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Category: Customer Service

Wheelchair Woes . . . Sadly Continued

Posted in Accessibility, Cerebral Palsy, Cerebral Palsy Sport, Customer Service, Equality & Diversity, Fighting for Change, Personal, and Wheelchair

If you have read my last blog, you’ll be aware of my current wheelchair issues and the frustration it’s causing.  At the time of writing my last blog, I stupidly thought I was nearing the end of my issues. Little did I know there was further drama in store.

Frustrated by being told I’d have to wait over two weeks for a part to be shipped from Germany, I decided to pile the pressure on to the manufacturer, Invacare, with regular tweets and emails – highlighting how not having a functional wheelchair was severely impacting upon my independence – please follow @ACBlackborough if you don’t already!

Invacare’s responses were typically along the lines off “we’re sorry and we’re looking into it” which wasn’t really cutting mustard with me at this stage. But then I receive an email, telling me the part would be dispatched that day for delivery tomorrow. Though obviously very happy that two weeks had been reduced to a day, it begged the question why this hadn’t be done to start with? A question which Invacare have declined to answer.

Despite this, I was thrilled at the prospect of getting my wheelchair, and my independence back, after just shy of 5 weeks.  My excitement was dashed when the dealer phoned to break bad news – the part had duly arrived as stated but it was faulty.  After so long, I was unsurprisingly fuming.

Again, Invacare said another part would be despatched for next day delivery. In the five weeks without my wheels, my life had effectively been put on hold. I’d had to cancel numerous plans including work commitments. My spare chair, brought at further expense, is very basic – limiting me to local, essential trips only and even a basic requirement like food shopping, has been really problematic.

So you can imagine my joy when the wheelchair was finally returned to me last Saturday afternoon.  I made plans for the coming week and promised my little boy some trips out.  I committed to attending a meeting in Nottingham, where I am proud chair of Cerebral Palsy Sport.  Life could finally return to normal. Or so I thought.

As soon as I took the wheelchair out, I noticed the battery was behaving oddly – dropping power almost immediately.  Having used electric wheelchairs for the best part of 20 years, I was pretty sure something wasn’t right but I decided to give the chair a couple of long charges before reporting a problem.  Again, I felt limited as to what I was able to do and decided to carry the charger with me, just in case.

When I arrived in Nottingham, the chair was displaying low power so I plugged it in during my meeting and phoned the dealer – Easy Living Mobility – who have been amazing and arranged to visit me the next day.  Despite charging the chair at work, I only just made it home that night – with the chair giving up the ghost on our driveway.

The next day confirmed my fears – the battery was most probably failing and the wheelchair would have to be taken away again to be tested. I’d have to wait 4-5 days for new batteries.  I was utterly fed up – my plans for the next few days turned upside down YET AGAIN.

And what do I get from Invacare?

“We’re working with the Invacare Retailer to resolve this as quickly as possible.”

No apology, no concern for how I’m coping without my lifeline.  I count this now as six weeks – for six weeks I’ve been without a reliable, fit-for-purpose wheelchair but it really seems like Invacare couldn’t give a damn.  They have my money – almost £8000 – and beyond that isn’t their concern.

I’ve only had my wheelchair for 9 months and due to various faults, it has been out of action for 2 of those months.  Considering they talk about keeping people mobile as part of their marketing, I think most would agree that Invacare is failing, miserably.

Open Letter to All Bus Drivers – from a Wheelchair User Passenger

Posted in Accessibility, Cerebral Palsy, Customer Service, Disability Awareness, Disabled Access, Education, Equality & Diversity, Personal, and Public Transport

You see me waiting at the bus stop and I try to search your face for a clue as to which camp you fit into.  You see, you fit into two camps and sometimes I can’t tell until you pull up and open the doors. All the time, I’m filled with dread and anxiousness, wondering if this time I’ll have a fight on my hands. Whether I’ll be welcomed or made to feel like a complete and utter nuisance.  Quite often it’s the latter.

Some of you are friendly, welcoming and seem to understand that I have as much right as anyone else to use public transport.  You go out of your way to gently lower the ramp for me, to ask where I’m getting off and to make sure that the wheelchair space is clear.  If it’s occupied by a pushchair, you politely ask them to move or fold it up.  You kindly help me to position my chair into the sometimes stupidly difficult spaces which aren’t really suitable for wheelchairs at all.  When I get off, you share a friendly word and wish me well.  I feel like a valued passenger.

Unfortunately, I don’t feel as welcomed by some of your uneducated colleagues who openly grimace when they see me waiting for their bus.  One of two things can happen at this point.  They either refuse to let me on, saying their bus is too full or that the wheelchair space is full.  They seemed to have completely missed the memo that the wheelchair space is for the use of wheelchair users and that this is law.  They refuse to ask other passengers to move, for fear that heaven forbid, their bus might end up late or their shift might overrun.

