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Shopmobility is a free service run by the Oxford City Council that offers loans of wheelchairs and electric scooters to people who need them for shopping and sightseeing in the city centre.

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      21.09.2007 01:50
      Very helpful



      Main "handicap" is often 'people' - not the physical disability!

      This review is not specifically about 'Oxford' Shopmobility Service - it is a review of actually "USING" one of the shopmobility wheelchairs & trying to shop or carry out "normal" tasks in one of their wheelchairs & how the shopmobility scheme is great (in theory), it's just the rest of it that stinks!! ....

      ((((REALLY LONG REVIEW!)))) - available soon as hardback version ((grin))

      I realise that most members probably won't want to read this, but for those of you who do want an insight into wheelchair use in the "real world" then here it is....


      I'm totally wheelchair bound - I am not allowed to walk at all ........

      To put the current situation for this review in context, I'll firstly explain a bit of relevant background history - many years ago ("when Adam was a lad") and I was in my early 20's, I was involved in an accident and ended up in a wheelchair for five years. I was unable to use my legs so I was totally reliant upon the wheelchair for mobility, but the rest of me worked fine!
      The wheelchair was difficult to get used to for all of the obvious reasons you can probably imagine - I had been young, fit and active and suddenly my whole life was turned on it's head & I was "trapped" in a chair.
      I've always been stubborn though & still wanted to 'live' so I really got cracking with learning new ways to do old things.
      It was physically hard work - I ended up with upper arm strength that made 'Arnie' look like a wimp.
      Wheelchairs back then were VERY heavy, not very compact, wide, relatively low-tech items.
      We didn't have "Shopmobility" and electric wheelchairs available to all.

      We also didn't have the equality laws regarding treatment of the 'disabled', buildings were not compelled to be wheelchair friendly & the world was not obsessed with being "politically correct" when dealing with disability issues.
      I met with a wide range of human-emotions & reactions from strangers - embarrassment, curiosity, helpfulness, pity etc generally though people were always at least polite & well-meaning.

      I was "lucky", after painful, radical surgery, prolonged treatments and much physio, despite the disheartening prognosis of being permanently disabled, after five long years I was able to walk once more. Yeehaaa .......... On with life to the full again......

      The years have progressed and I have always remembered what it was like being the one actually stuck in that damned chair.
      So I always try to treat any wheelchair users "appropriately" according to the situation I meet them in.
      i.e.. -
      If they are struggling with a door, I'll open it. (but Helloooo ..............it's just good manners isn't it something you'd do anyway & nothing to do with the "wheelchair"?)

      If they are looking at the beans on a high shelf I'll pass them down without me making it into some major act of simpering human kindness that I have just favoured them with! (Nope, I'm not looking for a Nobel Prize for this act either)

      If they are avoiding eye contact I don't feel compelled to speak to them just because they are in a wheelchair! I do like I would with any other stranger who wishes to be left alone.

      If they look terribly alone & they initiate a conversation I'll say a casual hi with a nod & take it up from there. I'll spend a few mins - but hey - many of us do that with an old person who is obviously looking for a little bit of conversation to break up their day - so again, it's nothing to do with the 'wheelchair'.

      So the bottom line for this section is that I treat them according to the situation and not with any 'special' treatment just because they are in a chair ................ the one thing I do ALWAYS remain very much aware of though, is that they might only be in a wheelchair because their LEGS etc that are not working. It has never crossed my mind to treat a person in a wheelchair like a brain-dead cabbage!

      So it's therefore come as a huge shock to the system for me to be now treated like a prize-winning "Cerebellum-Deceased-Brassica" !

      I'm 50 (and a little bit over!) -just keep that between the two of us though please and don't tell anyone else ;-) and I've just had major surgery (totally unrelated to the old injuries). I am not allowed to walk at all for a few months. I've actually mainly been confined (condemned) to bed (just laptop and lucozade for company) but if I'm a really good little cabbage I'm allowed out in a wheelchair for trips to hospital etc.

