lifestyle

I’m leaving London because I do not feel safe navigating the streets


My re-entry to the world was an unpleasant nightmare rather than an adventure (Picture: Getty Images)

Shielding for the last year and a half almost had me fooled that the world wasn’t as disabling as it used to be.

Barely leaving my flat, I grew to quite like the safety of the cocoon I had created.

Of course, I became restless and got the itch to see friends and family so, as soon as I received both vaccinations and restrictions were set to ease, I felt determined to get back to normality. 

However, the return has proven that I was wearing rose tinted spectacles – the reality of navigating a disabling world, particularly in London, has led to me making a big life decision to return to Lancashire permanently.

I wish it did not have to be this way. Only a few weeks ago, I was excited. I had made a post lockdown wish list, starting with London Zoo as my first leisure trip out in over a year – I was like a giddy child.

My mother was visiting to help out while my PA was on holiday, so it was perfect timing to explore the capital together. Or so I thought.  

Sadly, it wasn’t long before the old frustrations of being a full-time wheelchair user in a city that does not make disability a priority became apparent. 

I had forgotten how uneven pavements were, how many potholes ready to tip my chair littered our streets, how many cafes and shops were inaccessible. How often I appeared invisible to others; shop clerks speaking to my mum over me and selfish people, glued to their phones, unaware they were forcing us to swerve out of their path.

After just one day I felt like a cork ready to pop. My re-entry to the world was an unpleasant nightmare rather than an adventure.

Mum was stressed out, too. Pushing a wheelchair, navigating the streets, all while looking out for hazards is a big ask.

Although I had got off to a rocky start, I wanted to make the most of our time together so we arranged a shopping trip.

I rarely take public transport alone for many of the reasons above and rely heavily on fully accessible taxis. They have always been a lifeline.

Still, you can give a vehicle ramps, install hearing loops and vibrantly coloured handrails but none of that matters if you have an unhelpful driver.

As the cab pulled up, noticing my wheelchair, the driver hopped out. Without so much as a ‘hello’ he declared that the ramp was broken so ‘I’ll just lift you up and put you in.’ 

These are words every wheelchair user dreads, never mind someone with brittle bones. 

‘No, that won’t be an option,’ I replied, my heart racing at the thought.

The next few years will be me putting my own health and sanity first as I feel like I’m wasting my life in a state of anxiety

It breaches health and safety and if the ramp’s out of action he should not be driving. Also, would you be comfortable if a stranger lifted you up? Probably not, so why is picking up a wheelchair user even a consideration?

Flustered, the driver opened his boot and, miraculously, the ramp appeared in one piece. 

Once on the road, he confessed that he felt uncomfortable around disability and ‘panics in these situations’. I didn’t answer, feeling angered and saddened by the encounter.

Thankfully, the majority of cab drivers are accommodating, but I feel like I am playing a game of Russian roulette every time I want to leave the house.

Has my lockdown bubble amplified everything? Perhaps I’m simply not used to being discriminated against any more?

I realise that I have been sheltered – blissfully unaware of many ongoing barriers some deaf and disabled people have continuously experienced.

At the height of lockdown restrictions, disabled parking bays were repurposed as waiting areas for supermarket queues. Lifts and lowered tills were often placed out of bounds, not to mention footpaths and roads being shut, and many public toilets with accessible alternative entrances were blocked to create a one-way system.

The sheer lack of consideration for disabled people is frustrating – we were not all shielding.

However, I am grateful that there have been some wins for deaf and disabled people thanks to new ways of working. For example, video calls and remote learning mean disabled people can feel connected without having to leave the house.

I am tired of the daily battle. Lockdown showed that a stress free life is not impossible (Picture: Samantha Renke)

I also welcome the newly launched Passenger Assistance App, in association with National Rail, which allows those travelling with an impairment to repeatedly book journeys without entering their details every time – and reliable assistance will be arranged directly via the train operator.

This should lead to smoother boarding and disembarking and allows for spontaneous travel – before this app you could only book assistance 24 hours in advance, now, there will be no such time restraint.

I am enthused about it because I can try travelling solo again – once upon a time, I was regularly going up and down the railways but a few terrible experiences, such as being left on the train 40 minutes after everyone had departed, had put a stop to my sense of freedom. Every occurrence really knocked my confidence. 

The introduction of British Sign language (BSL) information touch screens at Euston station to deliver up-to-date passenger information is also a welcome step in the right direction. 

Despite these positive developments, I am tired of the daily battle. Lockdown showed that a stress free life is not impossible.

Previously, I used alcohol to give me Dutch courage when out and about with friends, being merry meant I could face the hurdles a little easier.

This is not me anymore – and I feel healthier for it – so I am not taking a step backward because the world still needs to catch up.

My biggest fear is that changes to professional practices such as remote working won’t be an option once restrictions lift but, regardless, I have made the decision to move back to Lancashire to be closer to my support network.

I will travel back to London when I really need to but living here permanently is like being a kid in a candy shop but not being able to buy anything – there’s so much I would like to do here but I cannot access it.

Returning to Lancashire, having a little more space and a garden – and my family nearby – won’t be as torturous.

The next few years will be me putting my own health and sanity first as I feel like I’m wasting my life in a state of anxiety.

Perhaps I sound defeatist but if the pandemic has taught me anything it is to do things that bring you joy. This doesn’t include me feeling fearful for my safety every time go out.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing angela.pearson@metro.co.uk

Share your views in the comments below.


MORE : Why is it so hard to go green when you’re disabled?


MORE : Guided meditation apps aren’t doing enough to include disabled people


MORE : Being disabled is a full time job, but it shouldn’t have to be





READ SOURCE

Leave a Reply

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.  Learn more