Caroline lives in a seaside town in England and is a member of one of our Local Groups of volunteers.
As a wheelchair user, Caroline is passionate about improving streets and the access to them for everyone.
In normal times, Caroline's favourite things are being with friends, volunteering and seeing the sea. Here she reflects on how lockdown and physical distancing is making that difficult, with streets becoming even more inaccessible to so many.
In my seaside town the pavements are currently very poor with infrequent, poorly constructed dropped kerbs. I am unable to cross my own road owing to a lack of dropped kerbs and a steep camber which damages my wheelchair. In fact, as I write this, I’m awaiting someone to come and repair damage to my wheelchair caused by poor paving – a visit and cost I’d rather not incur.
Often to cross a road I have to go a long way round. If a known route is closed, it is very difficult to find an accessible alternative. The small wheels at the front of my wheelchair get stuck in gaps between slabs and sometimes drain covers flip open. It's rare that I go out without experiencing problems.
Despite all the issues that come with leaving my home, pre-lockdown I was still managing to leave to go volunteering or ‘walking’ with friends along the prom about five times a week. That’s all changed.
When lockdown started, I tried to go out every other day but found people generally did not stay two metres from my chair. As I am so much lower than the majority, I felt more vulnerable. Many people appeared oblivious to the wheelchair.
I experienced acts of aggression. Cycling on the pavement is illegal, despite this I was almost hit by someone cycling on a pedestrianised area who then swore at me because I looked at him. Whilst another man responded angrily when he walked into my chair. I didn’t say anything as I felt more vulnerable. Instead, I stopped going out so much.
On top of the aggression, there’s the impossibilities I face when it comes to maintaining two metres from others.
Physically distancing whilst in a chair means that although I would like to avoid others, unless I am well placed with a dropped kerb on both sides of the road, I cannot. And I can’t shop as I can reach very few shelves and would need support from someone else.
So now I just occasionally go to the end of my road to a park. But to get there, I have to negotiate dropped kerbs and footways that are not wheelchair friendly.
I feel isolated and trapped - not by my disability - but by the way the needs of the disabled are side-lined.
The Equalities Act says we are equal, but in practice, wheelchair users and other disabled people are second rate citizens.
There are a lot of different disabilities and conditions to consider alongside wheelchair users. Older and frail people with zimmers and rollators would not consider themselves disabled but are struggling. The visually impaired have complained to Parliament about our new town centre which has been designed without kerbs and in different shades of grey, which impacts on Guide Dogs which are taught to stop at kerbs.
Although there’s a lot to consider and it’s by no means an easy task, that doesn’t mean it isn’t one that decision makers should undertake.
If pavements are safe for a variety of disabilities, they would be safe for all.
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