Back to the Future

This week has seen my spirit of adventure rekindled. It has now been more that a year since the Paralympics; London 2012 was heralded as the Games that challenged the stereotype of disabled people, creating positive role models and convincing the world that a universal, accessible utopia was achievable.

Dare I say it, access is within the realms of achievability well, where it is deemed ‘appropriate’ and ‘reasonable’ anyway. Last years high profile sporting events have had some interesting consequences for me, every professional I meet seems to expect me to be sporty! A few months ago I was speaking to a group of medical students as part of an NHS drive to acquaint future medics with the needs of the disabled population. I discussed my disability, the needs I have and how they as doctors could better respond thus making interactions more positive and yes, even functional and productive.

I finished talking and asked if they had any questions they would like to ask me, there was silence and then it came. “Have you ever thought of playing wheelchair basket-ball?” Ah, that Paralympic legacy again. The truth is I have tried to be sporty over the years, I used to love horse-riding, a therapeutic activity originally suggested by my physiotherapist and I have to say it was one of their better ideas. I had some amazing adventures, including riding down Bryce Canyon in Utah, USA aged 11, the ultimate in inclusive activities. I also enjoyed swimming, my great grandfather was a medal winning swimmer. The problem is that if you need the water temperature of the average nice cup of tea in order for your muscles to enter a state of co-operation, it is not a mantle I could reasonably take up. Austerity measures have seen the only purpose built specially heated swimming pool closed and let’s face it, as 35 years old the window of opportunity to achieving sporting prowess has probably closed.

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However, all of this talk of activity made me feel I was letting the side down, so when my aunt put forward the idea of visiting the garden of a local stately home I thought to check out their disabled access. The National Trust literature advertised ‘Trampers’, a cross between an all-terrain vehicle and a conventional mobility scooter. The resultant vehicle can handle terrain my conventional wheelchair would require someone skilled in conflict resolution to achieve. The machine handled with ease over those oh so visually pleasing 17th century garden paths and driveways, granted it was a bit slow and cumbersome. We had one hair-raising moment trying to manoeuvre between 2 listed walls into a courtyard, I hit 1 of said walls despite my aunt’s navigational advice, “Left had down”, “Keep steering column straight” etc. Difficult to follow if you are a dyslexic, CP, non-driver. After 10 minutes of trying to get through this gap, rain came and added insult to injury. I got through, exhausted and insisted on going for lunch in the cafe. I concluded that this is as sporty as I am ever likely to get these days.

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I suppose the point I am trying to make is that despite how brilliant this day was and the amazing success of our Paralympic athletes in 2012, these positive role models are no help when you are trying to navigate your way around a listed 17th century garden in the 21st century. Protecting our national heritage does come at a price, and that price may well be ease of access to those with disabilities unless you are willing to demolish a couple of listed walls.

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