2021 has been one of the most extraordinary years for me personally, from lockdown to getting in the national press with The Bill spinoff, Sun Hill, to attending the world premiere of my new award-winning film ‘Access All Areas‘.
Monday evening we recorded the Christmas version of our podcast ‘The Grumpy Gits’, with the usual grumpy gits, Adam Pearson, Duncan Casburn and Chris Leasmith. It was a very good episode. As it was our Christmas special the professionalism went out the window! I must have done 10 costume changes to keep it light and in the Christmas spirit. Nevertheless, we did deal with some serious subjects that episode.
Over the past week I have been travelling the UK for work. Some of the issues that popped up are very serious indeed, and for a short while I completely forgot that businesses in the industry treat people with disabilities as a second thought. I don’t know why I forgot this, but it made me think that the disabled community isn’t supported the same way as other communities. This baffles me, as from a business perspective, with 14 million people in the UK living with a disability, this is an attractive community to include!
One organisation doing a lot for the community is the Motability scheme, which provides transport for people with disabilities as well as adapted vehicles, of which I have one.
The Motability scheme is working on getting people into electric vehicles, which I think is fantastic. But it comes with challenges.
So, this coming January my wife and I are looking for a new vehicle. We would love an electric vehicle, but we didn’t realise that the electric charging stations are completely impractical because there are no disabled electric charging bays anywhere.
In the last week or so we’ve been to Birmingham, Norwich, and Bournemouth. During these travels it really struck us there are no disabled parking bay charging points for people in wheelchairs who need the extra space to get out of their electric vehicles and charge their car.
This seems to be a fundamental flaw that major electric car manufacturers have simply failed to account for owners with disabilities. This is striking when we consider that the Motability scheme is one of the largest motoring organisations in the country for the disabled community.
It made me quite sad that again the disabled community are an afterthought rather than being put at the front of the line. I truly believe that if you make it accessible for one person you make it accessible for everyone. So although the government encourages the UK to go green and move to electric vehicles, they haven’t developed the infrastructure for the millions of people with disabilities across the UK to do so.
Having the right infrastructure at the start of any business is necessary to maintain and grow. This brings me to the other issues that arose this week when I was out about travelling around the country.
My wife and I wanted to go and see Jersey boys on their UK tour at Birmingham. Like any other person if I was fully abled, I would be able to go onto their website and book tickets within minutes and choose my own seats. However, because I rely on a wheelchair, I had to call the special assistance line at ATG Tickets. (this is where the story gets a bit ridiculous). We gave them a call and I was put on hold, which happens a lot. 10 minutes came and went, 20 minutes came and went, 30 minutes came and went. It got to the point where I started tweeting the live conversation of how long I would be kept on hold until I was able to book a wheelchair space in the theatre.
After an hour I eventually gave up and I tweeted that I could not book tickets for this evening show because nobody was picking up the accessibility line. Although you can leave a message, it’s not that helpful when you were hoping to see the show that evening. To make it sting even more, we could see online that there were loads of tickets still available for the evening show.
Being a journalist, I speak to a lot of press offices, so on this occasion I contacted the press office at the Alexandra Theatre where Jersey Boys was showing. Within three minutes, I got a call back, one of the press officers ran down to the accessibility office, knocked on the door and told them to give me a call back immediately. The difficulty with this situation is that the majority of people do not have the option of going to a press office. This issue could be resolved really easily if they would allow you to book accessible tickets online like a normal fully abled person. Could the lack of providing such a basic service not be considered disability discrimination?
The final issue that happened this week was in Norwich City Centre, which is an absolute corker. I was visiting Norwich to see a very good friend of mine, Graham Cole, who plays PC Tony stamp on The Bill. We wanted to catch-up and discuss the future of our Sun Hill project. I had tickets to his panto show, as he was playing one of the lead characters in Dick Whittington and the Cat at the Norwich Royal Theatre. If you have children, it is a highly entertaining and funny experience. I mean do not get me wrong, it is completely ridiculous but it is also very entertaining at the same time.
On the way back to the hotel I thought it be a nice idea to go to see some friends in a pub a few miles down the road. As there was no way that my mobility scooter would get to the pub and back, we need to drive, so we went back to the car. This is where things went completely pear-shaped, and it has to be said, was one of the most ridiculous scenarios that I’ve come across since I have been disabled.
To get to the NCP car park you have to go through Iceland. Yes, you heard me right you have to go to a supermarket to access my car due to the fact that there is no disabled access to the NCP car park except through Iceland. This means you can only access your vehicle during the shop’s opening hours. Now, although I’ve visited hundreds of places in the UK, but this is the first time I have been restricted to when I can use my vehicle by a supermarket. If I were abled, then I simply could have gone via stairwell. But as it stood, I was locked out until morning, and I couldn’t see my mates in the pub.
I did post a video on Ability Access to highlight raise awareness. It received a few thousand hits and has been in the national press. I am also awaiting reply from Iceland and the NCP car park. I did contact both companies. The NCP attendant I talked to when getting my car in the morning explained that unfortunately this was not the first time that this situation has happened, and he didn’t believe that it would be the last.
But it doesn’t have to be. There are steps that NCP and Iceland can take. For example, they could flag and sign-post the limitation so using the disability bay in this car park. There are four disabled car parking spaces on the first level, which you cannot access via ramp because it is too steep for a wheelchair or mobility scooter. The only access is via a lift between certain hours.
So overall it has been a wild year, with The Grumpy Gits podcast hitting half a million views per episode, and the documentary film ‘Access All Areas’ with Branded Studios winning 15 major international film awards.
With future TV projects including the Sun Hill, 2022 is going to be a very interesting year. 2021 has brought so much tragedy to a lot of people, so I hope that endeavours like The Grumpy Gits and Ability Access helps as many people as possible. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!