      At first I thought it would be a doddle to cope this time, after all, wheelchair technology is now so advanced, places are all supposed to be 'wheelchair friendly', dropped kerbs are on every road, and equality rules/issues are plastered all over the papers and news every day, and all the related "isms" are now illegal!

      I especially couldn't wait until I was able to use the Shopmobility Scheme, as I thought it was the answer to everything!

      I figured that if I had previously coped for five years with adverse conditions, this few month stint now, with the Law and technology on my side was going to be a breeze!

      Hmmmmmmmm! Think again Aken! How wrong could I be .......................................

      Here's a review to see........


      So here begins THE DIARY OF A CABBAGE Age 52 3/4


      First trip out in the wheelchair - (aka "The Hellloooo I am still here, trip")
      I've been issued with a wheelchair as I am not able to walk at all now for a few months & so I'm off to the hospital. First trip since being discharged after surgery. I set off dressed in smart 'work clothes' - i.e. skirt-suit and silk top.
      Hubby says the wheelchair was much lighter weight to lift than the one all those years ago.
      It was easy to fold, more compact. Felt more comfortable to sit in & felt 'stable'.

      Hubby put me in wheelchair at the hospital and left me 'parked' by the hospital foyer whilst he moved the the car (I don't have a "blue badge" so he can't park anywhere for disabled people!)

      A lady smiled at me and said "A R E Y O U A L R I G H T D E A R?" in a V. E. R. Y. slow, clear, loud voice whilst making a point of bending over and letting me see her lips clearly mouthing the words.

      "Yes thank you" I said with a smile but speaking clearly whilst thinking ah, bless, she must have a hearing impairment due to her speech etc.
      (As a Doctor though I did notice the absence of the gutteral note often detected in the voices of the severely hearing impaired, but thought no more of it.)
      I now look back over the past week and realise this was actually the first stage of "Brassica Syndrome".

      So hubby & I went to see the consultant, no problem there. We discussed the case (he knows who I am, so we spoke professionally - with no frills & the coffee served in a China cup and saucer -relevance explained later!)

      We left the hospital and having spent a few weeks in bed I was in no rush to go home - so I blackmailed hubby into taking me for lunch.

      We arrived at a restaurant we've used a few times over the years - we're not 'regulars' but we know what to expect and have never had any problem in there.
      We parked, wheeled our way in - access easy - low ramp - no problem.
      Hubby asked for a table for two. Simple you'd think ..................... Well what a drama!!! (All it needed was one of the wooden chairs removing & I'd be fine at any table - but noooo!)
      One waiter said "you can't sit her there she'll be in a draught" (what???? - never had them worry about that before!)
      One waitress said "You can't put her there she'll be too close to the fire door".
      The third member of staff said "Put her near the window then she can see the ducks".
      ***She***, meanwhile is sitting like a cabbage (a mere two feet away from them all) with a grin whilst they all decide what exactly is best for "her".
      My husband finally flipped, pulled out a chair from a table - wheeled me to the table and politely asked for them to bring the menu!

      I'm on really heavy meds, so a glass of wine was out of the question & hubby was driving so won't drink & drive. He therefore asked for two non-alcoholic drinks & a carafe of water.
      A waiter brought the drinks, the carafe, the glasses & - wait for it ---- a straw!!

      The food arrived and the waitress asked my husband (as is customary) "would you like any condiments sir?"......... She looked at me however and pointed to my fillet steak and asked "will that be all right like that?.......erm....I mean...erm.......whole..."
      Now I must say, I bit my tongue so bl**dy hard I could barely taste the meal - but at least I didn't reply with what was really going through my mind!!

      The two coffees (identical types of coffee ordered) arrived at the end of the meal - but with hubby's in a cup & saucer & mine in a mug!
      I'd had enough by now & politely asked them to take it away & bring me a cup & saucer - adding.... "without a straw please!"


