Blue Badge Blues

I’d like to show you some tweets. I’ve provided a screenshot as they have now been deleted.

Tweets boasting about stealing disabled parking bays

The text of these tweets reads

“The dirty looks you get for parking in a disabled bay ūüėÄ :D”

“Like there’s not 1000 empty disabled bats and only 1 normal space the other end of the car park “

After a few people noticed these tweets and tweeted their objections (Six replies) she then tweeted

“The spam I just got in my feed about parking in a disabled bay is too jokes ūüėÄ ūüėÄ ūüėÄ :D”

“These people are protective over their bays loool”

The tweets were then deleted an hour later.

This isn’t a rare occurrence. An awful lot of people think that they should have the right to park in parking bays reserved for disabled people. People like¬†George Osborne, Nigel Farage¬†and¬†Worcester police. Often people think it’s OK to park in a disabled parking bay late at night as though disabled people aren’t allowed out at night, or they think it’s OK because they’re “only going to be a minute” or because “they’ll move if anyone needs it”. Some people just don’t care, and in fact feel so entitled to park where they like that they¬†issue death threats.

It’s not OK though. Those bays exist for very good reasons. They are for people who struggle to walk and need to park close to the shop because otherwise they may be in pain as a result of walking, or maybe they can’t get that far at all. They are for people with chronic illnesses who will be exhausted after that short walk. They are for people who use wheelchairs and need the marked space around the bay to open their doors enough to get the wheelchair out. They are for people whose joints don’t bend much and who can’t contort themselves to fit through a door that only opens as far as the next car in a standard space. And don’t think that someone in a wheelchair will have no problem with going further – plenty of people cannot self-propel in a wheelchair any further than they can walk because of pain or being prone to dislocations or fractures.

Disabled people need those reserved parking spaces to help them overcome the barriers between them and a normal, equal life. You may be able to walk from the other end of the car park, even if it’s a bit far, a bit tiring, and maybe your legs hurt because you’re not used to exercise. For people who qualify for a blue badge, walking from the other end of the car park is a distant dream. If the choice is between park at the other end or not go into the shop, they probably can’t go into the shop.

“I’ll only be a minute”

This is probably the most common excuse. It’s not an excuse though. Don’t do it. In that “minute” which will probably actually be five or ten minutes, a disabled person may have arrived, been unable to park, had no idea how long you would be and then turned around and gone home. They might not have been able to stop and wait because of traffic. They may well not have the energy or be in too much pain to return very quickly. ¬†Or maybe they parked in a standard space much further away, then hurt themselves by trying to walk that much further.

“I’ll move if someone needs it”

This seems like a reasonable excuse, especially if waiting in the car. Again, it’s not an excuse for a number of reasons. First of all, the person that needs the space might not see you waiting in the car to ask. If the driver is not with the car then the disabled person won’t know that they would move it, and they probably can’t park to go and find the driver to ask them. Sometimes they could send a bystander to ask them, but that has variable results.

There’s also the strong possibility of getting verbally or physically attacked just for asking someone to move. This happens, and it happens a lot. How is someone to know whether you will turn out to be nasty or nice?

“There’s loads of spaces”

This excuse tends to happen most at night and it’s possibly the least-bad. It is often true that there are lots of spaces at supermarkets. But take a look at how far those spaces are from the door. The distance from shop to space might be twenty metres for the closes one, but it could be a hundred metres or more for the farthest space. Unfortunately the people who use this excuse tend to park in the closest space to the shop and at my local Tesco it’s not uncommon for the first ten spaces to be filled with cars with no blue badge on display if I go there at 10pm. (Which I do a lot because my illness messes up my sleeping pattern.) The person using this excuse also has no idea how many people might need to park before they return. If lots turn up, they’ll be parking much further away.

Then there’s the unthinking shops that leave stuff in the disabled parking bays.

Or even put more permanent things in those bays.

This video explains why people need disabled parking bays.

