Lack of freedom of movement due to inaccessibility is one of the hardest challenges to accept as a full-time manual wheelchair user. My own ability to move freely is often restricted. Even if I can enter an establishment — which I often can’t — once inside the freedom of movement is frequently hindered by structural biases. Accessibility by definition is something that can be “used, entered, and reached’. It should not mean having your own chaperone that helps you access buildings, curbs, manoeuvre sideways footpaths or navigate obstacle courses.
Too often than not, a lack of accessibility and limited movement of disabled persons in public spaces is commonplace and accepted. For example a lack of accessible seating in pubs with high tables and high chairs and hairdressers and dentist practises with stationary seats that do not allow access to wheelchair users that have not the ability to transfer out of their chairs freely. Our freedom of movement is hindered in other ways to. Doctors practises with steps, beauticians on first floors with no elevators, boat tours that do not cater for wheelchairs, inaccessible gyms, pools, outdoor festivals, the list is endless. Even accessible toilets are more often too narrow for smaller manual chairs as opposed to the larger power chairs. I’ve experienced this on more than one occasion where I’ve had to leave the door open while emptying my catheter bag which is utterly detrimental to one’s dignity. Not only is our right to move freely without impingement from anyone or anything impeded but also one’s right to privacy is violated. Now imagine: disabled people face these battles of disablism and barriers everyday!
Freedom of movement encompasses the ability to move in environments without being constantly obstructed but unfortunately this is not always the case and precautions taken can minimise frustration and heartache. This brings me to my last point; know your surroundings where possible and plan ahead. Perhaps opt for hotels with open spaced lobbies and almost guaranteed wheelchair accessible bathrooms when socialising with friends. Simple ideas that I would advise to minimise problems include ringing ahead to make sure elevators are working, there are wheelchair facilities present and tables are at a suitable height. With regards beauticians and hairdressers; home visits are often possible with numbers available online or in store. When using public transport call ahead prior to journeys to make sure ramps are available. Sometimes local Irish Wheelchair Associations can offer support with transport as wheelchair taxis can be limited in number but also very pricey!!