I’m disabled so I spend much of my time waiting
Limitations of independence are unnecessarily placed upon disabled people
Louise Bruton:"Our time should be valued but instead we’re left waiting down alleys, information desks, holding areas." Photograph: Dave Meehan
I spend a lot of my time waiting: waiting for side doors to be opened and waiting for someone to show me the alternative and accessible route into a building.
Waiting on the phone – sometimes up to 30 minutes – as I’m in line to buy access tickets for a big concert when everybody else can buy their tickets with one click online.
Waiting for bar staff – after I finally get their attention – to find the key for the locked accessible bathroom. A key that I then have to return at the busy bar, adding in more waiting time, as I have to frantically wave to catch their attention over the noise of a Friday night crowd.
Somewhere along the line, the provision of accessible facilities for disabled people evolved into an economy of dependence, wherein we have to seek out someone to ask for help. We then wait until that help arrives to actually gain access to where we want to go or what we want to do.
In my gym, for example, members can swipe in and unlock a turnstile to enter, but because turnstiles and wheelchairs make for terrible bedfellows, I have to ask a member of staff to open up for a separate gate for me, either getting their attention with a simple head nod or shouting “can you open the gate please?” from below.
In these moments, my time becomes someone else’s and I’m at the mercy of someone else’s competence
Limitations of independence are unnecessarily placed upon us and excuses are made, thinly veiled as something that benefits us. I’ve laughably been told that accessible toilets in bars are kept locked so that other people can’t mess them up, when said damp and stinking bathroom isn’t even fit for an Instagram selfie, with mirrors placed out of reach for wheelchair users (if it comes with a mirror at all) and it doubles as a storage room for mops, bleach and bulk-loads of toilet paper.
But still… I hold out for that golden key, counting up the minutes of my life that I’ve lost to this waiting game.
On a recent holiday to Tokyo, I added on an extra 20 minutes to my travel time across the city because that’s how long it took to ask for and receive assistance on their train system. And theirs is an example of a good and efficient access plan within their prompt and punctual transport system. Every staff member knew the protocol so there was no confusion, dilly-dallying or head scratching when I asked them for a ramp to board the trains. Without fail, they’d phone ahead to my destination station and someone was ready and waiting for me on the other side. In Ireland, you have to give 24 hours advance notice for that kind of treatment if you’re boarding any of Iarnród Eireann’s trains.
In Tokyo, it was done with no fuss but they are an exception. In other big cities across the world – I’m looking at you, London – you’d be extremely lucky to find a member of staff who not only knows the layout of the station’s access plan without having to check a manual or ask a more senior member of staff, which adds more time to the clock, but can also offer assistance immediately. In these moments, my time becomes someone else’s and I’m at the mercy of someone else’s competence.
Our time should be valued but instead we’re left waiting down alleys, information desks, holding areas and on hold, eating into our phone plan’s monthly minutes. Access only goes so far and access can only be granted to us when we ask for help, which places our independence at a halting point. Access should not come with the subsection of “ask for help and then wait for an undisclosed amount of time to get it”.
Non-disabled people require close to no communication with key-holders, gate-keepers or ticket-sellers
In all of my examples, because of my disability, I have to ask permission to do quite straightforward things when non-disabled people require close to no communication with key-holders, gate-keepers or ticket-sellers.
Even though the box of access is ticked on some page, we still have to ask for help and that feels reductive.
Our time should not be measured differently but I always have to give my time to someone else as I wait.
And wait, and wait.
Platform Series - Louise Bruton
1) Sexual health
2) Day I started using a wheelchair
3) ‘Wheelchair-friendly’ rooms
4) Please don’t ask me
6) Asking for help
7) Things you learn in a wheelchair
8) Sex and disability in the spotlight