Dear Badsey Spar, stop discriminating against wheelchairs

The front door at Spar in Badsey
The front door at Spar in Badsey

I use a power wheelchair and every time I visit Spar in Badsey I find that half of the double door is locked and I cannot fit through one side. I always have to send someone else in to find a member of staff with a key and usually have to wait several minutes outside while they locate the key – on some occasions they have not been able to find it at all. At other times I have not had anyone with me to send inside.

Today my wife went inside to find a member of staff but they were serving a long queue of customers and since I was not prepared to wait outside for five or ten minutes in temperatures of 5¬įC I went home without doing my shopping. This problem would be easily solved by having both doors unlocked ¬†at opening time and by not doing so Spar may be breaking the Disability¬†Discrimination¬†Act.

(I have sent a complaint to Spar via their website today.)

Evesham Observer on A2BForAll and Henshaw’s Coaches

Article in Evesham Observer 6/4/12

I was featured in an article in the Evesham Observer on the 6th of April,¬†¬†Disabled passenger wants action after bad experiences¬†[Evesham Observer], in relation to the A2BForAll campaign about difficulties that disabled people face in using public transport.¬†I was pleased at how the article highlighted some of the problems that I have experienced but I feel that there was too much focus on one particular incident on a local bus service run by Henshaw’s Executive Travel. In this case there was a problem with the ramp which prevented the bus from moving for about quarter of an hour after I boarded the bus.

In other areas I have often come across buses which lack ramps and wheelchair spaces. I have had far more problems with boarding and leaving trains, with pre-booked assistance not turning up on arrival at train stations such as Birmingham New Street, London Paddington and Manchester Picadilly. This makes boarding a train a gamble as to whether I will be able to get off again at the other end before the train leaves. I have particular problems at Evesham station because it is not manned after 12:30pm and so I must rely on train staff to be able to put the ramp in place – that is, if there are staff on the train to assist at all.

I am actually very pleased with the effort that Henshaw’s have made in making sure that the new routes which they run through Badsey use low-floor¬†buses¬†with ramps for wheelchairs. I am very happy with the service which I¬†receive¬†from Henshaws and their drivers are always polite, helpful and ensure that the experience is a good one. I feel that this incident was an unfortunate accident which will not happen again and I would certainly not want anyone to avoid travelling on this bus route because of one incident.

Legs, wheels and money

My old broken power wheelchair
My old broken powerchair

My electric wheelchair broke a couple of weeks ago after going up a too-steep ramp into a train, toppling backwards and then falling forwards fairly hard. That was quite inconvenient, especially when I discovered that the motors and brakes have burnt out and it will cost about a thousand pounds to fix. Since then I have had to fall back on a manual wheelchair, pushed by my wife. I can move my own wheelchair, just about, but it is still painful and exhausting for me. Fortunately I have just got a new car, so I can drive to most places and then use the wheelchair on arrival.¬†Unfortunately, the manual wheelchair that I was given by family doesn’t fold up enough to fit in the back of my car.

I will qualify for a wheelchair from the NHS, and so I have asked to be referred to the local Wheelchair Services for an assessment. I am slightly stuck though. Walking and standing around result in high levels of pain and fatigue for me, as well as leaving me in danger of losing my balance and falling over. Despite this, I can walk around at home most of the time with only an occasional fall. NHS rules say that I can have a manual wheelchair for use outside, but because I can walk around at home I will not qualify for a powerchair even though I can’t propel myself most of the time. In fact, I probably won’t even get a self-propelled wheelchair since moving it myself can cause some pain and fatigue too, so I will end up with an attendant wheelchair, requiring someone to push me with no option to move myself at all. (See page 16 and 17 of this document for the full rules.)

Because a¬†referral¬†to the wheelchair service will quite likely take a few months, (I won’t be a high priority) and because I will probably get an attendant wheelchair rather than a self-propelled one, I bought a new wheelchair yesterday – a shiny new¬†Karma Wren 2 self propel.¬†The chair cost me ¬£279¬†from a local shop called Indy Mobility. I could have found it slightly cheaper online but the staff at Indy Mobility¬†were very helpful and put up with me for a couple of hours while I looked at all the options. They also didn’t charge me for the work done so far on my broken powerchair.