      Second Trip out in Wheelchair - (aka "The Julia Roberts for a Day", Trip)

      24 hours bed-rest requires an absolute minimum of 2 nighties per day if you're going to be comfortable, and my well meaning (polite description!!) hubby decided to do the washing to ease the pressure on our daughter who has temporarily taken over running the household. He had this ludicrous idea that 5 pure silk pale blue nightdresses they were therefore safe to go in with dark blue jeans & a navy blue 'dog-towel'.....all on a hot wash!!
      So after yet another hospital trip in the city I said I'd like to go & buy half a dozen new nightgowns!

      We went to a shop that I quite often go into. Again, I was smartly dressed - I mention this only so you can understand I was not dressed in a baseball cap worn backwards, or sporting a 'velour-shell-suit', or a 1970's nylon printed size 28 smock - I therefore don't think by any stretch of the imagination you would label me as a "chav", "pikey" "minger" or any of the other disagreeable titles that might 'exclude' me socially from certain city shops!
      However I was just about to have my very own "Julia Roberts - Pretty Woman" experience.
      We arrived at the shop I intended to get the nightwear from & realised the step to the shop was too high to use (7" high step -listed building original front) -whilst I was pointing through the glass door to show my husband which nightgowns I'd like him to go and buy for me, the assistant came to the door.
      I smiled as she opened it & politely asked did they have another access please that I could use. She looked and gave me the phoniest smile I have seen for many a year and said "No we're waiting for the building work to be arranged. Although it seems ridiculous we have to go to these lengths as it's not as though we get YOU PEOPLE in here every day. Our prices are somewhat prohibitive!"

      Now I don't know how old some of you are who may be reading this....but those of you who are "ancient" (like me) will probably remember the advert for "Standard (TM) Fireworks" and this line that comes from the firework ads ............."Light the blue touch paper and stand well back ..........................!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Hmmmmm...I don't think she'll ever make THAT mistake again!


      Third Trip out in Wheelchair - (aka The "Do Cabbages Float?" Trip)

      As you've probably now gathered, I only am allowed out for the weekly hospital trip, however I have perfected the art of emotional-blackmail & normally get to play hooky from the confines of my bedroom for an hour or two after each trip!

      So after a little light-blackmail I was contentedly "parked up" outside a bistro, near the river waiting for hubby to bring the menu to the table.
      I was just closing my eyes for a minute to savour the gentle summer sun on my face & enjoy being out of bed after yet another period of 6 days cooped up under the duvet.
      I sat there eyes closed, basking in the warmth, relishing the fact that I am alive, feeling I'm going to eventually be ok .......ahhhhhhh ...... all felt well with the world .......until ....................

      "A R E Y O U A L L R I G H T H E R E I N T H E S U N S H I N E ?"

      I must have looked a little startled for a second - wondering why a total stranger was gripping the chair tightly & speaking soooo slowly and mouthing the words a few inches from my face.

      "D O N'T B E F R I G H T E N E D, Y O U 'R E S A F E, Y O U W O N'T F A L L I N !"

      "Fall in where?" I suddenly panicked. Thinking Oh cr*p what's happened???

      "I N T H E W A T E R. - T H E R I V E R I S V E R Y D E E P"

      The penny was now starting to drop - the voice of this lady was the same sort of tone I experienced on the first day out in the wheelchair! It was slow, loud, clear, precise, almost monosyllabic - the two women weren't deaf - they didn't have a speech impediment - they both thought I was an imbecile!

      Before I could reply, my husband returned with tray of drinks & the menu. The woman stood up and rounded on him, saying he should have been ashamed leaving me there in the sun and so near to the river (about 18 foot away!).
      She added - "If she had messed around with the brakes she could have gone in the river".

      Somewhat stunned, I pointed out I was fine thank you and absolutely nowhere near the river edge & as for "messing" with the brakes, I had no intention of going for an afternoon dip, but if I did it was not a problem as I happen to be a long distance, bronze medallist swimmer!

