Recently I broke a bone in my foot, which was a pretty dumb thing to do, but having fallen on the stairs it could of been worse. I am now in a cast half way up my lower leg and on crutches. Me and crutches have a history, having been on and off crutches since I was seven due to my hip problem. Having been out and about again on crutches has got me thinking about the little things you fail to notice or are not a problem when you are not disabled in any way.
Firstly there is the challenge of getting to were you want to go. I do not drive, so I often have to take public transport if I can not get a lift from my parents. I am lucky in that I live very near a good bus route and near a main line railway station. I think modern buses have got better at catering for disabled people. Over the years I have seen them introduce low floor easy access buses, which means they can lower the bus to be closer to the kerb and can pull out a ramp on request. There is normally space for at least one wheelchair and priority seating at the front of the bus for people who struggle to walk further back or can’t stand when the bus is full. The buses themselves maybe better designed for disabled people now, but the bus drivers however do not seem to be much better trained in dealing with disabled customers. They may have this easy access floor, but it is hit and miss if the driver uses it or not. When I have seen people ask for the ramp some drivers are happy to help, but others mutter under their breath and act as if it is a major undertaking they have been asked to do. On crutches I sometimes struggle to get off the bus in time before it pulls away from the stop. Drivers almost seem to expect you to be standing near the door before the bus has even stopped. If you are not standing there some drives assume the bell was pressed by mistake and drive off again. On crutches it is very hard to stand-up and walk in a moving vehicle, your balance not being at your best. I do not like to get up too soon in case the breaking of the bus causes me to fly forward with my crutches and make a fool of myself in front of a bus full of people or even whack someone by mistake with a crutch.
Trains and railway stations are sometimes impossible for disabled people. Sometimes you can’t even get onto the platform you need in the first place, the lift, which might have taken some finding being hidden at the far end of the station behind a pillar quite often, can be out of order, which when you are exhausted from having had to use crutches all the way there can be very frustrating. Some stations, mostly in London on the underground system have no lifts at all which can make it very tricky for some people. I am lucky that I could manage stairs if I had to on crutches, people fully wheelchair bound were really stuck. If you do manage to get to the platform you need, you then need to find the assistance you have pre-booked. (So no last minute spur of the moment trips for disabled people that want help to get on and off a train, you have to pre-plan your travel with at least twenty-four hours notice.) Sometimes the assistance is fairly easy to find with the person standing in the middle of the platform in a high vis jacket waiting for you, however on more than one occasion I have failed to find my booked assistance, getting off one train to a completely deserted platform with no one even to call out to, to come over and help me get down from the carriage. Most trains now are supposed to have ramps they can attach should you need it, but if there is no member of staff around to do this you are often faced with a very large gap between the carriage and the platform to try and climb up or down from, and with osteoarthritis in my hip this could really hurt. Then the is the whole business of trying to take luggage on a train when disabled and not able to carry a darn thing. You could get a taxi and save yourself all this trouble, but if you go more than a couple of miles it will cost you a small fortune.
When you reach your destination things may not get much easier. The town centre is often an obstacle course, with many hazards for disabled people to avoid. The pavement itself can be a problem, with slabs having worked loose or been put back poorly by road workers. My crutches have been known to get caught on the edge of a paving slab causing me to trip painfully. In a crowded area other people can be a problem. I do try to keep my crutches as close to my body as I can whilst still being able to walk, but people still seem to find a way to trip over them. This is often people who are too busy looking at their mobile phones to look where they are walking. Some people stop in the middle of the pavement to have a long conversation. When in a wheelchair or on crutches it can be hard to go around them , so when I politely say excuse me, why do some people act as if I am being really rude.
Shopping can be hard as well. Some shops have large thresholds that are hard to get over, and some disabled people have to wait outside whilst their friend or carer goes in for them. Some shops do the pile them high thing, getting out as much stock as possible onto the shop floor, while it is nice to have a lot of choice and variety, having rails crammed in close together can make it very hard for anyone to get around , let alone for a disabled person. I have been shopping with my friend who uses a wheelchair and sometimes she will go between two rails and end up brushing things onto the floor with her chair as the rails are that closely placed. Supermarkets are a little better now with wide isles and things kept to the sides. However clothing stores where the floor plan can be rearranged at will by the manager often fail to think of disabled people. Having a clear laid out floor plan in a large shop can also mean people with mobility issues do not have to walk round and round for ages to find what they want, getting too tired to do anything else. Shops who fail to think about disabled people in the planning process are loosing out on custom. Disabled people will be one of the first groups to use a new out of town retail park or shopping centre if town centre shops do not think of them. Not only is if often easier to park closer to the store in a retail park, the shops are often bigger and easier to walk around.
I am surprised that some of these things are still an issue when you consider that they not only effect disabled people, but sometimes the elderly and parents with buggies. That is a lot of custom public transport, shops and town centres are missing out on.