Karma Wren 2 wheelchair
My shiny new wheelchair

I was surprised how much easier the new chair is to self-propel than both my old one (and it is old!) and my dad’s one which I borrowed when my power chair broke down. That is partly because the new chair is made from lightweight aluminium but I think also due to it not being worn out. It is light enough that I can lift it into my car myself as long as I am not too tired at the time. It fits nicely in the boot of my car, as you can see in the picture below.

My new wheelchair in the back of my car
My new wheelchair in the back of my car

Wheelchairs are one of those extra expenses that disabled people can have which Disability Living Allowance is supposed to help pay for. While chairs are available from the NHS, it is quite common for them to be inadequate or to take a long time to get, even apart from cases like mine where I won’t qualify for a power chair which would help me the most. The Motability scheme which leases cars to disabled people in return for the mobility allowance from their DLA can also lease high-end powerchairs to them but I can’t do that because I already spend my DLA on a Motability car so I have had to buy my wheelchair with a credit card at very high interest. I think there are quite a few people stuck in this situation including Kaliya (@BendyGirl) who is currently trying to raise funds for a powerchair of her own.¬†She really needs one to get around outside – just see her “deathwalk” video if you need convincing. Kaliya could use a powerchair inside as well, except that her flat does not have enough room for one.¬†You can donate to Kaliya’s powerchair fund by sending money with Paypal to¬† or visit her blog post about it.

Karma Traveller 2 powerchair
Karma Traveller 2 powerchair

I have a possibility of getting part of the cost of an powerchair paid for by a local charity Рthe same one which gave me a small grant when I went to university and gave us food money last year when our benefits were screwed up. They require me to have attempted to get one from the NHS first, and so I must wait until I have been assessed before I can do that. I am hoping to take a voucher towards the cost of a wheelchair rather than a wheelchair itself from the NHS so that I can then put that voucher together with a charity grant if I can get one and buy a powerchair. I plan on getting one that is small and light and can come apart to go in my car Рmy old one weighed 90kg and even healthy people struggled to lift it. Indy Mobility suggested a Karma Traveller 2 which I think costs about £1,700, although I will have to find out what else is available. For now I will just have to rely on my wife to push me.


Travelling in a wheelchair – or failing to

I went to Manchester this weekend to attend a conference, and getting there involved travelling by bus and train from my home. Karen was travelling with me but I decided to do the trip in my power wheelchair rather than my manual chair so that I could get around the conference by myself without getting too exhausted.

I booked assistance several weeks ago to provide ramps and get me on an off the trains, but to my surprise I received a phone call from the First travel assistance booking line on Friday morning which informed me that for some unknown reason I could not use the wheelchair space in standard class which I had booked and I would be put in first class instead. That was strange but I wasn’t going to complain.

I got in my fully-charged wheelchair just before eleven and set off to go the short distance to the bus stop. The bus turned up and the driver hopped out and lowered the ramp for me so that I could get on. Once I was on the bus, though, there was a problem. The doors wouldn’t close and the bus barely moved away at a crawl from the bus stop, and then stopped in the middle of a road junction. The driver tried several times to move the bus but it just wouldn’t go into gear. He tried several times to open and close the doors and then phoned the bus depot for advice. He realised that it might be something to do with the ramp and tried moving that a few times to no avail until I pointed out that the space under the ramp was full of mud and little pebbles and that it probably needed cleaning. He got his broom out and spent a few minutes clearing the muck out and the bus started working. Fortunately the 15 minute delay wasn’t a problem for us but several other people on the bus were late. Bus companies: remember to clean under the wheelchair ramp!

