I’ve been thinking recently about wiring a comprehensive blog about what Multiple Sclerosis is – not in a clinically sterile scientific way, but in a how-life-changes kind of way.
Before I got round to putting pixels on a page, however, I went to the National Railway Museum in York. Now, I know some of you will have switched off already, anticipating a thesis on transport policy. This is nothing of the sort. This is a blog about disability access, and how little things can make a really big difference.
Lets start off with a few facts that will inform this article. I’m 24 (as of last Wednesday), and don’t suffer from anything that would impede my ability to push a wheelchair. Mum can take a few steps, but only with assistance. The NRM (National Railway Museum – keep up!) is currently having a big celebration, as it has all 6 still existing A4 class locomotives – beautifully personified by Mallard, the fastest steam locomotive in the world. Can you guess where this is going?
So, we turned up at the NRM, and headed for the disabled parking bays, right by the front door. As we turned up, we were stopped by a hi-viz jacket, who told us apologetically that although there were spaces, he was not allowed to let us in, as they had concerns with overcrowding after the crowd had spilled into the carpark the day before. The only option – paying to park in the NCP car park 300 yards down the road. At this point, I could cope. Note point 1 – pushing a wheelchair for 300 yards wouldn’t be the end of the world. for me.
We parked up, and then discovered we’d have to pay £4. OK, I can cope with that.
Then we discovered that despite having parked as close as possible to the NRM (bearing in mind that as we were turning up after 12, the best spaces were taken) the only way to the museum (without doing a 600 yard walk) was down 10 steps. OK, doable (see note 2 above). I helped mum down, and then carried the chair down.
Then we discovered a speed bump. And another. And another. And the lack of footpath. And the potholes.
So, by this point, I was pretty hacked off. OK, I understand it was busy (see note 3!), and I understand the risks of allowing cars in what had become a queuing area. However, surely they could have appreciated the fact that they would get really busy, and that they would need extra accessible parking spaces? I was told that they wouldn’t be able to reserve any spaces in the NCP carpark.
Are we really living in a society that can’t work together to overcome the barriers that some people face? Could some of the nearest spaces not have been paid for as a back up?
So, by this point, I was about as frustrated as I can get. I resorted to the most fowl language our country knows.
I told them I was disappointed.
What if we’d had an electric wheelchair? What if I was in a wheelchair, and had gone on my own, without someone to help? A simple step could have solved this problem, and led to a more dignified visit.
I would, however, also like to praise the NRM. After feeding this back to the manager (who was luckily outside), I highlighted that queuing in the heat isn’t really a viable option for MS sufferers. We were whisked straight to the front of the queue, and proceeded to enjoy a great day out, with staff offering to carry our tray when we got lunch, with a menu that included decent gluten-free options, and with generally high levels of accessibility (if you bear in mind that wheelchairs were never going to be able to fit in the cab of a steam engine). They even have double ended lifts, meaning you don’t need to turn a wheelchair around!
So, thanks, NRM, for being generally awesome. Thanks for having caring staff. Thanks for having a really accessibly venue. But in future, please think about how people are actually going to get to your front door?