      My poor husband had to endure accusatory glares for the rest of our (short) stay!


      Fourth Trip out in Wheelchair - (aka " The Does She Need A Wee?" Trip)

      This little sojourn proved to be quite an event!
      I'll point out here that I don't drool, dribble, have a snotty nose.
      I have no "body odour" - well I'd better not with the amount I spend on Estee Lauder (lol).
      I am NOT incontinent & do not go out sitting on a large waterproof mat or wearing plastic pants that crackle.

      I do not go out dressed in tartan carpet slippers that zip up the front.
      I do not wear "American Tan" tights, nylon dresses, cardigan, or carry a brown handbag when wearing blue shoes or anything else that would "outwardly" indicate that my husband had been responsible for choosing my clothes, or looking like he dressed me as a result of me not being of sound mind!!

      We took my 10 year old god-daughter with us on this particular hospital trip as she was due to stay with us for one of her regular overnight visits.
      After the hospital, we visited a small cafe. Hubby ordered our drinks etc & then left us there whilst he nipped to pick up the huge list of prescriptions from the pharmacy a couple of doors away.
      After a few minutes later I was trying to wriggle gently just to get a little comfortable as I was in a lot of pain but didn't want to tear my many stitches.
      The waitress came over and totally ignored me (the adult) and looked directly at my little 10 year old god-daughter (who only looks 8-9years old at the most) & asked out loud "Does she need a wee?" Claire started to giggle & spluttered "I don't know!"
      I said "No thank you, but I'll be sure to let you know when I do!!"
      A minute later a colleague of mine saw me & came over to have a quick coffee & natter.
      We were sitting discussing a patient of mine whom she's covering for me, when she realised I was in pain. She asked quietly what setting the morphine drip (a line currently set into my hip) was on. She discretely leant over to click the setting up a notch when the waitress barged over & said at the top of her voice "You'll have to take her out if she's going to have an accident!"
      The whole cafe turned to look at me............my colleague was astounded, I was embarrassed beyond belief and young Claire was in shock!

      Yet another letter of complaint to write tonight!! Ooh whatever happened to Esther Rantzen??


      Fifth Trip out in Wheelchair - ("The Shop-immobility Day" Trip) -
      This was to be the Ultimate test of "modern life" in a wheelchair - life with such wonderful facilities as "Shopmobility". We were going to hire an electric wheelchair for the afternoon & really benefit from the freedom (and some 'retail-therapy!')

      This trip was a taken in a different town. I had been to see a Consultant in another hospital - partly work related & partly regarding my own med case.
      Afterwards I said I was feeling strong enough to have a little peep around the shops.

      So, rather than using the normal wheelchair that we have been issued with, we decided to try an electric one.
      Hubby had found out about the "Shopmobility" scheme electric wheelchairs (& "scooters") & we called in on the off chance they had one available (you normally have to book in advance).
      We visited their office & filled out all the forms, joined the scheme, showed ID etc, left the money (excellent value - a £2.50 refundable deposit - plus donations if you want to as they are a registered charity - although some towns do charge a fee apparently - precise details from the website listed below).
      I chose an electric wheelchair, not one of the large scooter type vehicles.

      They gave a few mins training in the wheelchair & I practiced in their office & off we went (female driver competency proven! (lol).

      (Shopmobility details for all of UK can be found at http://www.justmobility.co.UK/shop/)

      It was wonderful. Off we went down the ramp into the city. Ohhhh this was so much better than it was as a youngster wheeling myself in a heavy manual wheelchair.

      This really felt like "mobility".

      Hubby thought it was great too (albeit he was still clucking like a mother hen worrying about stitches, lines, venflons for drips et al!) He was now able to open doors for me rather than try to juggle a manual chair & the door whilst the rest of the world looks on to wait to see if he can do it (Grrrr).

