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I am not a happy bunny.

Yet again, disabled people are being blamed for non-disabled people’s lack of attention. Yet again it’s us who are at fault, not them.

I have just watched a news report talking about the need for a new training video for scooter and electric wheelchair users to help reduce accidents with pedestrians.  Apparently, there have been several incidents where bad scooter driving has got someone hurt so, obviously, we need to be trained to use our mobility aids more responsibly, but what about badly trained pedestrians? How about a training video for pedestrians?

Ask any wheelchair user or scooter user and we all have stories to tell about accidents and near misses caused by other people not taking care or looking where they are going but where we have been blamed. There’s the people who walk around texting or reading social media and not looking where they are going. People on their phone talking to their friends and not paying attention to what is happening around them. People who are walking in front of you who suddenly just stop, without warning, so you run into the backs of their legs. People who are so engrossed with the conversation they are having with their companions that they are blind to what is going on around them

And, my personal favourite, the people who just barrel out of shops without a care in the world and without looking, walk straight into you and it’s your fault. It happens every day on every street I the country and it is ALWAYS it’s us who caused the problem by not looking where we’re going, never them.

Why is it always OUR fault and US that need training? What about training for schoolkids on using pavements responsibly that they may be able to show their parents and remember into teenage and adult life. When I was a child we had the Tufty Club coming into my school to teach us road safety how to use our bikes properly, how about a Tufty Club for pedestrians? School is where you are supposed to learn valuable life lessons, surely learning how to be considerate of other pedestrians is a life lesson we should all learn, Walkers and wheelies like. How about an ad campaign on the TV and in our cinemas reminding people that responsible pedestrians should look down as well as straight ahead and keep their eyes on the pavement. Doing that may have and added benefit and even help people avoid stepping in dog poo and getting chewing gum on the bottom of their shoes as well.

Contrary to popular belief, wheelchair users and scooter users are not driving around looking for pedestrians we can target and squish, we are doing the same as you and going about our daily business as best we can. We are not waiting round every corner with evil grins on our faces and score cards in our hands counting daily hits. We’re going to work, going shopping, meeting up with friends for lunch, taking a ‘walk’, having a life, just like you.

I am happy to acknowledge that wheelchair and scooter users need more training too. When I was given my first electric wheelchair at my local NHS wheelchair clinic the only training I had was a five minute jaunt round the clinic’s carpark learning how to get my chair up and down the kerb. No higher than 2 – 3 inches or I’d tip over and fall out. Nothing about dealing with people walking into you and then tutting nothing about watching out for people opening doors and walking straight into you, nothing about people paying more attention to their phone than to the world around them. Five minutes later I was off home in the accessible ambulance to start my new life in my local area as a terror on wheels. It was a case of practice makes perfect, no license needed. You can buy a scooter or a wheelchair on the internet, wait for delivery then jump on and drive off without a care in the world and with no instruction at all apart from how to turn the thing on and off and where to plug in the charging cable. This training thing works both ways and we need more than that too.

Come on folks, let’s ALL try and consider the world around us as we move about it. Sure, wheelchair/scooter versus walker accidents will happen but please acknowledge, it’s your fault as much as it is ours. Let’s all try looking where we’re going and trying to consider others as well as ourselves. Let’s have training for all pedestrians, not just wheelies. We’re ALL at fault, not just US.

I am angry. I am very angry. I need to get confirmation of what I have just been told but, if it really is the case, then I am very angry indeed.

To cut a long story short, last year, my local authority, Lambeth, decided in it’s infinite wisdom, that it would close my local library, the Carnegie, in Herne Hill, SE London, in order to convert the basement into a gym and have a much reduced library on the ground floor, with no professional library staff available or, at least, only available for a short period every week. On February 8th the Council, in it’s infinite wisdom, approved the plans, which will now be implemented.

As a wheelchair user, access was never amazing but, by dint of ringing a bell at the bottom of the steps to the main entrance, at least a member of the library staff would come out, help you through a side entrance to a lift in the basement and up to the main library area. Not ideal but at it worked. I have just asked what will happen when the basement is converted into a gym. Would we still be able to access the lift. I have been told that wheelchair access will, in future, be via a ‘circuitous stairway route’!

Well friends, what part of ‘stairway’ and ‘wheelchair’ won’t work do we think?

Could it be that, as I am not a dalek with an amazing ability to levitate, I, and other disabled and older people with mobility issues, will NOT BE ABLE TO GET IN AT ALL?

Discrimination anyone?

Of course, I am fully aware of the fact that there are other options available to me, such as a home library service where someone brings my choice of books to me but, and in my opinion, its not the same thing. Whilst, of course, a home delivery scheme has it’s merits for a lot of people, it’s not, in my opinion, the same thing at all.

