After 32 years of living in Oxford I relocated to Dulwich in January to be near my family. Leafy, green, clean, practically graffiti free and no rusty cars littering front gardens and pavements so who wouldn’t be delighted to move to such an idyllic place. But is it as idyllic as it seems on the surface. For me, no: don’t get me wrong I love Dulwich and am happy to be here but, and it is a big but, I am bitterly disappointed. Confused? Think my two statements don’t add up? I am one of the 9.4 million registered disabled people in the UK. and rely heavily on a mobility scooter to keep me independent, active and able to enjoy a social life and this is where my problems lie. It is called access but here in Dulwich on a scale of 1 – 10 how accessible is it.?
Coming from a city that must be one of the most accessible cities in England it was a culture shock that didn’t take long to rear its ugly head. Cars parked on pavements having no regard to the 2.0metre statutory space to allow wheelchairs room to turn if necessary, shops that showed surprise when I asked for a ramp and a large supermarket that seemed confused when I asked for a trolley that fitted onto the front of a wheelchair; to give them their due they did eventually unearth some, in pristine condition, from the basement. All these challenges I bore in silence(more or less) until the day I read about a public meeting to discuss safety on the roads in Dulwich.
This is a subject dear to my heart and into which I had a great input in Oxford. Just up my street (forgive the pun) so I put a must attend label in my diary. Emailing the Chair to ask if the venue was accessible to wheelchairs I received the answer no. A further email from me brought an apology and news of a change of venue. Great news, but where are all the other people living with a disability? Why hadn’t they made a protest about inaccessible events before I arrived? We are part of society not an add-on to be borne with fortitude. What we were promised was a fair and equal society and we must work together to make this happen. Now let us think about the proposal by NHS London that the Rosendale Surgery should be relocated in West Norwood. Surely they, of all people, should understand the needs of disabled and elderly people. How about getting a group of people together to have a site visit and present them with the challenge to walk to the proposed site( and let us pray for a rainy day!!) In my opinion it is practical actions like this that have more impact.
Have you looked at your front hedges and trees lately? If so are you one of the guilty ones that have overhanging branches ready to give someone with sight difficulties a slap in the face, or hedges that take up most of the pavement. Yes I know we want Dulwich to be green and leafy but too much of a good thing is not acceptable.
Complacent shops that do not welcome disabled people unless they are willing to stand on the pavement to be served; no pleasure of just browsing or having an impulse buy. An example of good practice that should be taken note of was my vet who, realising how important it is for an owner to be present when her pet receives treatment immediately went out and had a ramp made. This happened 3 days after I moved in so what a surprise I had as I tried to access other places to find this was far from the norm.