      Hubby is a few years older than me, so although I'm only a size 10 & not a huge weight, pushing me around is really hard work due to hilly county we live in.
      It also adds to the awful feeling of "guilt" you live with when you are wheelchair bound. You feel like a burden. You don't like to ask to go to specific places as someone else has to take you there.

      This was fantastic. I was absolutely delighted with this wonderful motorised transport. It was simple to operate, comfortable to sit in (with the additional back support they kindly provided), it was easy to use the hand control.
      The foot rests were adjustable so could be pushed out a little to raise leg height.
      I didn't have to "steer" so no risk to all my stitches etc - it was a simple one handed control that is placed on the correct armrest - according to whether you're left/right handed.

      The next few months would be ok after all. I could put up with the insults & rubbish if I could at least get out and about easily!

      Ah bliss............

      Hubby opened the first shop door & in I wheeled - stop - stuck - what the?? - the shop had put a large display overhanging the width of the entrance so the wheelchair wouldn't physically fit in! It wasn't even a large wheelchair - but the additional hand rim on the wheels just would not fit through.
      Out I reversed.

      Ah well minor set back. Hubby nipped in and bought the item I needed - I sat outside - bit miffed but ok..


      Off to the ATM next for some cash - "Oh! I can't reach!" - You see, if you go straight up to the machine the wheelchair foot-plates are in the way.
      - so a little bit of strategic manoeuvring (whilst enduring being severely tutted at, by the chap waiting to use the ATM next!)
      There we go, I'd moved sideways on now - but nope, no good - Still couldn't reach!
      No matter how close to the machine I got, (essential for my arms to reach so I could insert the card in the slot) I still then needed to be able to twist the top half of my body at a 90degree angle whilst reaching out & at the same time lift my bottom up off the seat, as the seat is much lower than the screen. The screen is angled upwards so I couldn't read it anyway!
      If I could do all of that little gymnastic routine I wouldn't need a flippin' wheelchair I'd be an aerobics instructor!!

      As I said, even if I could reach, I would not be able to read the actual on-screen instructions any way to know if I was pressing the correct buttons!

      So hubby to the rescue again! Gave him my card & PIN & wheeled away leaving hubby and "tutting" man glaring at each other in equal disgust!

      I sat out of the way - bit more miffed but ok.


      Off to next shop I wanted to go in. A two inch doorstep soon puts a stop to that idea!
      Electric wheelchairs and scooters can go up some kerbs and steps but some thin designs of obstacles are really difficult & can't be safely managed. The design of each machine varies & their capabilities vary too.
      The electric wheelchair I was in needed someone to actually tip the chair backwards for me & manhandle it over the step, it wasn't able to go on it's own.

      So scrap that shop! Hmmmm...... now quite miffed but ok-ish.


      Off to Boots the Chemist. Got to be okay there surely. Major store. So off I trundle.

      Good start - electric doors -wheelchair friendly width too - brilliant..........half way through the electric doors........... BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP... What the???? Security guard stops me, wants to know if I've been in any other shops....yea, right, that I should be so bl**dy lucky!!

      Everyone around stops and watches/listens to be nosey........He clears his throat & asks me do I have a pacemaker.....What??? ....Why the hell do people think they can suddenly ask personal questions at the top of their voices just because I'm a "crip"? (another term I'm becoming rapidly familiar with during my time in a wheelchair!)
      He sees the look brewing on my face & finally flusters & says it must be all the metal/electronics & lets me enter (Is this my claim to fame? - Being the first shoplifter in history who steals from outside a shop and takes the item in!!!!)

      So we head through the store to the elevator. I can't reach the button due to boxes blocking the way. Hubby to the rescue (AGAIN!!)
      Off we go upstairs - because of course that's where they keep the "disability aids", the pharmacy, the OTC medicines & the new born baby stuff! - Of course it makes sense to have the young fit people downstairs buying make-up and make everyone else go upstairs with prams & wheelchairs for their purchases.

