Today, I am thinking about the lack of provision of seating for people with disabilities, or even just frailties, in many of our communal areas such as shops, high streets, parks and other day to day venues that we all need to visit. It has been since developing chronic illness that I have become acutely aware of the need for chairs and seating to be provided in public places and in shops.
My illness impacts upon me in a number of ways, including triggering severe pain, causing mobility problems, fatigue, tremor and occasional speech problems. These all happen at varying times but, where mobility is concerned, when I walk and when I am stood for more than several minutes, the pain can be excruciating, my balance can be a problem and I have a tendency to fall. While my disability is largely hidden, you will see me using a walking stick.
Last week, my Sister-in-Law came to stay with us for a few days. She has Arthritis and, like me, her illness includes chronic fatigue. This typically triggers when you exert yourself, for example if you take a simple shopping trip.
We went shopping in Woodbridge; a delightful market town on the banks of the River Deben in Suffolk. Here is a photo of each of us taking a much needed rest at The Kings Head Pub; situated in Market Hill in Woodbridge:
To reinforce my message about hidden illness, we look quite happy and comfortable sitting in this lovely 15th Century pub (I recommend the food, the ale and the wonderful service). What you can’t tell is that each of us, with our different illnesses, were wiped out, in pain and desperate to sit down after visiting just three or four shops. We had wanted to continue shopping, but the only option we had was to seek out a Pub and stop for lunch and a drink; simply because not one shop we went to provided a chair for anyone that might need to sit down and rest. There were a couple of Public benches outside, but these were all occupied.
It is no secret that Suffolk has quite a high population of people of a State Pension age. While age itself is not an illness, one would expect that with age can come physical health deterioration or difficulties. Then, like my Sister-in-Law and I, there are a number of people, of all ages, who are disabled.
Thanks to European Union directives, many businesses have remodelled their entrances and exits and now Disabled people can move more freely than ever before but, once you cross the threshold into a shop or other type of business that has made access easier, you can find that there is nowhere to take an occasional rest on a seat or chair. In my experience, no matter how easy it is to get into and out of some businesses, I still do not go in for I know that I will have nowhere to sit if/when in difficulty or discomfort. Many businesses lose my custom, as a result.
I would like to see shops, businesses and Public places provide more seating. It is not difficult to imagine that people of all types and ages will need to sit and rest from time to time but people like myself and my Sister-in-Law actually need to sit down to help us cope with chronic pain, mobility problems and fatigue.
Here is one of my dogs; Oscar, modelling some seating for the purpose of this article:
After we visited Woodbridge, I drove us to the village of Snape, where we visited Snape Maltings. The Maltings business at Snape started around 1845 and lasted for 120 years. Now, Snape Maltings is home to a renowned concert hall, accommodation and a variety of interesting shops and galleries. This is a glimpse of Snape Maltings from outside in the Autumn on a previous visit.
Situated on the banks of the River Alde, I often enjoy a visit to Snape Maltings for a range of things to buy that are pretty unique to this group of shops and services. I particularly like the stationary shop and the kitchenware section of the main furnishings store. I am often guilty of a spontaneous purchase of some new gadget, device or implement.
As my Sister-in-Law and I wandered around, through the wonderful food shop and the furniture store, we again found that the walking and standing were the cause of yet more pain. This time, we were able to gain respite by taking a break in ‘Café 1885’; situated within the store. The ease of being able to take a break within the store meant that we would be able to resume our browsing and shopping again, soon after.
I opted for a Mocha and a slice of the most delicious Rum and Raisin Cheesecake:
One difficulty we did encounter within the main store and café, was the lift (that’s an elevator, to any readers in the USA). This unusually tiny lift required you to press on the button continuously, to summon the lift. Then, once in the lift, you have to press and hold the button; pushing it firmly and continuously, to make the lift move to the desired floor level. For me, pain in the hands and fingers is one of the main symptoms I have (it takes me a long time to type this Blog!) and for my Sister-in-Law, her hands and fingers also hurt through Arthritis.
I decided to take the stairs and deal with that pain and difficulty, rather than use a lift that would inflict more discomfort and agony. My Sister-in-Law took the lift and she took a long time, as she said she had to let go of the button at times, due to pain; causing the lift to stop until she resumed pressing the button! So, my overall observation here was that a lift had been provided for those who need it, yet you have to use a button that required continuous firm pressing to make the lift move and not everyone has the ability to do that.
I promise I am truly not as much of a moaner as this blog post might suggest. It’s just that being disabled is a new experience for me and I am noticing flaws in how disabled people are provided for.
Put simply, if you run a business or service or if you design public places, please, please provide seats. The problem with the lift was more unusual, but a lack of chairs is a very common problem for anyone with a difficulty or disability. It would even help the economy, for the difficulty of mobility problems and/or pain mean that people are more likely to shop on the internet, rather than put themselves through the agony we have to endure if we live with a disability. I am sure I am not alone in wanting to see more chairs and seating in all settings.
(C) Dean Parsons.