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THE HERALD FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 30 2016


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Accessible Aberystwyth? Aberystwyth Town Centre: Having to take to the road


town. Not, that is, until we come to an area where the council have used paving slabs with, arguably, an aesthetically pleasing surface that makes for a very uncomfortable ride for wheelchair users. Julian tells me: “The council have


made a good job of some very awkward pavements and by and large dropped kerbs are well provided for, but in some places you do have to think ahead. Around Wetherspoons and some other areas they have installed some awful new pavements that are very pretty but very uncomfortable in a chair and maybe for anybody with problems walking too.” I talk to a woman being wheeled


VISITING Aberystwyth Arts


Centre with my mum recently, we made our way down to the Ceramic Gallery to see The Button Project exhibition. Having looked around, my mum was


tiring so we decided to go to the restaurant for a cup of coffee. Now, my mum is getting on a bit (if I told you exactly how old, she’d never speak to me again!), she has a cane and uses a mobility scooter if she needs to go very far. Last year, her home was refitted by Powys Council to allow her to stay in it, including with a stair lift. In the Arts Centre, we thought she could use the stair lift to go back up to the next level, but we couldn’t operate it ourselves nor find a call button. Always reluctant to make a fuss, my mum took a deep breath and painfully climbed the stairs. Over our coffee, one of the things we talked about was the Paralympics which were in full flow at the time. In the warm afterglow of the Paralympics, where Welsh athletes won seven medals, including four golds, and following the chairlift incident with my mum, I began to wonder how accessible Aberystwyth really was. It struck me that it’s one thing to install a chairlift but quite another to facilitate people operating it for themselves.


ELECTRIC WHEELCHAIR SAFARI


My friend Julian Eastwood has


Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis, can only walk a few steps, and uses a Government issue electric wheelchair. In terms of comfort, practicality and mobility, Julian thinks it’s a really good chair. Because he is so uncomplaining and just gets on with life, when I think of Julian, his being disabled is not the first thing that comes to mind. Julian’s first question about any disability issue is ‘why should I have to ask for help?’ That attitude, I believe, makes him


Kelvin Mason Aberystwyth Reporter kelvin.mason@herald.email


radically independent. I’m saying this so that the reader knows that what follows is a far from a melodramatic account of accessibility in Aberystwyth. Julian let me accompany him on an ordinary afternoon trip into town. We agreed that there were four main things we would consider, parking, pavements, access to premises - particularly shops and eateries - and public toilets.


NOSY ABOUT PARKING During my mum’s holiday in the


area, she had told me that disabled parking was a problem. She hadn’t really been able to enjoy Aberystwyth because she couldn’t find a space near enough to the centre of town with enough parking time to allow her to have a look around and go shopping. She didn’t have her mobility scooter with her as she doesn’t yet have a car that can carry it. Strangely, we were both under the impression that Shopmobility had closed down when actually, I find upon opening my eyes, it has relocated to Chalybeate Street. Anyway, it turned out that my mum missed out on her holiday and the local economy missed out on her custom. Parking problems were immediately obvious when I met Julian because he had to park way out of town, beyond the police station at a car park on Boulevard St. Brieuc, in order to have safe space to off-load his electric wheelchair. Julian tells me: “Since the Mill


Street and Bath Street car parks have gone, convenient parking doesn’t exist. The car parks near Matalan and Lidl are cramped and time limited. With a vehicle ramp, on-street parking is a nightmare - it’s dangerous and leaves you vulnerable. The alternatives are here, the leisure centre or Trefechan, miles out of the way


but good.” To unload the electric wheelchair


using the ramp means having at least three metres of space behind the vehicle. Even with all the adaptations to Julian’s vehicle, the process of unloading and loading is clearly tricky and requires a fair amount of arm strength. Julian and I discuss that if parking spaces were at a tangent to pavements rather than parallel, then the vehicle ramp could extend directly onto the pavement and facilitate safe unloading. With parallel parking, even if he could find a safe place, Julian is wary that someone would park too close and he would be unable to ride the chair back up the ramp. Corrie Mortis-Wait, who has also has


MS and who uses a walking stick, told me: “Parking is okay in town, but I still don’t actually know where all the blue badge spaces are! Considering it’s the council that give out the blue badges, a photocopy of a map of the local town parking would be a smart idea. Some of the street spaces are only just fit for purpose. Either opening your door into traffic and having to cling to the car so as not to stumble into it, or opening onto narrow pavement and getting in everyone’s way. Town is a nightmare for shopping! Bloody hill! I have all but given up. I usually park in the disabled bay by WHSmith and browse Oxfam and Barnardo’s while my partner dashes around town.”