Half of the fun of going to the library is having the ability to browse the shelves and find new books and authors you never knew about. There is nothing like pulling a book off the shelf, purely because it has an engaging title, reading the blurb on the back and the author’s biog on one of the inner flaps and thinking ‘This looks interesting, maybe I’ll give it a try.’ I really cannot count the number of times, over the years, that this has happened to me. Many of those books now rank amongst my favourite reads of all time and without the ability to browse the library shelves I might never have found them.  

Then there’s another important issue that also needs thinking about, apart from he issue of access for disabled people.

There are already three gyms, with swimming pools, in the immediate area as well as a large park over the road and another, even larger park, fifteen minutes walk away in the centre of Herne Hill itself. Why, exactly, do we need another gym? Has anyone ever given any of us an answer to that? Not only that but, as far as I am aware, Lambeth has not done any form of impact assessment for the people living in the streets surrounding the library building. The library is in a residential area, with two busy primary schools in the immediate vicinity, and the majority of the streets surrounding the building are Controlled Parking Zones with daytime parking restrictions because of those schools. In the evenings these same streets are where residents park their cars after work, outside their own homes. There is no space for gym users to use. There are no car parks nearby and no room for one to be built. So where would Lambeth Council suggest that gym users should park their cars? Any ideas?

And then there is the noise issue. As I have already said, the library building, where the gym will be, is in a residential area where families with young children and older people live. It is a quiet area. The people who live nearby are not going to welcome any disturbance and disruption in the evening caused by the noise made by gym users leaving the building, getting into their cars and driving away after their fitness sessions.   

It is very clear that this plan has still not been properly thought through and that, yet again, Lambeth have jumped in, feet first, without considering the cost and the consequences for local residents.

Let me reiterate. We do not need another gym. You can keep it. We do not need gym users causing noise and disruption. You can keep them too. What we need is our library. We want to keep that. A gym will only make things worse for Council Tax payers and residents in the area. Please Lambeth Council, give us back our much loved and much used library and stop trying to make a fast buck on the side. If you ignore us and our wishes, let me tell you, when the next Council elections come round, we will not forget and we will not forgive.   

I used to have a great wheelchair. I used to have a wheelchair that was perfect for me.I used to have a wheelchair where I could adjust the angle of the back whenever I needed to and have it at whatever angle was comfortable.I used to have a wheelchair where I could adjust the position of my feet to wherever I needed them to be. I used to have a wonderful wheelchair that I found easy to drive, that I could manoeuvre into the wheelchair space on a bus without a problem, that went at a decent speed, that was my lifeline.

Now I don’t.

My old wheelchair was one that I was able to buy privately through something called the Access to Work scheme because it allowed me to be able to go out and earn my own living. Now that my medical condition has worsened, and I am not able to work any longer, I am forced to rely on the National Health Service for my mobility equipment.

And I am not happy.

The chair I have now is perfectly serviceable, don’t get me wrong, I’m not entirely ungrateful for it, after all, if I didn’t have it I would not be able to leave my home and meet up with my friends, but, to cut a long story short, it’s just not right. From being someone who got and used my chair from early morning until late at night without a problem I have become someone who prefers to stay in bed and only gets up once or twice a week for just a few hours. And it’s all because of the chair.

The problem I have with the thing is that it doesn’t service all my needs adequately. I end up in pain and discomfort and, if I’m brutally honest, I would really prefer not to have to use it more than is absolutely necessary. If sit in it for longer than than a couple of hours my back starts to seize up and I begin longing for the comfort of my bed. I need to be able to do what I used to be able to do and adjust my position whenever I need to. Then my back doesn’t hurt at all. I never used to get backache when I had my old chair, I used to be able to get up early, work for an entire day, go out with friends in the evening, come home and go to bed in the small hours and barely a twinge. I wouldn’t like to try that now. Even if I leave getting up until lunchtime, the muscle spasms around my spine become practically unbearable within two or three hours and I have to go home and rest. No more West End Shows and late nights for me.

Then there are the problems I now have with my legs. Nasty, swollen, puffy ankles and throbbing, aching shins and calves, after no longer than half a day. Pain and discomfort most of the time. With my old chair, all I had to do was push a button and my leg position would alter to make things far more comfortable for me, but not any more. Not with my fantastic new NHS chariot. Leg adjustment, just like positional changes for my back, are now no more than a fond memory from the past.

What I really want, what I really need, is something like my old chair but, unless I come into some unexpected funding, that is just not going to happen any time soon. I know exactly what I would like to have but I am equally aware that, if things don’t change, I am stuck with what I have now for the foreseeable future. I know I should just be grateful and shut up but it’s difficult. Having the right wheelchair for all of my needs would be a dream come true but for now, that’s exactly what it must remain, a dream. Until things change disabled people must go on putting up with the cheapest possible alternative at all times and, until things change, manufacturers will not see a reason to produce anything better. The NHS cannot afford it and, until they can, disabled people will just have to go on coping with the cheapest alternative, no matter how much we need something else