A trip on a night train to London is something most people would look forward to with great excitement.
But when you use a wheelchair, it can be nerve-wracking, with so many extra things to consider.
How many days ahead do I need to book assistance?
Is the platform accessible?
Will there be steps?
Will assistance actually come?
Will there be luggage in the wheelchair space?
Will people give me time and space to board?
Will assistance arrive to get me off at the other end?
Will I be able to reach the buffet car?
Will I be able to access the sleeping compartment?
To name but a few!
But, I have work to do, not going to London is not an option. So I must be bold and face this new challenge.
The journey with Great Western Railways was good, largely due to some great staff. As a small Elf I was able to reach the bedroom but I was aware that an adult wheelchair user would not be as fortunate. The staff were brilliant when we discussed this difficulty with them and were keen to tell us that there are plans in place for an accessible carriage in the future!
We also discussed the toilet needs of disabled Elves and hope that those needs can also be taken “on board”. 😉
Paddington Station was lovely! It was so exciting to see the Paddington statue and everything was so new and huge. We looked and looked for signs for an accessible Changing Places toilet but couldn’t see any. And then it was too late. It had been a long trip with my legs crossed and I just couldn’t hold on any longer.
It was devastating, but it was even more devastating to discover, later that night, that there was actually a Changing Places toilet nearby, it just isn’t well signed. Can you imagine the pain of wetting yourself when there was a toilet nearby, but you couldn’t find it?
For anyone interested, it is near the Hammersmith Tube lifts.
Next stress – getting a taxi. Would it be wheelchair accessible? Will the driver be grumpy because I need them to use the ramp? Will they be polite and give me time to get myself in or will they encroach upon my personal space and try to manhandle me in?
Thankfully, I discovered that all London black cabs are wheelchair accessible and, as part of The Knowledge, drivers learn how to get a wheelchair user on board safely.
I cannot reveal all of my work details as some of it was a top secret mission for Santa, but I did spend some time helping my new friend Joanna Grace with some presentations that she was doing. She is totally Elftastic! (you should check her out!)
Exhausted, after a busy day, we headed to the hotel, to be met with a sight that I really dread. No lift.
With a lot of undignified (and potentially dangerous) lifting, balancing and man-handling, we got inside. I was struggling to hold in my pain but I didn’t want anyone to see me cry.
I wanted to talk to them at the front desk but I didn’t have the energy to face them. Who knows, maybe if I did they would be like the train team last night and have a hope filled answer? But it would be nice to be included from the start, without having to ask. It would be nice to not to be seen as “the problem”.
We met with friends for tea and discovered, yet again, that the restaurant they had chosen had stepped access. It was very, very crowded and was difficult to negotiate between the tables. It would have been easier for me to have gone elsewhere, but my friends love the food here and I didn’t want to be awkward by asking for my needs to be met (again) so I put up with the embarrassment and difficulties.
The following day was a fresh start. We were attending an event at The Wesley Euston Hotel and Conference Venue and I felt a huge sense of relief to discover an accessible entrance and a lift right beside the stairs. Can you imagine how unpleasant it is to have to leave your group and go a whole different way, often then struggling to find them when you reach the next floor? This was bliss!
Unfortunately, the nearest Changing Places is at Kings Cross Station, 0.9 miles away. That means 10 minutes by car but 17 minutes on foot, which will probably be longer on wheels. So I am going to have to miss sizeable chunks of this conference every time I need the toilet. I say no to the offer of a “welcome to the event” drink.
Sometimes, people just don’t know what is needed. So I have let them know. They were so kind to me and many things are in place to make access good, so they are on the nice list but will need to make a change to their bathroom facilities if they are to stay on the nice list for next year as well. Santa is a very fair man!
My time in London was interesting. It has some places with great access but many difficulties too. The lack of accessible Changing Places toilets is a real problem for an Elf like me and I will need to check “the list” to see where the London Mayor is!
Always remember that there is room for everyone on the nice list!