Recently, we took the Dude off to Birmingham for a weekend. It was meant to be a treat for him, a chance to spend precious time together after a recent hospitalisation and him having to miss out on a few things he’d been looking forward to as a result.
We booked into a Holiday Inn so we could spend two days in the city visiting attractions that he would enjoy; here I absolutely have to say that the hotel and its staff could not have been more amazing. Having called ahead so they were aware that our young man is a full-time wheelchair user, our room was set out to maximise space so we could easily move him around. There was no issue for them to store his blended meals that we brought with us in their freezer and for them to reheat them when we required. Even when other guests were rather noisy shall we say (not excessively), the staff made sure our boy was ok and not overwhelmed.
Safe to say, such care shown to our son made an impression.
Despite living in Staffordshire, this was the first time we had actually visited Birmingham city itself with the Dude since he was tiny… to say it was a shock is an understatement. Accessible it is not. A lack of thought in the planning processes is painfully apparent, as there are steps almost everywhere, disabled access routes are not always clearly signposted and often require you to go far out of your way because no-one thought to put in a ramp for example.
A lift, specifically for disabled access by the canal, is apparently switched off ‘when not in use’… hardly helpful when you’re in a wheelchair and need to get to the upper levels (there is an intercom that needs pressing, which is out of reach of some wheelchair users). The final straw was that while we were there the Great Birmingham Run was taking place… not an issue in itself, except that the route blocked access to every major carpark in the city. In turn, blocking access to the vast majority of accessible spaces. Let’s face facts here, there are already disproportionately fewer blue badge designated spaces than there are standard spaces. Blocking access to every single major carpark so that there is nowhere safe to help a disabled passenger disembark?
Not a good look, Birmingham. Not a good look at all.
The biggest frustration faced by families like mine is that the majority of the issues we face in accessing public spaces are often easy to resolve with a little bit of forethought and consideration. The issue with the carparks not being accessible due to road closures could easily have been avoided if communication had been better and diversions clearly in place.
Ramps are usable by everyone, but not everyone can use steps. It’s easy to forget if this isn’t your life on a daily basis that disabled children will grow into disabled adults – however those individuals are very often just as capable of living full and active lives as anyone else. They want to be able to work and travel around their own cities and towns without being faced with obstacles that are really very simple to factor out with good planning and a bit of consideration. Our experience at the Holiday Inn shows how easy it is to make life easier for disabled people, their actions made us ALL feel valued. The same cannot be said however for the City of Birmingham.