So, I realise it’s about half a year since I last ranted on this blog. For my adoring public, my deepest apologies. There’s no excuse, I just haven’t been bothered with it. This does not mean that life as a wheelchair-using guide-dog-owner has been peachy. Read on, if you want to be billiously outraged.
One day out in Dublin and Carrick on Shannon
I recently ventured down to the Big Schmoke to attend a meeting. The trusty Merita and Quasi were my companions, and the train journey was not unbearable. The staff of CIE have clearly had some pretty harsh training on how to deal with those awkward people who insist on having disabilities. Of course, some of the staff are just decent human beings with an ounce of common sense, but even those members of staff who panic at the sight of anything out of the ordinary have been whipped into shape, and are, overall, genuinely helpful and have a fair idea of what to do when faced with a Crip.
Even better, though, was my tame taxi driver in Dublin. He has a sister with a disability ( not a surprise – most people who work in the disability sector do so because of a personal experience, rather than a passionate commitment to equality), and is cheerful, helpful, CHEAP and honest. He got me from Harold’s Cross to Temple Bar in 20 minutes, including loading Merita on and off the taxi. Hooray for these decent people – they make life that bit more bearable.
After the meeting, the fun really began. I had a few hours around town before meeting a friend, so I thought I might go SHOPPING. I have commented more than once that it’s just as well that most charity shops are small, overcrowded and pokey, because if they were spacious, vast and accessible, I’d be a lot broker than I already am. But I made a good stab at going around a few stalls, inadvertently destroying several display stands, using my lap as a shopping basket until the contents pour all over the floor, and generally having to say “EXCUSE ME” very loudly and repeatedly.
Then, the greatest challenge for a wheelchair-using guide-dog-owning person when out for the day – where can the dog and I go for a wee? Being an alumnus of a certain city centre university, and having lived on campus there for a few years with said dog, I thought, “Ah, sure, I know where there’s a loo in there, and Quasi knows where there are some convenient bushes”. (Bushes convenient for her, not for me, although not out of the question if desparate).
So in we trundled to the hideous 1960’s Arts Block of the unnamed city centre university, and headed to the secret lift (“we couldn’t have just anyone [st]rollingin to our premisis as if it was a national monument”) to avoid the baffling number of unnecessary steps between the street level and the toilets. But before I got to the lift, a friendly blue sign told me I didn’t need to navigate the lift in order to relive myself of my biological burden. A little experimentation later revealed a sign (not in Braille, of course) telling me to go back to the desk to ask permission to go to the toilet. Off I went, and was presented with a bunch of keys. I asked which would open the toilet, and was told “Ah, any of them will do it”. Back I went to the hip-width, wheel-depth corridor which unnecessarily promised “access” to the locked toilet. Now, I don’t have swollen joints, I don’t have a degenerative neurological condition that affects my dexterity, I don’t have Parkinsonian shakes, but it still took about 10 minutes of trying each key several times before I succeeded in inserting one which actually turned. Then, it was simply a matter of super-human strength to turn the locking mechanism itself, and gymnastic manouevering (with a 360-point turn), to get my click, petite wheelchair in the door. Closing the door behind me was similarly fun, due to the two wheelchairs being stored in this “accessible” toilet; presumably in case two paralytic students knacker themselves shagging in there and have to be wheeled back to their rooms.
The deed got done in any case, and even Quasi found a convenient corner (outside) after a bone-rattling trundle across the cobbles. I’m sure there are those who might derive pleasure from this experience, but for me, it was just a teeth-gritting chore for which I was glad to have an empty bladder. Next stop was my bank, my “home” branch, only 100 miles or so from where I live, since banks are incapable of transferring records within their own business within a single jurisdiction. I took this opportunity to visit the bank because my local branch (about 1 mile from where I actually live) failed to remove the 20cm step at their front door when they did their expensive refit last year, rendering the friendly wheelchair-signs on their automatic doors completely redundant.
The “home” branch of my bank, being in Dublin city centre, is an old building, and that’s ok if a bit of thought is put into internal layout. In this case, it meant a cargo-lift to surmount the 5 or so steps to the business level. I squeezed into it, with Quasi being particularly crushed, but could not reach the 6 foot or so behind me to pull the non-automatic door closed so that the lift could operate. A passerby did the honours this time, and we jerked in an impressively low-tech fashion up to the main level. No assistance was offered by staff to help me find a free counter, or navigate the bizarre maze of head-height (waist-height to a mobile adult male) ropes that took random twists just so that Quasi would get confused, continue in a straight line, and clothes-line me into unconsciousness. Managing to avoid this peril, I found an attended counter which only came up to about my chin. I made my 30 second transaction, and then attempted to leave. The lift again. I got in (bearing in mind that my luscious powerchair is more compact that a manual wheelchair I previously used, and that I am not large), with Quasi squished in beside me. I got us down, where a woman with a buggy was waiting to use the lift to go up. The door wouldn’t open. I fiddled with every button at my disposal, including bring the lift up a bit and then down again. The door still wouldn’t open. I pressed the alarm bell, which succeeded in deafening me and the dog. I fiddled with more buttons, tried brute force on the door, with the woman on the other side doing likewise. I pressed the alarm bell TWICE MORE with NO EFFECT. It was another attempt at taking off and landing again that finally got the door open, and I left the premises with no sign of any member of the bank staff responding to the air-raid siren of the lift alarm.
I AM NOT IMPRESSED!! In fact, I am changing bank, since I can’t physically enter either my “home” branch or my local branch. So much for 15 years of custom.
The rest of the day was fine, until I got back to my home-town of Carrick and had to run the gauntlet of The Bridge. There is barely enough space here for two mobile, slim adults to pass each other on the pavement, let alone a chair and a dog trying to pass a buggy or ten tourists or an idiot with two insane yappy-type dogs intent on savaging Quasi while dancing into on-coming traffic. But that’s just an everyday occurrence round here, along with pavements slanting in three plains with a carefully-placed lamp-post exactly in the middle of the pavement, with some exciting pavement potholes and random placing of pavement dishes. But that’s just the price I pay for choosing to be crippled in a small rural town with no funding from central government and rocketing unemployment. Silly me!!