Access (Or Not) in London Town

This is a blog I think I’ve been skirting around the edges of for a long time, and if I’m being completely honest, I was a little scared of causing offence so kept putting it off and finding excuses not to write it, so thankyou to those friends who listened and encouraged me to get these thoughts out there. I don’t think this blog will change the world, but at least it’ll raise awareness of the issue, which can only be a good thing, right?

For those of you who don’t know, I have a condition called Cerebral Palsy, which affects things like my motor control and movement; I was born three months prematurely and weighed just two pounds. I think myself very lucky, my form of the condition isn’t the most severe as it can be for some- I have no problems with my communication or any of the other issues that can affect people with the condition. The way I used to describe it was ‘the rest of me works ok, it’s just my legs that don’t play nice’, it means I’m unable to walk and will be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life, and I need help with generally day to day living: dressing, getting to the bathroom and such. I like to think I’m generally very happy go lucky and can be independent as I’m able to be, but of course I have down days, just like anyone else. I do suffer with my back and other aches and pains as a result of being in the same position for the majority of the time, but I find ways of dealing with these. One thing I do often struggle to deal with though, is when the condition gets in the way of me being able to enjoy my biggest hobby: Theatre and concerts.

Granted, this doesn’t happen very often. I’m incredibly lucky- I have a wonderful and very understanding dad who frequently gives up his own time when I’m sure he’s got things he’d rather be doing to drive me back and forth to London and travel with me to places further afield from us (like Chichester this June & Manchester this July) so I can see all these fantastic shows and performers and spend great quality time with friends. That said, increasingly lately I’ve noticed a bit of a trend going on that makes me incredibly frustrated and upset, so I wanted to try and highlight it here, because for all my incredible memories, it doesn’t make up for any occasion I have to miss out on.

Part III of The Disability Discrimination Act of 1995 says it is unlawful for service providers to treat any disabled customers unfavourably on grounds of their disability, or to refuse service. In 1999, the act was amended to include points about changing policy, procedures that might prevent access or make the service difficult to use, and make alternative arrangements. The bit I want to focus on however is the amendment made in 2005. This says that physical features that create a barrier to access should be removed or altered, or a reasonable means of avoiding said barrier must be found. The biggest barrier for me with my condition is something that I imagine most able bodied people take for granted: stairs. The humble staircase is an old nemesis of mine, and can sometimes stop me enjoying my hobby.
Now, you could say that the first thorny problem comes with the wording of the legislation itself, in that here what is ‘reasonable’ to me might not be reasonable to many of the venues in London that many of my favourite performers seem to be frequenting for their gigs and other projects. So far this year, I have had to miss out on three of performer’s projects back to back; with another I had booked then found out I couldn’t attend, all because of a set of stairs. Again I reiterate: I know I’m incredibly lucky with all my theatrical adventures, and that nobody can get to every single thing that I performer does, I understand and appreciate that. Of course, some of you may be crying: ‘yes, but missing four things out of all you get to go to is hardly a huge number’, and I agree. It isn’t. But for me, here I do take issue: when I can’t go to something because of a staircase in the building, it is never my choice and it seems to be becoming a bit of a pattern at times of late that gets me down.
The other thing that makes me sad is the fact that many of my favourite performers (with the exception of one wonderful gent who I have a great bond with – my regular readers and friends will know who I’m talking about) don’t seem to fully understand and appreciate how my condition affects me and what it means to me to be able to go and see them doing what they love and do best. I’m in no way suggesting that these kinds of venues are booked to be vindictive, intentionally to exclude me or people in my position. It basically comes down to a lack of knowledge and consideration on the part of performers, the venues and the performer’s management. Let’s face it, whether the venue is accessible isn’t going to be at the top of the performers and management’s priorities, one because they are physically able to walk up and down a staircase, and two they’re often on a budget so will choose the venue based on that. My point is, it should be further up in the consideration of all, at least in my mind. By it not being so, I confess I often feel (again I know this isn’t intentional) like my support doesn’t matter, and I know by my interaction with these performers when I can go, my support means a great deal. I like to think that they are just as disappointed as I am when I tweet to wish them luck and tell them I can’t attend, and I personally feel that neither myself or the performer should have to deal with that frustration and guilt. After all, they are only trying to do their job and make a living… I don’t begrudge them that.

I visit London regularly, but my experience of the venues is often limited due to access, or lack thereof, in many of the clubs and such so I don’t claim to be an expert but I know that for all the venues that tend to be chosen for gigs, London is not completely crammed with staircases, so there has to be places out there that could be better choices- it just takes a bit of legwork and as I said, consideration.

So, what’s the solution? You could say there are a couple of options.
• Make the buildings accessible- i.e staircase free.
The problem with this is, much as I long for and want it to happen, (here is where my personal definition of reasonable comes into play- I don ‘t think removing a staircase and putting a ramp in is unreasonable) its costly and takes time and effort.
• Take a stand and don’t attend unless it’s accessible for everybody
I don’t like this one myself- said performers need to make a living and not for a moment am I encouraging people to not go and show support. I myself want to, but am not always able, and if less people attended, it might encourage venues and performers to think more about access, and that I will only encourage. Again though I know by the very nature of the fans of some of the performers I support, this is highly unlikely!

• Be ok with the prospect of doing that extra legwork and find somewhere suitable for everyone! I suppose the question of budget will rear its ugly head here, but I like to think there could be a solution that would work for both the venue and the performer.

Somebody once told me that supporting a performer does not always have to mean physical presence. I get this, and I agree with it. For me personally though, because I have to think about so many other things and can’t just hop on a train, the physical presence to support whoever it might be when I’m always willing and whenever able, is the most important thing, because theatre and concerts are my social life. I never expect special treatment and certainly don’t want pity because of my condition: because I’ve never known any different. I pay for the privilege to be entertained by these wonderfully talented men and women, just like everyone else. So why should I have to miss out? A question with an easy answer I think, but one I continue to have to ask myself.
Of course, it’s not going to be possible to get it right 100% of the time. But being more mindful of the issue is something I will only encourage.

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One thought on “Access (Or Not) in London Town

  1. Great post Kerrie! I’m going to send the link to my friend who is doing her dissertation study on wheelchair accessibility at events (she’s studying Events Management at Cardiff) – sure this will show her a ton of insight, like it did for me! Really hope that these venues get their accessibility sorted out for you and others in the near future – I can only imagine how frustrating and upsetting it must be. xx

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