, was a door that opened outwards, waiting to knock any pioneering crip who reached the top of the ramp sideways off the steep incline as they attempted to enter.

I'm beginning to see how many hotels get around access obligations by making little adjustments here and there that are really designed to have an underlying message saying "Not You"! On the face of it, they meet DDA requirements. So, it's usually a war of nerves when I drive up, being ever so polite with an underlying message to the hotel that lousy 'adjustments' Will Not Do.

My coping strategy for these inevitable situations is to sit in the car park and phone them up. Then I say something along the lines of "I'm a lone disabled woman, very tired, who has just driven 150 miles to get to your establishment that you swore was fully accessible, only to find I'm stuck in your car park because (delete where applicable);

a) Your manager has parked his Jaguar in the only disabled parking space
b) You neglected to tell me the car park was a gravel filled crater 800 yards away from the entrance
c) The portable ramp you told me would be in place from midday today appears to have vanished
d) The ramp that is actually in place will kill me if I attempt to use it

So far nobody has expressed a desire to see my imminent demise, although I'm sure some have been silently intoning "Oh no..." under their breath as they saunter out into the car park with a look of innocent confusion as I point out a stunningly obvious detail that they'd never seen before. I guess smug is a bad look really.

On this particular occasion, the manageress of quality establishment that I was staying in decided to push me up the evil ramp, whereupon we came to a dead halt at it's partner-in-crime, the outwards opening door.

"Could you open that?" asked my pushee.

I tried. It was locked.

"Oh, it needs a key," she said, letting go of one handle of the chair to fish in her pocket. We slid down the ramp in a gentle sideways manner whereupon she halted my backwards descent by getting the toe of a rather nice pair of shoes under my back wheel. (I fought the urge to point out this was Really Not My Fault, and If Only...).

Armed with the key, we tried again. I was impressed as she pre-empted the opening of the door outwards by backing me down the ramp, and then shoving the chair up it again with such force I shot over the threshold and narrowly missed the wall directly in front of me.

Next obstacle was some deep red plush carpet. You can't really admonish hotels for having soft carpets, but to someone who self propels, you might as well be pushing through sand or grass. Another two thresholds, one narrow corridor lined with little tables and floor-strewn bed sheets later, and we were in the room. The hotel had an extension, and their accessible room was the furthest away from the main part of the hotel, where the bar, the breakfast room, reception, and the dining room were.

Ever get the feeling people don't want you around? Anyway...

Another frequently overlooked thing with many hotels is that the shower head in the so-called accessible bathroom is often mounted over the bath taps, on the wall at standing height. You have to get in the bath, stand up - which is difficult if you can't or there are no handrails in the right place - and unhook it. I usually shower sitting down, so something 5 foot above my head when I'm sitting in the bath is no good to me. If I have someone accompanying me to the room, I always ask them to wait whilst I check out the bathroom, so if this needs doing they can do it for me.

It is here I realise many staff simply haven't had good access training, and are scared of what a disabled person might ask them to do. A crip going into a bathroom saying "follow me in here a minute, would you?" puts the fear of god into them! Some are a wee bit too keen though, which scares me just as much. After I'd explained it was only because I needed help unhooking the showerhead, one young man asked me three times if I was sure I didn't need help going to the toilet or getting in the bath. I hastily looked around for the closest weapon to hand, it being a rather scruffy toilet brush, and happily he thought better of it.

What follows is usually a question "Is everything all right for you?"

I used to say yes, then wait for them to leave before scooting round the room tutting at anything unsuitable, like heavy chairs in the way, or the hairdryer out of my reach. Now I ask them to wait whilst I check. I don't enjoy complaining, as you might think, but I do want to be comfortable - and I just can't help being bemused at the kind of set ups I frequently encounter. This is because I'm a fairly able wheelchair user. I'm pretty sure if I can't manage on this basis, any room that puports to be physically accessible to a wheelchair user would be a nightmare for anyone with less ability to get around.

If you see something that isn't right, for you, or the crip that comes after, I strongly believe you should say something to the hotel. Moaning about it after you leave is a bit weasel-minded, if you ask me. How are people going to know if they're not told? There's no need to be rude - especially if there is something they can do for you to make it easier. Staying away is now a fact of life - I don't want to be throwing fits every time I go somewhere, especially not as I'm fast beginning to realise nowhere is perfect. I like traveling. It puts me in a cheerful mood. Of course, I miss Mr Fang greatly, but I also enjoy being independent, often getting great pleasure from being able to solve these obstacles in an affable manner. Mediation is the key, and if they're going to see your business again, a few gentle words of encouragement.

This is where money can play a part, for better or for worse. Discounts for disabled people can be a contentious issue. I'm happy to pay in full - if I'm getting the same service as everybody else - and not take a concession. If the service is limited because of poor access, especially if I've been told this is not the case, I'll ask for a further discount of some kind. Negotiating stuff like this shouldn't be awkward and it can be be a way of offloading any justified frustration. If you get someone with a bit of brain they might even learn something. (That reminds me - must go on holiday somewhere I can use my new haggling skills...).

My usual compromise if it's a long way to the restaurant and the room turns out to be difficult to use, is to ask for room service without the supplement they charge for delivering it to your room. In addition, many room service menus don't offer the same meals you get in the restaurant. If you can't can't go there, then ask to be able to choose from the restaurant menu as well. Most of the time, if the discussion is friendly, hotels seem happy to accommodate this. The situation will be in your favor if they've just seen you struggle to do something they do without thinking.

