Tom Shakespeare

I’ve started: new flat, new town, new job. My role is teaching sociology to medical students. I am excited about the possibility of improving their attitudes to disabled people. It’s a new medical school, only ten years old, in a new building on a beautiful leafy campus. I am sharing an office on the second floor.

Day one: there’s a notice on the elevator. If you are using the elevator because you can’t use the stairs (that’s me), you have to have a PEEP. That’s a personal emergency evacuation plan.

Day two: someone comes to talk through what I would do in case of fire, when the elevators would stop working. There’s a special evacuation chair that bumps me down the two flights of stairs.

Week two: I need to go to a lunchtime meeting, and head to the elevator. Press the button: no response. A passing secretary tells me that it’s out of order. There is only one elevator in the building. No one has been trained to use the evacuation chair yet. As I painfully stagger down the four flights of stairs, gripping onto the handrail, with a medical student carrying my chair down to the ground floor, the secretary carries my bag and explains that the elevator has been a bit unpredictable recently.

Week three: I arrive for work: elevator out of order. At least I’m not stranded this time. I find someone else’s office and spend the morning there.

This week: I’m not sure whether to take the elevator or not. There’s a notice warning that it’s being unreliable. I take a risk and get to my floor. I even get down again at the end of the day. The secretary tells me that the faulty part has been mended and it should be okay. But she also explains that the maintenance people are still not happy, and are thinking of replacing the entire elevator.

Moral of the story: don’t put your disabled staff member on the top floor? Don’t work late at night or arrive early in the morning if you are a wheelchair user and don’t want to get stranded? No: make sure you have two elevators in your new building.