In which Sue Groves looks at the day to day difficulties faced by disabled residents of Medway..
Have you ever had one of those days where you plan everything with military precision, only for obstacles and barriers to get in the way at every turn? Welcome to my world – and that of many of Medway’s disabled residents.
Simple things like spending a day at a park, only to find the anti-bike gates prevent you from going in and you are left gazing longingly at the lovely area on the other side that others so often take for granted. Or visiting a local museum to find that you are restricted to the ground floor as there is no lift.
I like shopping, I work full time and want to be able to spend my money like everyone else on things that are important to me – I love the retro shops, but all too often I am limited by access issues like large steps, or shops so full of stock and obstacles that I can’t get in. I don’t even try to go out shopping in December.
I have a keen interest in politics and local government – yet I have stopped attending Council meetings as there are simply too many accessibility issues for me to overcome. The hearing loop is antiquated and often has a very poor signal, the screen is too far away from the public gallery for me to read, public transport to and from the venue means that without my husband, I would have to rely on taxis, and there are very few accessible taxis that operate outside of school hours, to name just a few. I am left unable to follow the meeting, and so gave up going.
Council policies are often put in place that don’t really consider accessibility from the outset. Examples include the move of the Shopmobility facility from next to the blue badge parking for the pentagon shopping centre to the other side of the facility far away from any blue badge parking facility. With very little notice to those people who rely on the service, and when I challenged the decision I was told it had been moved to be nearer the infamous “Dynamic Bus Facility” (where the only thing dynamic about it is the wind and the rain as it flows through it). But the walk from the bus facility is much more than the 20 metres set by government as the criteria for PIP and adopted by local councils for a blue badge! The launch date for this move, you ask? The day our local MP Tracey Crouch hosted a “Disability Confident” jobs fair in the very same shopping centre – you couldn’t make this stuff up! The best one for me, by far, was putting a raised kerb to allow better access to a bus stop – on an island with no way to get onto the kerb to use it!
Public events are also a nightmare, all too often I find the dropped kerb crossings are blocked by barriers when there is a big event in Rochester. A nightmare for those with mobility problems, meaning a long trek to find an alternative, or those with visual impairments who rely on the tactile paving to tell them where they can cross, only to walk into said barrier.
A few years ago I was privileged to be nominated for a Pride in Medway award. I attended the event for nominees at Rochester Corn Exchange, who were duly called to the stage to receive their certificates in groups. Guess who had to receive hers off stage while the rest of her group went on stage? Muggins! No ramp! To add insult to injury the obligatory group photo took place on a landing between two floors of the Corn Exchange building, accessed only by a flight of stairs, once done the photographer asked for volunteers to be photographed with me! Ironically, the nomination was for the accessibility and disability campaigning I do.
All of these issues can be resolved with a little thought and consideration for disabled residents of Medway, but all too often we are overlooked and changes are only implemented when someone sticks their head above the parapet to challenge. The problem is that this can be stressful for so many disabled people and as a result we become hidden in plain view.
Come on Medway – you can do better and we deserve better from you!
Sue Groves is a disability access, inclusion, and awareness campaigner and advisor from Medway.