      Couldn't get to the pharmacy counter at all, as the ribbon-thingy that they use to herd the cattle-like buyers into a queue was set so close to the shelves the wheelchair wouldn't fit.
      Three guesses who had to go and buy the items for me?? Well done you guessed! -Not surprising really as we've started to establish a pattern!

      Couldn't reach the aromatherapy oils I wanted to try, as they were too high ...but never mind, at least the incontinence pads were within reach if I had wanted them - well I am in a wheelchair & bound to be incontinent - just ask the woman in the cafe!!

      Paid for my items - hubby however had to insert my PIN number as the chip&PIN machine is fixed up too high!

      Got downstairs to door - decided to use a different door to avoid hassle again incase it was just a dodgy sensor........ AhHah, think again...... BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP ........ fortunately the same security chap arrives, who promptly apologises & open the door for me to leave, although plenty of customers are watching suspiciously!
      Left Boots with only a handful of items (ALL paid for I hasten to assure you!!)(lol).

      So now REALLY miffed and feeling way less than ok!


      Crossed over the road. Nearly do my "crash-test dummy" impersonation out of the front of wheelchair due to the "safety, drop-kerb" being still two inches high & giving one heck of a whallop when I hit it! - Huh - You just try approaching a two inch high kerb at speed, then tell me what you think! No chance of approaching it slowly & gently when the traffic is already on the move -albeit the lights are still not on green!!

      Then in agony & feeling really unstable wobble the wheelchair across the 'tactile paving' - (those pink flagstones that have those raised bobbles all over them to warn you that you're about to cross the road)

      I would strongly suggest at this point that anyone who doubts this article goes along to hire a wheelchair for a day & carry out their normal chores. I think you will be shocked at the experience & give thanks for your mobility when you stand up and walk away from the chair! (I know I will when I'm finally out of it again!!)


      So life in hands off I go over a side street that has NO dropped kerbs - OMG! It feels like you are going to tip right over. It is NOT pleasant at all. Hubby had to do that & guide it down a kerb & up the next one - not possible to do without manual assistance.

      *****Handy Tip**** Please folks save your money next year don't pay £25 to go to Alton Towers or Blackpool Pleasure Beach - hire a £2.50 wheelchair & go over council kerbstones!
      Hold onto your popcorn though!! (and your lunch!!)


      So I then pass tentatively through a crowd of people blocking the pavement, standing talking - not an easy task & a few disgusted looks when I said politely "Excuse me please" - you'd think I'd just said "It's a hold up!!" or something rude!!
      Then I heard - "shouldn't be allowed out - they're a bl**dy nuisance!" only to be followed by "why can't you go around, the road is big enough? You shouldn't be allowed on the pavement."
      A young Mum with a pram looked at me pityingly & said "It's okay I get that every where I go!!"


      Now one other thing to be noted here, is on the subject of crowds/confined spaces - & this is specially for the unenlightened amongst you who are fortunate enough never to have spent time in a wheelchair -

      The first point is that in a standard height wheelchair (electric or manual) means it is very intimidated going through a large crowd of people - - (please all of you try it at some point - go through a crowd of adults on your knees and see what a scary world it is for children & wheelchair users!!)
      I am NOT the sort of person who is easily frightened (A&E duty on a Friday night soon ensures you're not the feeble-girly type of Doc), but going through a crowd at such a low level - especially when people are being most unpleasant about you actually being there is most disconcerting!

      The other issue about crowds is a .....**delicate** one ....... - "personal odour" - pheweeeee! You would NOT believe how bad it can be down there!
      Travel through a crowd or go passed several shoppers in a crowded store or other confined space, or better still, sit in a crowded elevator - & just see for yourself.

      Some people's idea of personal hygiene leaves a lot to be desired at that height!!


      Anyway.....off I go though the crowd ...... off to Waterstones Bookshop.

