On the hunt for an accessible home and railing against the fact that the world is a wheelchair-unfriendly place I was in a mad rush the other night, needing to get home from work to go back out again, so I ordered an Uber. I also needed to complete an errand, and thought that I could do it as I was whisked to my destination. (I held out for a long time against Uber, preferring the knowledge and Knowledge of black cabs, and taking heed of stories about Uber’s corporate practises and problems with misogyny, but my values went under the wheels of its cheapness and convenience. Mea culpa.)
My car turned up at the tap of a phone screen My task was to book a wheelchair-accessible taxi for the weekend. But as I worked my way through the list of cab firms local to my husband’s care home in Kent, zipping along in a car that turned up in moments at the tap of an iPhone screen, I drew a blank. Streamline’s was booked up. “All of them?” I asked forlornly, kicking myself for having booked tickets for something eight months ago but forgetting to think about transport until the week before. “We only have one,” said the lady on the other end of the line.
I tried Apollo Cars. “Ours is in the garage at the moment.” “You only have one?” “Yes”. Express couldn’t book Hackney cabs in advance (“we subcontract it out at the weekends, and we don’t know who’ll be on duty. You’ll have to call then.” “I need to know we can get transport in advance,” I implored. “Sorry.”). Would a black cab even work? I was also working under the assumption that Nick’s electric wheelchair could be bundled into a black cab – they have ramps that fold out, and can usually accommodate a wheelchair (another reason why I should be using them instead of Ubers.
Forgive me, for I have sinned) but I’ve not put him in the back of one since he left his manual chair behind. Advice on this ranged from the blithe “just turn off the battery when on board!” to the alarming “it’s a no for electric ones. The access into the vehicle is extremely unsafe.” I texted individual cab drivers (“Oh no, love, I’m in Southampton on Sunday”) and a friend who’s a wheelchair user. I took to Twitter. My dad suggested asking a family friend to give up her Sunday to ferry us around, provided I could get her insured on our van.
Eventually I admitted defeat. The good news: we had tickets to a local music event held on a beautiful green. We went last year and it was gorgeous, not least because some amazing friends shared their picnic. Because I’d sorted the tickets, they would be feeding us once more. The bad: I couldn’t organise my own piss up at a festival, because, like last year, I’d be the designated driver. It’s not a disaster, but it is a problem It’s hardly the saddest story ever told (and perhaps just punishment for my Judas-like behaviour towards London taxis) but it is indicative of so much of what makes navigating the world as, or with, a wheelchair user so exhausting.
You have to plan months in advance and be superhumanly organised – but also flexible. You have to weigh up what’s more important, having a laugh, or being responsible. Spontaneity goes out the window, and woe betide if other wheelchair users got the only accessible taxi before you did. You have to accept that the world isn’t designed with you in mind. It’s certainly a sobering experience, in more ways than one.