This is a summary of my experience which might be presented to whatever council meeting covers this. I make no claims that this in any way reflects what life is really like for wheelchair users.
On the previous day Pete had e mailed to say that no conveyance was available. So until I received a call from Richard at 10 am on the morning I thought I was going to miss out. For that reason I hadn’t prepared for my problems in the waterworks department caused by an enlarged prostate. I had contemplated buckets, funnels and tubes but hadn’t developed a plan. Anyway I arrived in town, met Richard and was directed to the Mobility Centre in Crockwell Street where I acquired a mobility scooter.
Regular viewers of local TV news might have observed me making a total mess of entering and leaving Shire Hall by the back door. Without advice from the BBC cameraman I would never have got either in nor out. I think Pete found this hugely entertaining. In fact if you caught him unawares he seemed to be chuckling all day at our expense. So if nothing else Richard and I gave Pete a good laugh. For one day only he had a big advantage – a lifetime of experience.
Despite the Shire Hall difficulties I found the scooter generally easy to ‘drive’. I expected the narrow uneven streets to be very difficult indeed. That wasn’t the case at all. At least in Fore Street, Honey Street, Crockwell Street, Mount Folly and beside Shire House it is relatively easy for a complete and utter novice with minimal advice or training to get around.
To survive in a wheelchair you have to be constantly assertive if you are going to get by all sorts of very minor obstructions like people looking in shop windows. To get over more serious problems I can only imagine that you have to be absolutely bloody minded. Even at the assertive level this is quite draining.
Shops and businesses come in three categories.
The chain stores like Boots and Iceland are pretty good. Aisles that are clear and wide make getting round these stores if not easy then at least possible.
There are a lot of shops with steps which are completely inaccessible. Pete thought these shops ought to have a bell by the entrance so assistance can be requested. This sort of comes back to the point about being bloody minded.
Then there are the shops in the middle which are accessible in the sense that there is level access through the front door. But there is either no understanding or a lack of awareness of what could be done to make things better. The inside of shops may be cluttered. A perfectly good entrance may be blocked a rail of clothes. The counter may be way too high.
Bodmin Town Council is firmly in the middle category. I have mentioned the disabled access to the rear of Shire Hall. It’s more difficult than it already was because the back door opens outwards. That’s a permanent feature. The temporary scaffolding also made it a lot more difficult. Back to the waterworks. We tried to use the disabled toilet in Shire House. It was at this point that Richard gave up on his resolution to stay in the chair all day. The room was not large enough to get a scooter alongside the toilet to enable him to get from one to another. I don’t know what standards apply to disabled toilets. the one on the first floor of the library is much bigger as are those in small service stations which only have a disabled loo. In middle category premises I imagine it’s not just about particular issues that are indentified but an awareness that disability does matter and needs to regularly thought about. For example did anyone on the council think about how the scaffolding could affect the access?
Two memories of the day will stay with me. Both are about lunch. At Wetherspoons the gate to the steep ramp was locked. A sign asked you to ring for assistance. Assistance was a manager with a clipboard asking a set of questions. It’s easy to understand why they wanted to tick the health and safety boxes but there wasn’t much care for their disabled customers.
Next try was Honey Street. We were recommended to go round to the garden at the back. Up Honey Street, down Crockwell Street, into the Piazza and into the garden only to find that the tables were attached to benches. So ‘us disabled’ had to eat from our laps unless like Pete your conveyance comes equipped with a table. One of many examples where people are kind, well meaning and would like to help. The problem is that most able bodied people have no conception of what it’s really like.
The next day I thought about the Colin Brewer controversy. He was rightly condemned. Initially I think by families of disabled people. It’s easy to see why. With a lot of love and support somebody like Pete can achieve an awful lot and I am sure families take great pride in what can be done. Then a lot of others jumped on the bandwagon. I got to thinking that all this outrage was very well but did it achieve anything? So the question to council is whether after this little exercise will anything change? Not necessarily massively but at least something might be done to make somebody’s life a little easier. I hope so.
It would be nice but I doubt many of the Fore Street shops can afford to improve their access. though a buzzer/bell seems a not unreasonable request/minimum standard. I think the achievable things might be these. Even if we had to raise the precept beyond the recent 2%.
I am not absolutely sure but Bodmin may lack a proper disabled toilet. I thought there was one in Priory Park accessible by a key but when I asked Pete he wasn’t so sure. It’s not in Shire House. There is a better one in the library but it’s a secret, away from the centre, and on the first floor although there is a particularly dodgy lift.
Amongst our small camp following was Paul who is heavily involved in the shop mobility centre. This is a facility in St Austell where people can rent mobility scooters to go shopping. It seems to me that this might be something Bodmin ought to have especially with the imminent trials. Whilst Richard was being irresolute in the disabled WC, I spoke to some elderly ladies awaiting transport after the luncheon club. Few I expect have ready access to £5000 for a new scooter but hiring a scooter @ say £2 an hour might transform their shopping experience. Paul would be willing to come to council and explain how it works.
Should Bodmin Town Council be an exemplar of good practice rather than just good to middling. Awareness training perhaps??
Pete is a wonderful ambassador for disabled people. Likewise when he is ready I am convinced he would be a wonderful ambassador for the town as our mayor. 2015 might be an opportunity to really raise this profile in town. If Lance becomes mayor, he has great knowledge and understanding of sight problems. With Pete as his deputy this might be an unbeatable combination to tackle some of the problems affecting the 20% of our electorate who suffer from a disability. If nothing else it would provoke a little thought among those who arrange events to which our leaders are invited.