Tom Shakespeare

I went to give a talk in Bristol, England recently. I checked into a hotel on the Quayside and went up to my room. It was strangely familiar. Then I realized, it was exactly the same room that I had stayed in five ago, the last time I had lectured in the city. A spooky coincidence? Not when you remember that not every hotel combines wheelchair access with good value, and that most hotels only have one or two wheelchair accessible rooms.

Disabled people encounter so many barriers to access, and so many bad attitudes from staff, that we remember the exceptional times when all has gone well. And, having found something that works, we are inclined to repeat it. We learn about the restaurant which has an accessible toilet, or the shop where there’s space to try on clothes. So we return to them, over and over again.

For example, when I lived in Newcastle, I always used the same taxi driver, Ronnie. That’s because I knew he was reliable, that he would not complain about having to put out the ramp and wheel me into the chair, and that I could trust him. I wish he’d lived in Geneva, because flying back into the city airport was like a Russian roulette. Each time I did not know whether I would get a friendly taxi driver, or whether I would get an obnoxious one who complained about having to take a disabled passenger.

I am sure that many readers prefer to deal with tried and tested suppliers. But people often also have a yearning for variety, to try something different. And non-disabled people have the whole world to choose from – assuming they have the money to pay for it.

Not only do disabled people have limited funds, we usually have limited choices. But I am trying to look at the good side of that. There is something appealing about returning to familiar places, or always using the same people to help us. The world becomes less alien. The hotel feels more homely. Ronnie became a close personal friend.