      I managed to fit in (just) narow aisles & lots of those "special offer" cardboard display stands. Looked around can't see anything other than fiction type books (not my thing).
      So I asked where the reference books etc were. I was told they were upstairs! Staff really helpful & polite though - said I was welcome to use the freight lift!!
      The young girl had to move two displays & unlock the double doors at the rear of the shop. She then had to move three cages full of heavy boxes/books. She had to ask the manager for a key.
      Then she had to empty the lift of two more cages & a box. She had to accompany me up in the freight lift - whilst telling me that she would wait for me as she would have to take me down again when I'd finished!

      I ended up feeling such a pain in the butt & so uncomfortable that I spent money in there on books that I really didn't want!
      Incidentally, all the children's books, medical books, new born baby books, fitness, health/recovery books etc are ALL upstairs, so anyone with a wheelchair, pram or toddlers will need to go up whilst the grab-a beach-fiction-paperbacks are all conveniently located on the ground floor!

      Came out of there... Totally miffed and by now, NOT ok!!


      Hubby still had to carry the bags on this trip, as the electric box on the back of the chair means that special wheelchair bags can't go across the handles on this model.
      Ordinary bags would catch on the wheels & split.
      Also, the weight of bags when on the back always risks the chair tipping up - especially if you're not fat.

      If I had been on my own I would have had no way to carry to items so would not have been able to shop at all.


      We trundled over desperately uneven (and dangerous) pavements to a shoe shop.

      I have more shoes than Imelda Marcos but I needed some just half a size larger due to awful swelling at present ....well that's my excuse & I'm sticking to it!(lol) I was told that the ladies shoes were downstairs & inaccessible - we were also told that the manageress was the only one who could use the service-lift with customers & she was off ill!
      I asked a young assistant if it was possible for her to please bring a couple of pairs upstairs for me to try on & indicated that I only wear very high shoes & prefer pointed style ....... Next thing I know I heard my hubby demanding her name & was whisking me out of the shop!
      After much insistence, I prised from him what it was she had said, & apparently she had turned away & said to another girl "What the f*** does she want shoes for? It's not like she's going to wear out that pair that she's got now!"

      My husband is fiercely protective of me & he was even more upset than I was.
      After I'd calmed him down & assured him we'd write to her head office & report her, he agreed to carry on.
      The day was already turning into a disaster though.


      The next three shops I tried to go in were no-go areas - one shop owner however was very kind & realised I couldn't get in more than a few feet and she was so sweet & asked if I'd like to "park" at the side of the door and she would bring me anything I'd like to see. She apologised for the cramped shop & said that rent was so high she had to cram in all that she could into a small space to maximise sales.
      She had some lovely items, but the changing room was inaccessible.
      She then asked my husband could he carry me to the changing room? You should have seen the poor dear's face! I thought he was going to have a fit at the suggestion!
      We declined politely. People just don't comprehend how embarrassing that sort of thing is!! A grown woman being carried across a crowded shop!
      So I bought a pair of trousers on the condition I could try them at home & change them if not suitable.


      Really feeling deflated, dejected & defeated I proclaimed I wanted to go home. This was really becoming a ""Shop-IMMOBILITY"" trip now. I'd had enough.


      I said I wanted to go to the loo before the long journey home - not unreasonable surely. It is a tourist city so should have lots of public loos, shouldn't it? - Think again!

      We trailed around until I was nearly in tears with frustration.
      They were either totally inaccessible or out of order.

      In one public toilet, I got in there so relieved to finally find a loo, but then realised the wheelchair wouldn't fit into the actual cubicle. The attendant realised I couldn't fit it in & she said "Well it's only a few feet, leave the chair here & go in without it". I 'quietly' said that I can't physically walk at all - not even a few steps - and she looked at me like I had just announced I secretly had two heads! She then said "well I mopped it an hour ago, shuffle across the floor if you want."