This 'quality' place with awful access turned out to have a lovely manageress, who made sure I could order anything I liked on room service, waived the charge for my (modest, promise) bar bill, and promised to change the ramp to a 1 in 12 gradient. Whether she will or not, I don't know, but next week I will visit to see if she has. When someone appears to be genuinely concerned about the difficulties we face, I'm always curious to know if they've forgotten about it the next morning.

If not, I'll follow it up with a gentle phone call reminding her the service far outshone their access, and I'd be happy to give them my money again (not to mention receive free glasses of wine with room service) if only they'd make me feel a bit more welcome by removing the underlying "Not You!" message from their access provision.

Friday, May 05, 2006

A little comment confession

I've been tinkering with the comments option and now the comments are viewable.

It was only my incompetence, or more fair to say, lack of interaction with blogger lately that meant I hadn't noticed some changes have been made to comment moderation. Now things should work again.

One thing that didn't help, is that whilst I had given no e-mail address for blogger to send pre-moderated comments to, I couldn't view them online either (by clicking the down arrow on the comments moderation page). I don't think Blogger likes my Safari browser, and it will take me a while longer to update stuff on my Mac (due to recent life upheavals and consequently being behind with everything). And money, of course. Working on that one. More hotel stories coming soon...

I'm really posting to say thank you for all the kind comments I've received - now read and much appreciated. And to apologise if you've posted a comment and I haven't replied - I may not have the time to go back through them, so in short, thank you all for your condolences, and yes, I had a good easter but ate far too much chocolate, Becca, in the end, we found somewhere with good toilet pics and prompty booked it, but if you know any nice gafs in Cornwall or the Scottish Highlands for future refs let me know, and Mone, thanks for those toilet pictures... at least someone knows the importance of having a good -

I should probably just stop here.

Monday, May 01, 2006

BADD and Proud

So, here we are, on blogging against Disablism day.

I"ve been thinking about my own personal take on all this, knowing that every disabled individual taking part will have stories to tell. I suppose as good a start as any is to tell you one of mine.

I remember interviewing someone to help me with an arts workshop I ran regularly, as my volunteer. A colleague mentioned one lady"s name to me, so I duly gave her an interview on the understanding she was a pleasant person who was happy to give some free time as her children were settled in middle school. At the time I was around 29 years old, working in community arts, dreaming of being an artist, but not having found my 'direction' and was, quite frankly, hanging around waiting for inspiration, or divine intervention to strike me.

The interview went smoothly enough, and this lady was indeed a pleasant individual. During the interview we began to talk about family. She asked me if I had any children, to which I replied no, I wanted to develop my career. Surely at some point I wanted to be a mother, she said. Well, no, not really, I replied, I didn't feel any maternal urges and would, in fact, be happy if parenthood passed me by completely so I could concentrate on my career. (Fair enough in these times, don't you think? If you're a disabled woman, think again. As women, we may be edging further along the equality ladder, but as disabled women, maybe not so fast).

To my complete and utter surprise, the conversation took a sudden sinister turn. Suddenly this pleasant and generous individual, whom I considered my equal, and meant me no harm, began to theorise about my lack of maternal urges. It was only natural, she said, that I had no desire to be a mother. Indeed, it was obvious, seeing as my condition was a genetic one, that within me there was some kind of natural failsafe, courtesy of Mother Nature, that prevented me having the urge to procreate, so I would not, and I quote "pollute the gene pool with your faulty genes."

Phew. Let's just rewind a bit, shall we?

Firstly, I am alive. No matter what disadvantage, if any, my genes give me, my family have survived to deliver me and my brother into the present time. (I'm banking on my brother's natural Casanova instincts to carry on the legacy into the future, by the way).

Secondly, should I wish to have a child, I have every right to do so, and as a member of a supposedly democratic society, no-one else has the right to make a judgment on my suitability to reproduce.

Thirdly, pollute the gene pool? What about celebrating diversity? Celebrating difference? If anyone is in any doubt, I'm happy with who I am, and if that means I move differently, work different hours, go shopping differently, have sex differently, or drive a different car, then I can - and I will.

I can't speak for other people, but I think the world would be a deadly boring place if we all looked the same, had the same colour skin, had the same religious beliefs, desired the same kind of individual, had the same gender preferences, gave deference to one sex of human being over the other, in fact ANYTHING that made us so singular that all identity was selectively bred out, cancelled out by genocide, operated on until no individual features remained, or all behaviour suppressed until we all conformed to being some one acceptable thing.

You can read about all the different experiences people have because today is Blogging Against Disablism Day. This came about because one disabled writer had the idea to unite disabled people throughout the blogosphere to write about their lives. It's a brilliant idea, something that should make people sit up and take notice. Maybe change a few opinions. She has her own motivation for doing it, as have we all. Where will it get us in the future? Who knows'?

In short, thanks to the pleasant lady who enlightened me to the fact that I had no urge to reproduce so I would not pollute the gene pool (and many more like her), I found my artistic direction and became part of the Disability Arts world. I wanted to make art to tell people what it is like to be the world I am in. I wanted to let this lady and other like her know that being disabled isn't just about whatever your impairment is, but how society behaves toward you. And show that there's another way, maybe a more equal way, to think about things. And have a laugh, of course. Look at things a different way. Bend a few minds. Get my hands dirty...

You may have seen some Disability Art. You may not. It isn't in many art history books - it hasn't been present - or documented in the same way art by other artists has. No disabled artists have won the Turner prize - yet. You might have seen a naked disabled woman on a plinth in Trafalgar Square recently who is an artist, but she didn't make the piece, it was made by an able-bodied man. Still, progress, of sorts. Apparently Brian Sewell wasn't best pleased...

But maybe one day, eh? Keep watching.

Want to know more about Disability Arts? Follow the link below.
What Is Disability Arts?