ROUGHING IT ON THE PAVEMENT


Negotiating his way out of the car


park is Julian’s first problem. Someone has parked where the curb has been lowered for access. It’s not really their fault because there are no yellow lines indicating that the space should be kept clear. Once we’ve made our way around that obstacle, diverting onto the road among the cars, we don’t have too many problems with pavements on our way into


around town in a standard manual wheelchair. She and the woman pushing the chair tell me that, despite the council’s efforts, the worst problem is still the bumpy ride, which is painful and exhausting. Accompanying Julian, I become acutely aware of obstacles such as broken or missing drain covers, rain water culverts crossing the pavement and places where the topography make me – not Julian – fear his chair will topple sideways. Outside of the centre of the town, there are still places where the pavement is too narrow for a wheelchair or mobility scooter. Moth Foster, who is visually


impaired, told me: “We have an issue with the new road layout at the roundabout end of Chalybeate Street. It is all too easy for a visually impaired person - a VIP - to walk into oncoming traffic totally unawares. Some streets are virtual no-go areas for the VIP and other people with disabilities. Street clutter and furniture and bad layout of tactile paving making it almost impossible to cross the road safely. The presence of perforations in cast iron sheets over cellar windows are a real danger to users of canes and other walking aids.’


‘STEP INTO MY PARLOUR…’ If I now look at pavements a little


differently, the way I notice access to premises has changed significantly since going into town with Julian. On the bright side, we began with a circuit of Matalan, which I’d previously never been into. Matalan is the Silverstone of stores for a wheelchair user with great access – unless it gets blocked by badly parked shopping


The Libertine: A step too far


trolleys – and wide aisles. Bombing around so that I almost have to run to keep up, Julian told me: “By and large, the chain shops, banks, etcetera, have good access and the aisles are wide and uncluttered. Local shops are a mixed bag. They’re often overcrowded with goods. In both cases, staff are usually very helpful. Even where there is level access to a shop, heavy doors can be a nightmare unless someone is available to help. Some shops have significant steps to enter. The chair can cope with a couple of inches or so but often the steps are bigger or there’s more than one. Some premises with steps have a bell you can ring to attract their attention and they can provide a ramp.” Accompanying Julian, I took


many photographs of steps into shops that I had never noticed before. A Christmas calendar ‘Impossible Steps of Aberystwyth’ is an idea I’m considering. In a couple of cases, I went into premises that had these impossible steps and no bell and asked if they had a ramp. In one instance, particularly, the response was a very perfunctory claim that they had asked (they did not say whom) but that they hadn’t been able to make provision, ‘sorry’. The story was so obviously told to fob me off that I got quite angry. Older and converted premises obviously struggle with access and the balance with getting goods on the sales floor. Julian had no problem getting into Charlies or Waterstones, for instance, but he could not then get around because the aisles were too narrow or cluttered. By the by, my intention here is


not ‘naming and shaming’, quite the opposite. The places I name in this article are generally the better ones who, in some case, could still do better. It is some of the premises that I’m not naming that should sit up and take the most notice. Most improved shop on our tour, Julian thought, was Inkwells who had managed in a difficult space to make it possible to get the wheelchair in and around. Phil and Sharon Wells told me that they were aware of the issue, particularly because they had a relative who uses a mobility scooter. It was, they said, a challenge to display all their stock to the best advantage and still provide room for disabled people to get around, but it was a challenge they were constantly working to meet. Sadly, there are some places where


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