I have a London bucket list before I move – but so much of it is inaccessible

  • london
  • June 2, 2023
  • Comments Off on I have a London bucket list before I move – but so much of it is inaccessible
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As I weaved through the vintage flea market stalls in Camden with my rather bulky wheelchair, the comforting smells of dusty furniture filled my nostrils.

I was like a kid in the candy shop, darting in and out of each booth. I ended up buying a huge dough bowl and a vase with a beautiful wisteria motif – and it couldn’t have been easier.

There were three accessible bathrooms, a lift for wheelchair access and an automatic door, which was great for a building that looked more like an old school hall.

I’d gone on this trip somewhat spontaneously after seeing one of my Instagram followers posting about it. It was my very first vintage furniture market and it was a destination to cross on my newly-formed London bucket list that I’m slowly checking things off from.

That’s because the pandemic – combined with my age (I’m 37) and a slight decline in health – have all made me reevaluate my priorities in life. So, I’ve made the decision to say farewell to my home in London and am currently renovating a bungalow back where I grew up in Lancashire – fit for a queen on wheels, like me.

With this decision also came a kick up the bum to make the most of all the treasures that are quite literally on my doorstep. So I made a bucket list of all the things I want to experience before I go, instead of spending my weekends watching true crime or Buffy the Vampire Slayer with my two cats (although this still is my favourite thing to do!)

Yet, as I came to soon realise, I am living in a disabling world and London is still generally rather inaccessible for me as a wheelchair user. This means that some things can’t be crossed off – and that infuriates me.

I moved to London in February 2012, which was a big life change after escaping what I saw as the banal rural life back in Lancashire. If you didn’t drive, you struggled to get anywhere. Mostly, I used the taxi of Mum to get around, which came at the cost of feeling like I was a burden and dependent on others.

So, by comparison, the first few years in the big smoke were filled with pure excitement – new friends, clubs, bars, museums and restaurants. I felt like a magpie attracted to anything shiny and new.

My tummy got butterflies when I rode past Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament in black cabs, which are fully accessible. I felt a newfound independence and autonomy in my life as a disabled person and full-time wheelchair user.

Mind you, I swallowed up my savings rather quickly by simply going here, there and everywhere. I literally thought I was the fifth member of Sex and the City and wanted to see and do it all.

This kind of lifestyle, however, was short lived. Life took over. I started to work, eating out every night couldn’t be sustained and taking taxis everywhere – although a real source of freedom – came at a premium cost.

As time went on, I became like anyone else in the capital city – spending more time at home, going out less and really not appreciating or taking advantage of what was all around me. So, as my self-imposed countdown is on, that’s where my farewell bucket list has come into play.

Some of the activities had been in my mind for a while – things I’ve wanted but have simply not got round to doing, such as a visit to London Zoo. The rest are things that I stumbled across online.

And the past few months since then have been wonderful – I have seen the stunning new development of Granary Square in King’s Cross, Coal Drops Yard and the lovely Camley Street Natural Park.

On top of the vintage furniture market, I’ve been to Borough Market too, which was super busy and had far too many cobbles for my liking, but the food counteracted any of my qualms. Two words, cheese and bread!

Even on the days I’ve not had much money or energy, I’ve still pushed myself to source a local coffee shop, go to the cinema or visit the Barbican – all of which is a few minutes from my flat.

As a result, I’ve noticed a huge positive impact on my mental health. Having a routine, getting up early, heading out on my adventures and not feeling rushed. It’s been so lovely knowing that, each weekend, I will get some fresh air and meet new faces and see new places.

But being so active is a stark reminder about some of the reasons I actually became more and more of a recluse over the years. One of the biggest battles I face is that of a disabling world and not knowing if I can access certain amenities with my wheelchair without someone there to assist me.

Over the years, I have had so many access denials that they can really chip away at your confidence. Just the other day, a cab driver I’d hailed wound down his window, pointed at my powerchair and shouted: ‘How heavy is that thing? Because, if you break my ramp, it will cost ya!’

There are also accessible bathrooms used as storage cupboards or restaurants without wheelchair access. This inaccessibility has been made even more clear to me now that I’m actively visiting loads of new places for my London bucket list.

Although I am – on the surface – making spontaneous trips, there is nothing spontaneous about them. What you aren’t seeing is the result of days of planning.

I’m emailing and calling venues ahead of time to obtain detailed access information. I’m also making sure assistance for trains is booked and ensuring that the outfit I am wearing is safe and practical for when I need to go to the bathroom because the wrong shoes combined with no handrails could mean I slip and fall.

I also tend to wear dresses or skirts, so that in the event that I cannot safely transfer from my wheelchair to the loo, I can use my trusty she-wee that is always stowed in my handbag.

My bucket list should have no bounds. But the truth is, I shouldn’t even have to proactively do this – accessibility should be listed clearly on websites for disabled people like me to see.

When I’m out and about, almost every conversation I’ve had with taxi drivers taking me to and from my destination has been around access. They often ask me if things for disabled people are getting easier.

Access needs are so personal for different deaf, disabled or neurodivergent people, but I would say there are many developments that have absolutely embraced inclusive design – like King’s Cross with an abundance of lifts and accessible bathrooms  – or the new passenger assist app that allows you to book train assistance on the day of your journey.

Yet there are still far too many times I am flatly told there isn’t access for wheelchair users like me.

For example, the Belmond Train British Pullman – a luxury vintage train experience – recently replied to my access enquiries with what I found to be a rather ableist reply.

It read that ‘wheelchairs cannot be used on board’ and that they can accommodate passengers with slight walking difficulties, but it is recommended an able-bodied person escorts them’. 

The use of ‘able-bodied’ really grated on me because it is the train that is inaccessible, not my being in a wheelchair. It’s just another example of heritage triumphing over inclusion.

After this interaction, I decided to document my trips and highlight all the positive accessibility features so that those who follow me on social media can perhaps feel inspired and visit some of the same spaces. London Zoo was a marvellous example because the website has so much information on accessibility.

But the truth is, the prospect of finding and arranging adequate access to go and enjoy activities that non-disabled peers can do can be overwhelming, confusing and dehumanising.

Access information feels still very much an afterthought, rather than an embedded and valued feature within the leisure and tourism sector. I’d love to see these needs more clearly signposted on websites, as well as staff within customer service much more confident and aware of where and what these features are.

In the meantime, it appears it is down to the disability community – with the help of the internet and social media – to showcase accessibility and activities that actually feel like they have thought about the disabled consumer.

For now, I’m just going to keep getting stuck into my bucket list and pushing the parameters of what I thought I could do or where I can go.

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