Friday, 13 May 2011

It wasn't my intention... do an accessibility audit of a hotel, two taxis and a theatre in Cambridge. That's kind of how it worked out though.

The purpose of the trip, and the best bit, was seeing Uncaged Monkeys. Hard to explain, but imagine a particle physicist (Brian Cox), a mathematician (Simon Singh), an epidemiologist (Ben Goldacre) and a comedian (Robin Ince) talking about science and cracking were right good. Nerdgasms all round the theatre!
So the actual show was great - but one way and another, there were a lot of complications to do with travelling and accommodation.

I drove to Cambridge. I was staying overnight in the Holiday Inn Express, Cambridge, where I'd booked an accessible room. Now tell me: if you were designing a hotel, which floor would you put the accessible rooms on? You know, the rooms for people with mobility problems? People who maybe can't manage stairs too well? Yes that's right! The 1st and 2nd floors! Which is clearly a particularly excellent piece of planning when the lift has broken down, as it had.

Now, I need to stress here that the staff could not have been more helpful than they were. They very swiftly allocated me to a standard room on the ground floor. Since it emerged that I couldn't actually get into the room in my wheelchair due to the layout, one of them even came along and propped the second bed on its end against the wall, giving me lots more room to move around. Nice, friendly people.

Also, the tables in the restaurant area were high enough to get the control pod of my power wheelchair underneath. No small thing, I can promise you, having dropped many a hot meal into my groin before now because I couldn't get anywhere near the table. Plenty of room to maneouvre round the room, and attentive but not irritatingly so staff.

So, while I can't comment on the accessible rooms (not having been in one), the hotel in general gets a thumbs up. The dining room (where you also have breakfast) is very accessible, and I found the staff extremely friendly and helpful.

Next...the saga of the taxis.

I asked the hotel to book me a wheelchair accessible taxi, to take me to the theatre, and in due course one arrived. The driver clearly didn't use his wheelchair ramps all that often, though...

He eventually managed to get them extended (fully extended, at my request) and attached to the taxi. But my wheelchair is a bit idiosyncratic. The front wheels are very close together.

In "channel ramps", like this, it can be impossible to get the ramps placed so that they're both close enough together for my front wheels, and far enough apart for my back wheels. It depends on the width of the channels. This taxi had channel ramps. Narrow ones. We just about managed to get the chair into the taxi, but at the other end it was impossible for me (going backwards, with the taxi driver out of sight behind me yelling "This way!" and randomly grabbing the chair handles) to get the wheels lined up right. Eventually, the taxi driver and a nice passerby had to lift the chair out, and I had to clamber down the stairs. Fortunate I could, really.
Once I was on level ground again, I phoned the cab company. I explained that I'd like to use their company again to get home: as a visitor to Cambridge, I didn't know any others. But I needed their assurance that in the late evening, there would be a cab on with a one-part ramp (like the one above). After some muttering and clicking of keys, I was promised there would be. After the show, I duly phoned up. I know you know what's cabs with one-part ramps.

So, after I had a little shout at them, they gave me the number of another cab company. They turned up within about 5 minutes, which was not at all bad. And the cab did indeed have a one-part ramp. Unfortunately it was also rather short, and the street had a ferocious camber. Meaning that if I'd gone up the ramp where he initially parked, my head would have been touching the tarmac. Probably not a good plan...

And finally in this little roundup of Cantabrigian accessibility, the theatre - the Cambridge Corn Exchange. It's an old building externally, which has clearly been very extensively adapted and modernised internally, and seems generally very accessible. I was in a box right next to the stage, with a great view. Three things I noticed...
  1. Once you're in the disabled loo, it's impossible to close the door without turning right round, going half way out again, grabbing the door handle, and reversing back. When I went, another theatre-goer spotted my predicament and closed the door for me - but you don't necessarily want to broadcast to the entire foyer that you're going to the toilet, y'know?
  2. The "sill" into the box is quite high, considering it's meant to be level. The other wheelchair user in the same box as me had a manual chair, and I could see he was having a bit of a struggle with it at times.
  3. The lift is one of those irritating ones where you have to hold the button all the time you're in there. All well and good, as long as you have the hand strength to do that, and as long as you can twist round in your seat to do it.

Oh and by the way. Motorway services having the disabled loos right at the furthest corner away from the entry door. What's that all about?


  1. People around the world seem to be blind to this type of thing FM

  2. You should feed all this back to the hotel chain... And I had a similar experience with the accessible taxi company Premier Inn found me in Birmingham. They were lived though so I think it prob had a good ending...

  3. another good one Funky. How about emailing the local council for the area re the taxi issue as they issue the permits and it would be discrimination if there is no safe suitable service. As for the accessible rooms...on levels 1 and 2.......sheer stupidity and something they need to address fast.

  4. Yea sounds all to familier - Ive been in accesable rooms where the cleaner 'helpfully' moves all the spare blankets, cushions, the things you have hang off door handle over your head in the wardrobe... gee thanks now got to try bash them all down again. Or provide walk in shower but nowhere to sit, no I dont have magic shower chair in my bag.