      Yeeeeuuuuuuuuuwwwwwwww !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      I left (penny still in hand!) We went to Debenhams as someone said they had a loo on the top floor with their cafe. So we agreed we'd have a coffee & use their facilities. - However the cafe is split level - the elevator goes to the cafe's floor, but then there are two whole flights of stairs to go up to the toilets! The elevator does not go up to the final level where the toilets are.
      I am not able to walk at all - not even a few steps - so two flights was out of the question -
      (Meanwhile hubby ended up helping carry a pram with a baby in it & all the shopping up the steps for a young Mum who's toddler was crying & bursting to go - she had already tried to get into two toilets with the pram & had no joy!)

      We finally were told of a "disabled" toilet that was "fully" wheelchair accessible. We went there...... right across the city....... but it required a special key (called a "Radar Key") to get in!
      It was totally locked & does not have an attendant etc.
      (We now know you have to apply to "The National Key Scheme" & pay £3.50 per key - they offer disabled access to around 7,000 locked public toilets around the country.) (http:// www.radar.org.UK/radarwebsite/tabid)


      So that was it, I was totally gutted .......... I arrived in the city thinking I finally had a little taste of freedom in a "disability-conscious" society & here I was now wanting to go home in tears!

      I'm by no means 'mard', but I had just about met with my limit!

      I had still needed my husband to be with me to do all the tasks for me - so NO independence.

      I was not even able to physically access many of the places I wanted to go in, let alone make purchases in there.

      I was asked personal questions out loud.

      I was embarrassed by suggestions made.

      I was insulted.

      I was not able to access a single toilet in the entire city (we actually had to drive back to the hospital & use their facilities before travelling home!)

      So things have NOT improved to the point of equality over the past 20 years. In fact if anything people's attitudes have hardened, they seem to resent the fact that wheelchair users are given "concessions".
      They fail to see though that technology has drastically improved the equipment we have, - especially the wonderful wheelchairs, - but the high-tech equipment is no damned use if it won't physically fit through a doorway due to stupid/thoughtless placing of shelves!


      Then to add insult to injury I couldn't even have a G&T when I got home after this disastrous trip, as I'm not allowed to drink yet & besides that, Oddbins was one of the other shops I couldn't get into to make a purchase even if I could drink!!


      So there you have it, the diary of a "Crip", "Spac", "Lame-brain", "Vegetable" & "Cabbage" (these are actual quotes - of names I have heard used about me and other wheelchair users in the past couple of months).

      I MUST stress, we have also had two trips out without event or insults.
      Some people have been really lovely - some people have been just 'ordinary' (which is a welcome relief!) but these 'diary' events (above) are not totally isolated incidents - I have heard many awful stories from my petients who likewise have suffered as a result of nothing other than being in a wheelchair.

      I hope it's given you a taste of what it's like to be confined to a wheelchair - sometimes humorous, occasionally upsetting, often bl**dy infuriating!

      I hope you now understand it from "our" perspective. Being disabled isn't a great "club" to be in - I don't suggest you to rush out & jump under a number nine bus to just to join us!

      Next time you see me out in the wheelchair you can say "Hello" without thinking you're stretching my powers of intellect using a polysyllabic word (lol) and without miming it for me either !!

      I'm thinking of having a large badge made saying - (((((((********** "I'm a Crip not a Cabbage, and by the way, I'm fully House-Trained!!" ***********))))))))) - it might be insulting to me, but at least 'certain' other people will understand the words & may take it on board!!

      So I would ask that next time you're out and about, that you please just stop and think for a second - would you ask an able bodied adult out loud "Do you need a wee?"

      I'm NOT mentally deficient, I'm just physically handicapped!

      Most of the issues could have been avoided if people put their brains in gear before their mouths!


      I hope you've enjoyed reading this & you can actually see what it's REALLY about - and that it's not just someone whingeing & whining for "more equality" or banging the "political-correctness" drum etc - it's just a lady who happens to be like thousands of other wheelchairs users - fed up of insults & 'presumptions' about her competency & being excluded from ordinary places.

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      There are a variety of electric scooters and electric or manual wheelchairs. The staff provide free lessons on using this equipment.