Accessible Venues: A Given, Right?

Hey guys,

I’ve had quite an interesting experience happen to me today that I want to share with you.

As you’ll know if you’ve been ‘Keeping Up with the Diaries’, UCT and I go through an ‘on again, off again’ relationship on the Disability Front. Nothing bad happened to me today but today’s interaction reminded me that accessibility, sadly, is not something I can take for granted.

It’s the third week of the Second Semester and all tutorials are due to start this week and it’s time to start mobilizing in general: assignment deadlines are around the corner, lectures are in full-swing, and the beginning-of-semester administration is dead and gone. When I checked my timetable in Week 1 to double-check whether all my venues were indeed accessible, I found myself having to e-mail a couple of lecturers to have a couple of tutorials due to inaccessible venues. Simple right? Wrong.

Of the four courses I’m doing this Semester, two of them have resulted in tutorial problems that I can’t seem to get resolved just yet for some reason. The first course, I signed up for online like everyone else because it suited my schedule and it was in a building that I know to be accessible. The second was in a room I knew to be a problem so I requested it to be moved, as I’d done for the three semesters before. I thought that’d be the end of it for my ‘venue problems’.

Tutorial 1 for Course The First comes around on Thursday last week and I go to the building and start hunting for a room which, according to the signage and general layout of the building should be easy enough to find, after spending literally half-an-hour marching up and down the building, exploring all four floors I discovered that the specific room I was meant to be in is the one inaccessible room in a building that is otherwise largely accessible. I’m in communication with the department now to try and fix the problem and, hopefully, the fact that I missed the tutorial (of which there are only three this semester for this course). As Adrian Mole would put it: “just my luck.”

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Disabled Parking: Small Incident, Big Ideological Problem

Maybe it’s just me but I like to think that people are not intentionally vindictive beings who set out to make other people’s lives more difficult but, the reality is, that it happens far more than we’d like to admit. From a wheelchair-user’s perspective, one of the ways I see this happening a lot is in disregard for Disabled Parking Bays.

I don’t know how many times I’ve come across Disabled Bays being used illegally. To be honest, it is difficult to understand exactly why this is so common giving how aware a lot of societies are on other issues. Is it that people don’t understand why they exist? Don’t they care? Yes, something like “he’s in my spot” is trivial but I still think it is worth condemning the action as it speaks to the larger issue that is Ableism.

While it is a requirement in several countries that parking areas have allocated Disabled Parking, I don’t think the reasoning behind their existence is adequately explained if at all. In my opinion, there are 2 main reasons for their existence: Safety and Access.

Reasons for a Disabled Bay’s Existence

Safety

I’m sure it goes without saying that, in most cases, wheelchair-users are lower than the average, ambulatory person by the very fact that they are seated. The height difference, in a parking scenario, can lead to potential dangers. To put it frankly, it is harder for drivers to see us.

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Why I’m Leaving South Africa

To those South African friends: I’m not due to leave until the end of Undergrad so we’ve still got time together. That said, there are several reasons why I’m going to leave. This post focuses purely on one small aspect of why England is better on the Disability Front (which in and of itself is only one factor in the Emigration Decision).

My mother just got back from a trip through England for the last month earlier today. Yes, she spent some of the time with family and looking around but the primary motivation for the trip is house-hunting.

As a family, we’ve decided that we have to move to England after I’ve finished my Undergraduate for various reasons. While there, my mother decided to have a look around areas more generally as well as at specific properties. Hearing some of the stories of her trip in the hours since she’s been back, I’m amazed at the accessibility and general awareness of disability differences between England and South Africa.

Public Transport

The brief period of time that I spent in London a couple of years ago really opened my eyes to how accessible Public Transport could be for disabled people. Not once was there a bus, train, or taxi that I couldn’t use. Although I did not spend my time exclusively in London, London was the place where I used Public Transport the most.

Cape Town, in contrast with London, is largely unaware of its disabled population on the Public Transport Front. While one could argue South Africa’s awareness is somewhat justified given its past, it was refreshing to be in a place where accessing the city was possible (not to mention easy and affordable).

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Tables, Lights, Doors: My Other Nemeses

Hey guys,

Sorry for the late post today but, hey, it’s been one of those weeks (well, months). For those of you who’ve been reading the blog relatively regularly recently will know that I recently highlighted the latent discriminatory nature of the table-legs of a certain type of café table. I think it is time, though, that I bring up a similar, related issue: the height of certain appliances/counters that make life that much more difficult for those of us in wheelchairs. Namely, there are three things, in particular, I have a grudge against Table/Counter Height, Light Switches, and Self-Closing Doors.

