Tuesday, 10 April 2012

I am disabled not stupid

Why is that some people associate a wheelchair with what my grand would have called,'lacking'?

I have had my share of the 'does she take sugar?' mentality but the worst culprits seem to be those you would consider as having a certain degree of intellect. Obviously, from the people I have come across, I was wrong.

We recently went to a well known restaurant here in France. I was pleased to see that there was a ramp outside for me to access the building using my wheelchair and I was greeted with a smile. The table we were given had room for the chair and all was well until I wanted to use the WC. The space between the row of tables where we were seated and a raised platform with other tables was so narrow everyone on the lower tables had to move so I could get past in the wheelchair. The toilets were generously sized but there were two sinks in the main area which were level with my shoulders and I am in a normal sized wheelchair supplied by the French version of the NHS. It was ridiculous. Who on earth designed and built this building? Certainly not someone who uses a wheelchair.

I had to attend a hospital appointment in Dijon which is a good hour and a half from us so we decided to do some household shopping while we were there. The supermarket is situated downstairs in a mall and we parked where we always park in the disabled spaces then take the lift down to the supermarket. We don't often use this one as we have found in the past they don't have trollies that attach to the wheelchair. As we only wanted a few items I was prepared to carry the items on my lap. As we neared the supermarket I was amazed to see a battery scooter with a large basket on the front and pointed this out to my husband. I asked the man at the desk for a trolley that attached to the chair. He replied that I could use the scooter. No, that is for people with reduced mobility not for someone who has to use a wheelchair. So they had to send someone to a place inside the supermarket to get the said trolley. Meanwhile I was asked for identification. Why? Because it isn't a normal trolley. Do you ask other people who are not in wheelchairs for identification? No because they use normal trollies. This is pure discrimination. A male non disabled customer said he would be insulted if he was asked for identification on the basis he was in a wheelchair. A man came down from the office to speak to me and the reason they gave for demanding identification from wheelchair users who use this 'special' trolley is because they only have one and I or other disabled people would leave it in the car park and the store would have to retrieve it!

Now, outside the store 'normal' trollies are left all over the place and not returned to the trolley park. Surely these have to be collected? But to me it is the fact that they are discriminating against disabled people because they can't be bothered to supply more trollies to fit on wheelchairs. The other factor is what are they doing with the identification? I am not at all happy about handing over my driving license or other piece of identity, them keeping it and they could take that information and use it without my permission.

I explained that we use four other supermarkets who have trollies to fit on my wheelchair and all they do is ask that we return the trolley to the desk: except one that has six trollies and these are left outside the store where we happily return the one we use. Today one of these stores did ask if I could supply identification but I said you have never asked before so the lady just let us use it. Of course it was returned to them. Except for the store with six trollies the others all have the type doesn't properly fit a standard French NHS wheelchair and keep detaching themselves another problem to tackle!

Surely the directors of these stores could come up with some way of treating disabled people in a dignified and empathetic manner. Disabled people do not really want special treatment just to be treated like everyone else. Saying that I find in France I have to stand up for my rights as the state and commerce leave me with no other options.

A woman parked her car lengthways behind our car which was in a disabled parking bay. We had no way of getting out and we were prepared to scrape her car if necessary to get out but she returned saying she was only going to be in the shop over the road for a few minutes. No you are going to move that car now, I told her. She backed up a bit and we came out and we reversed so she had to keep on reversing too, much to her annoyance, because we needed to go down a road on the other side. She then put her car back in the same place so no other disabled person could park there.

In another supermarket the disabled toilet is kept locked and you have to ask for the key, this is only found out when you get there to use it.

A large shop near us has a disabled checkout and a 'normal checkout' but the disabled one is kept shut (even at Christmas when the shop is busy.) So, as the wheelchair is too wide for the checkout I have to wheel round, open the barrier to the disabled checkout, go around to the other checkout and struggle to pay the cashier. It is on the orders of the management apparently.

At another store there are two disabled checkouts but one is the size of a normal checkout and as it is signposted as a disabled checkout you only find out when you get there and get stuck in the checkout! The problem is the checkouts are all standard except for perhaps one or at the most two checkouts for disabled, expectant mothers and usually less than 10 items. As expectant mothers and people with less than 10 items can use other checkouts I assert my rights as I have no other choice, as I told a woman the other day. The checkout next to use was empty but she wanted to use the less than 10 items checkout.???? I told her she could use the other checkout as she at least had the choice, unlike me. But she insisted she should use this one as it was for 10 items or less; even though the other desk was free!

The local phone company shop which we have had to visit on occasions has a flight of steps up to it. As my husband wants me to speak to them as no one there speaks English two men have to come and lift the chair with me in it up the steps; something I am not happy about. Surely there is something about health and safety? This is a common occurance as doctors' surgeries often have steps up to them and our pharmacy is the same.

When faced with me in a chair people will talk to my husband, who then tells them to talk to me as it is me who is inconvenienced. They act like I am a complete idiot and try and fob me off but I think they expect me to be like the French disabled who don't stand up for their rights. I will argue the point and not be patted on the head and told there is nothing they can do it is just how it is.

When I see the way huge superstores treat their customers I am shocked and livid. More than once I have said 'obviously you don't want my money. Isn't it as good as anyone elses?' Of course they want my money they just won't make it easy for me to use the shop!

The reasons, excuses and lies they trot out are complete rubbish. I told the man the other day that I fight against my disability every day why should I have to fight to do my shopping? It is a natural thing to do like going to a doctor or a pharmacy. Everyone should have the right to go out for a meal, go to the cinema, go to a concert, go to a café or visit a tourist attraction. But the so called management, who invariably have never had to deal with life the way disabled people do, couldn't manage a drinking contest in a brewery.

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