A surface drain in front of a dropped kerb
A cleverly placed wheel trap

We walked and rolled the half a mile or so from the bus station to the train station (Dodging the wheel trap on the way – see image on the left.) and reported to the ticket office about twenty minutes before the train was due (We are always told half an hour) and got waved through to wait on the platform. I had been told to go in coach G at the back of the train instead of coach C but when the train arrived coach G was off the end of the platform because Evesham station has short platforms. We were told by a member of staff in coach F that someone would be along to sort it out in a minute. At that point we saw someone in a wheelchair getting out of coach C – the one that I had originally booked. I was quite confused, since it made no sense. She must have got on the train after I received my phone call in the morning, and she couldn’t have booked the space since I already had. Even if she had booked it, I could have had it between Evesham and Worcester.

Still, eventually the train manager brought the ramp up to the rear of the train, but then he realised that he had to go back to the front of the train to unlock the doors of coach F. After another wait he opened the door and let us on to coach F, but then to my horror he told me that I had to go through the whole length of coach G to get to the wheelchair space. It turns out that my power wheelchair is exactly the same width as the aisle between the seats on those trains. I made it through but got stuck several times on the way.

We got into place and the train had moved off when we heard an announcement: the train we were on would no longer go to Worcester Foregate Street where our connection to Birmingham would go from, but would instead stop at Worcester Shrub Hill, three-quarters of a mile away. That caused immediate panic for us, and one of the train staff went off to find out what was going on. About five minutes after that we heard another announcement, this time saying that we would be going to Foregate Street after all.

Another of the train staff came back with first-class perks of free coffee and pastries which sort of made up for some of that chaos. Unfortunately I was still eating and drinking when we arrived at Shrub Hill and waited there for a long time. Suddenly there was someone putting a ramp in place at our carriage and I realised that we were about to leave the train. It turns out that the platform at Foregate Street is also a short platform and I would be unable to leave the coach that I was in, and so I was being being moved to the front of the train. Doh.

At coach C the ramp turned out to be a lot steeper than before, probably because the platform was lower. My powerchair is only capable of safely climbing an 8 degree slope and so it toppled back as I was going up the ramp. Fortunately my chair has small wheels sticking out of the back designed to prevent it from falling over completely but my front wheels were still high off the ground. Suddenly falling back like that makes me flail around painfully and in my flailing I shoved the joystick forward and ended up racing up the ramp, wheels of the ground, arms and legs out, before falling back down with a thump. Needless to say, I wasn’t really very happy at that point. Nevertheless I moved into place for the next bit of the journey.

That’s when things got even worse. We arrived at the station and someone put a ramp into place but when I pressed the power button on my chair it just sat there with all the lights flashing. No movement. I tried desperately to check the connections, and make sure that the motors were engaged but it wasn’t having any of it. It just wouldn’t power on. Something must have been damaged on that last ramp, or by squeezing through the train.¬†A crowd of passengers surrounded me at the point which did not help in the slightest so I disengaged the wheels and persuaded the guy with the ramp to drag my and my chair off the train. That is no easy feat since my powerchair weighs more than me and does not have handles – it isn’t meant to be moved by hand.

Abandoned on the platform with bags and a broken chair, we were panicking. I got out of the chair and started to try to look underneath it which quickly started to exhaust me. Karen tried to lift it up but it was far too heavy. We realised that our train was about to leave from the other platform but getting there would be nearly impossible. Karen went off to talk to station staff and I stayed with the chair. At that point a couple of other passengers came over and offered to help so I let them turn the chair on its side so we could see the motors and wiring but we couldn’t find anything wrong. One of the staff there offered to let me leave the chair in a store room there but we had already missed our train. Instead I got back in the chair and Karen managed to push it outside of the station so that we could find out about getting it repaired. It looked like getting the chair to anyone who could repair it without a car would be impossible though, so Karen phoned my dad and asked him to drive out to us with a manual wheelchair and to take mine to be repaired. We had only got about twenty minutes drive from home so that didn’t take too long. Unfortunately, despite me having a wheelchair to continue the journey with, while we had been waiting all the trains out of that station for our route had been cancelled and we had another hour to wait.