Table Height

I had this problem recently when I went to see The Tale of Irma Vep at the Theatre on The Bay a couple of weeks ago. Before the show started I wanted to order a coffee while I waited for people to shuffle their way into the theatre before I took my seat in the customary empty space they leave available for wheelchairs. The problem with this plan of ‘world coffee domination’ was by the time I got to the Coffee Counter I found that to the barista I must have looked like a disembodied head as the counter itself came up to my neck height.

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The Mountain University, Student Antics, ‘Lifts’

So, as my UCT readers will know, the Semester started today. Yay… for now. It’s day one but in the few hours I’ve been on campus I’ve had to brush the cobwebs off of the Student Files stored somewhere very, very deep in my brain and actually engage.

I can see that, as the week continues, I have to actually have to sit up and pay attention. In between classes and the customary curriculum changes, I was struck by the fact that I am once again walking from the extreme ends of campus – not because that’s where my venues are but because that is where the accessible routes are located.

Why is it that the accessible routes are the most convoluted and hidden on campus?

I’m sure it is largely due to the fact that UCT is built on a mountain and built at a time when Disabled People were largely unseen and unheard. That said, the fact that I’m often walking far more than my non-disabled friends is somewhat ironic.

The ‘mountain build’ means that, of the buildings that are relatively accessible, it often involves one or more lifts. If you’ve been reading some of my other posts then you’d know that the UCT Lift Situation is… risky. 

I thought today would go according to plan and the lifts would be working the way you’d expect. They did. At the same time, though, I was reminded that the lifts are on a tenuous, thin lifeline. L50 (my best inanimate friend), for example, decided to clunk loudly enough halfway up the shaft that for a moment I had a serious concern that I’d be trapped in it… again.

Don’t get me wrong, I love what I’m studying but it’s times like lifts breaking down that I’m reminded that society, more often than not, allows those with physical problems to participate in it only as second-class citizens. Something as simple as a placement of a ramp or a lift’s operation speaks volumes. 

Single-Legged Tables in Cafés: A Wheelchair’s New Nemesis.

Undoubtedly other wheelchair users can identify with this: tables in restaurants and cafés increasingly becoming inaccessible.

I don’t know how many times I’ve been to a café or the like wanting one simple thing: to sit at a table, order whatever’s on my mind, and basically be a normal café-going person relatively faceless in the crowd. Nope, no such luck for me. My evil plan fails right at step one.

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Example of the ‘Central Column Love Affair’ Table

How often have you been to a café etc. to find that tables – rather than having the four legs allowing tables to stand the exact same way they have pretty much since the first table was invented – they have this ridiculous ‘central column love affair’ going on with four feet and/or a base at the bottom of this column. The table, in this new arrangement, stands by balancing on a single, central column of some kind.

 

 

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Terminologies & Apologies

* Disclaimer: These are my personal views on the topic and they cannot and should not be taken as being universal to everyone in the Disabled Community. * 

Given that I was born with a disability, I’ve never known life any differently. It’s happening a lot less frequently now but I used to get asked by people something a long the lines of “Isn’t there a cure for it?” or “If you could, would you get rid of the disability?”. The answer to the first question is a flat out “no” given current medical science. The answer to the second, however, is a little less clear-cut. Yes, disability comes with its own challenges but, then again, it’s all I’ve known. To change that, then, would be to change everything I know about myself and the world around me and, challenges aside, I’m quite happy with my life.

This same conundrum is brought up when someone hears I’m in a wheelchair and almost reflexively jumps to “I’m sorry” type responses. Yes, I understand why you’d say this in terms of the challenges that I face on a daily basis but, at the same time, those challenges have always been a part of me, it’s all I’ve known. While it would be nice to make some things easier, they’re no harder than they’ve always been, no harder than I’ve expected them to be. Since I’ve grown up with my disability guiding the way I do things in life, my disability is not so much a hindrance that affects me as it is a defining part of my identity as a person.

‘Disabled’ v. ‘Differently-Abled’

While I’m on the topic of Disability and Identity I think it’s time for me to shed some light on the terminology and how I see/use them in case some people may take offense to the way I use certain words or phrases. Given that this is an account of my personal experiences I think it’s only fair that I use terminology, both here and throughout the blog, that reflects my personal views towards terminology etc. in the Disability World. That said, some people disagree with me on some/all of these points (and that’s fine) so please be wary of which terms you use around people. There are only three terms I want to draw your attention to (this far): ‘disabled’, ‘handicapped’, and ‘people with disabilities’.

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