I met a friend for lunch and shopping on Friday. He just so happens to use a wheelchair. Cardiff has a fairly wheelchair-friendly city centre, with wide streets, accessible shops and restaurants and large, open spaces. That wasn’t the problem, it was the people.
To be fair, the shop assistants and waiters were lovely. We went to the Apple store (heaven for him, boring for me) and it was a breeze. Then Paperchase (heaven for me, incomprehensible to him- why would anyone need drawing pins shaped like ladybirds?) and it was great. We had a slight mishap in a cafe when my friend reversed into a table and knocked over a tray full of coffee cups, but those wheelchairs have a surprisingly wide turning circle.
What really annoyed me though, as we were stumbling/wheeling through town were the other pedestrians. It was soon apparent we were inconveniencing them by having the cheek to bring a wheelchair into town. There were tuts and sighs, doors left to slam in our faces, people shoving past us as if we weren’t there. It was impossible to walk/wheel side by side, so I took to pointing wildly at the general direction we were heading in, trying to keep track of where my friend was.
He was nonplussed. He’d seen it all before. He especially enjoyed watching people walk straight towards him engrossed in their mobile phones. He told me he’d taken to scanning metres ahead and had learned to weave in and out of the crowd, but it’s a lot harder to do when you’ve got someone else with you.
He just smiled wryly when I muttered ‘so RUDE’ and huffed and puffed at someone for the umpteenth time. It shocked me. I wish I had been braver and asked some of the people what their problem was. I like a good argument.
Accessibility for wheelchairs may have changed for the better, but attitudes still have a very, very long way to go.