Sign: Wheelchair SpaceAfter an hour at the pub next door we came back and arranged a ramp to get on the train, then went up to the platform. Then the train we were getting was delayed, repeatedly. It eventually turned up twenty minutes later than expected and crowds of passengers rushed on to it. I began to panic again because there was no ramp in sight but eventually someone turned up and let me on to the train. We tried to get to the wheelchair space but someone was sitting in it, staring at us. I commented to Karen at least twice and quite loudly that I had to go in the official wheelchair space, and the guy carried on sitting there staring at us. Eventually I directly told him to move and he got up and wandered off, seemingly in a world of his own.

Sign: Wheelchair Space: Priority by lawFor a while it looked like we would catch a reasonable connection from Birmingham to Manchester but as the journey continued our train got more and more delayed, arriving at Birmingham about ten minutes after our connection. We made our way to the right platform and someone turned up to help us but it was 5pm and the platform was crammed full. When the train arrived it was even worse; it was already standing room only and when we passed the window next to the wheelchair space we could see that it was completely filled with luggage. The lady with the ramp managed to get the space cleared and came back to let us on, but then the corridor had filled up with people too. We shouted at people until they let us through and got to the wheelchair space only to find it full of luggage again. We shoved luggage out of the way and I managed to squeeze into the space, but the wrong way around and with my feet in the way of the door.¬†By this time my blood sugar was low because in all the chaos I hadn’t eaten lunch. Karen went to fetch me a sandwich from the other end of the train. It took her ages because the train was crammed full of passengers standing in the aisles, and she had to wait for other people to leave the train before she could get through. After an hour or so enough people left that Karen found a seat and I was able to throw more cases out of my space so that I could turn around and get my feet out of the way.

We did eventually get to Manchester, and only three hours later than we expected and only an hour late to meet our friends at the pub. It doesn’t end there though. On the Sunday night after the conference we wanted to catch a train from Manchester Picadilly to St Helens. Unfortunately at weekends there are no trains on that route, only a replacement bus service. That bus runs from Manchester Oxford Road but we couldn’t get the train from Picadilly to Oxford Road because Oxford Road is completely impossible to get out of in a wheelchair. It turns out that Oxford Road wasn’t too long a walk though, so Karen pushed me there, carrying our luggage too. We were able to fold up my wheelchair and put it in the boot while we were on the coach but if I had been in my power wheelchair then they would have had to get me a taxi instead.

Then finally in St Helens on Tuesday we wanted to catch a bus to meet someone. The bus turned out to be an old one which not only didn’t have a ramp, it also had a bar dividing the front entrance in half which meant that the wheelchair would only fit on by being folded up first. I would have been completely stuck if I had been on my own or in my power wheelchair.

Folded wheelchair on a bus
The only way it would fit on

Before I finish, here’s an extract from a previous blog post, the end of¬†Invisible Invincible: my day of protest:

When we went to find our pre-booked assistance for boarding half an hour before the train was due to leave the manager told us that Evesham station was unmanned after lunchtime, which we already knew, but he also didn’t think there would be any staff on the train who could place the wheelchair ramp for me instead of station staff. This caused me to panic a bit but the station manager called another manager who called the train driver who thought there might be staff on board after all. I went to board the train, which is where we discovered that the train did not have a wheelchair space at all. I eventually ended up blocking the door area with my wheelchair for the whole journey. I am quite surprised that the assistance booking line were not aware of the situation with the station staff, the train staff or the type of train.

Unfortunately when we arrived the ticket inspector could not unlock the ramp at the station. She had been given the code for the lock but it did not work. My family had come to meet me at the station to drive us home and so I was carried off the train into a manual wheelchair by my brother, mother and wife, apparently dropped near the edge of the platform on the way. (I wasn’t really conscious, being too exhausted.) They also carried my extremely heavy powerchair off the train. Between them my brother and my wife got me into the car and then from the car to my bed, although I was almost completely unable to move.

I know all of that was a long tedious read but I felt it important to write down. These events are not uncommon, they happen to lots of people all the time. Accessibility should be simple and straightforward but we still have a very long way to go.