Ever since I was little my parents have always made sure I was surrounded by friends. Our house would be the place to hang out, have turkey dinosaurs and smiley faces and just generally have a great time. Access wasn’t really something I was thinking about. Even outside of the house – a lot of my close friends’ mums would be able to pick me up and take me into their houses.
Restaurants would be the place to hang out as teenagers. It’s weird because we would never talk about access. We would subconsciously just choose places that was step free and go to our favourite places.
It was only when I got older, especially when I went to University – I realised how inaccessible places were. I could no longer be physically picked up (I am no longer the size of a polly pocket – and who wants to be regularly picked up when they’re a 25 year old woman? – maybe that’s for another post). Going to restaurants is not always the place I want to hang out now. A lot of clubs will have steps and no ramps, or disabled toilets will be in the basement (I’m not joking) or filled with unused tables. I even got told at the door of one club that I “should have given them warning”. So as you can see, it wasn’t as plain sailing as I got older.
So in this post, I thought I’d give tips on how to include wheelchair user friends in social events. It’s easy to shy away from the topic but making a small effort can really make a difference for everyone.
Provide as much information as possible
When you’re planning a party or any event, think about it – all attendees need the basic information. Where to go and what time. For a wheelchair user, I can guarantee there are two things they will be thinking. Is it step free and is there a disabled toilet. (Gone are the days I used to have a night out and not go to the toilet at all. I know. It’s bad). If you can find out these details beforehand that really helps when getting ready for the event and focussing on all the things you should be thinking about (like the great outfit you’re going to wear!).
Have an honest chat with your friend
Obviously, in this post I’m speaking as a wheelchair user and those two access requirements are my basics. But there are so many requirements someone may need if they have other impairments – whether that’s different lighting, noise level or allergies etc. So therefore there may be a chat needed to iron out what is needed. Remember to listen to the person, if they say something is not accessible to them, respect their experience and knowledge.
Putting on your Facebook event description “let me know if you have any questions” opens up the opportunity to have this chat.
Don’t make it a massive palarvor
Ok, I’m going to say this and cringe whilst I’m typing. I’ve had SO many people who have #stressed me out when inviting me to events. Whether that’s announcing to a whole group online that GEM NEEDS IT THIS WAY or constantly asking me if the room is ok on the night – I’m giggling now. As I said before as long as you have made sure you’re thinking about it, there is no need to make the individual/s feel singled out.
Take some of the energy
A lot of my time is taken up by organising my life. Whether that’s calling places and checking access, explaining my requirements and sometimes frustratingly being faced with ignorant reception. So, taking some of that energy from the person and help checking the finer details really makes a difference and is honestly so appreciated.
Be an ally – ask organisations the awkward questions
So, you may have called a restaurant and they say “sorry, we’re not accessible”. It’s really easy to say “ok, thank you anyway”. Next time try – “oh really, can I ask why and if there is scope to improve this?”. It’s amazing how it will snap the person out of robotically answering the phone and really challenging their own thoughts. I remember doing this once, and then the bar actually invested in a portable ramp. What a success!
And finally… have fun!
As I hope you can tell from my blog, I love my friends, going out and having a right giggle. If we can all work together to have access in mind – it helps everyone out. I’m hoping in years to come, we will look back on this blog and say “can you remember when you couldn’t get into that place – wow that would not happen now!”
We can dream can’t we. Anyway for now these are just a few tips to make things a little easier so you can focus on having fun…
Cheers to that!