Or they make it crystal clear that I’m a nuisance for needing their assistance.  They huff and puff as they climb out of their cab, then slam the ramp down in front of me. They don’t care if other passengers are blocking the wheelchair space, which I’m supposed to reverse into.  That’s my problem, I’m supposed to ensure I’m safe and ask fellow passengers to move, even at peak times.  I’m made to feel like an inconvenience, a problem and I’ll tell you now – it makes me feel like utter crap.  That’s probably the first time I’m sworn on my blog but it’s the only way to convey how it makes me feel.

How I feel when that treatment makes me late for work or late to collect my son from school.  Yes, that’s right, I’m just like you. I have commitments and I’m trying to get somewhere just like everyone else.  I’d like to get home after a day’s work, just like you.  I’d like to get home without dealing with your attitude because it STINKS.

So thank-you so much if you fall into the first camp; you make my life as a disabled wheelchair user so much easier.

May I suggest, that if you sadly fall into the second, that you consider a career change.  You’ve clearly misunderstood that your job isn’t about just driving a bus. It’s about transporting passengers – whether we’re disabled or not.

Challenges of a Disabled Mum: A to B and beyond

Posted in Accessibility, Cerebral Palsy, Customer Service, Disability and kids, Disability Awareness, Disabled Parent, Motherhood, Personal, and Public Transport

Last week’s blog talked about the challenges I’ve faced getting my little boy from A to B as a disabled mum.  With some creative thinking, we’ve managed to get out and about locally, visiting friends and family.  However, going any further has presented bigger challenges which aren’t so easily resolved.

Since the age of 13, I’ve been regularly going over to Ireland by myself to visit family and friends. I’ll never forget that first time, when Mum entrusted me into the care of the airport staff, with my uncle waiting to meet me in the Arrivals Hall of Dublin Airport. I felt so grown up, travelling all by myself! It’s something I began taking for granted, as airports are obliged to provide support for disabled travellers.

That was until Jack arrived.  As he grew bigger and Dean returned to contracting, I thought I’d be able to pop home for long weekends and half-term breaks, once Jack started at school. Unfortunately, this wasn’t to be as I discovered that the airlines didn’t allow disabled travellers to travel with minors.  Well, technically I could book the tickets and not declare that I need support until arrival at the airport but even for me, pushing boundaries as I do, I’d fear I’d be on very dodgy ground!

So the first time this came up, we decided Dean would fly over with us and then return home for work.  Two weeks later, darling hubby drove back over to Ireland to bring Jack and I home. On other occasions, we’ve managed to work things so that Jack and I travel over with Dean and then return with my parents or sister.  As you can imagine, this takes planning and I find myself having to fit into other people’s plans, rather than making my own.  It has obviously been more expensive and on occasions, I’ve had to miss family events because Dean is working and there’s nobody to travel with.

Whilst in some respects, I accept these limitations as a disabled mum, it is frustrating that it has kerbed my independence! I know that, God forbid, in the case of emergency, Jack and I would need assistance but on the other hand, I don’t think the airlines, like much of society, have considered that yes, disabled people do have children!!  What if I was a single parent wanting to take my child away on holiday? Would I have to wait until Jack was 11 to do what the majority of parents take for granted? 

Whilst it’s not a huge problem, it’s something I didn’t think of when I was considering all the challenges I would face as a disabled parent and once again, we’ve had to think in a different way to other parents. 

I wonder whether airlines and businesses as a whole, could consider ways that they can support people like me, thus raising awareness that disabled people are parents too?  Maybe offering a £20 chaperone service which would be cheaper and easier than the arrangements we currently have to make, would be a start!

Disability Etiquette equals good manners & common sense

Posted in Accessibility, Cerebral Palsy, Customer Service, Disability Aids, Disability Awareness, Disabled Access, Equality & Diversity, Fighting for Change, Flyinglady Training, Media, and Personal

My latest book, “A disability Etiquette Guide” is something I’ve been wanting to write for a while now and last week, I was reminded why it’s so important for me to write it.

I was on my way to Nottingham, to the Charity CP Sport, of which I am a proud trustee. I asked for the ramp to be put down  as I use an electric wheelchair. It’s a popular train but I was absolutely astounded by my fellow passengers, who proceeded to rush on to the train whilst the customer service guy was attempting to put the ramp into position for me.

They all rushed past him and me, desperate to claim a seat and a place for their luggage. Never mind thinking about me and how it might be easier for me to get into the wheelchair spot when the carriage is relatively clear of passengers and luggage.  Never mind simple manners and common sense.

One passenger even walked up the ramp in front of me! Unbelievable!

And that’s the essence of my book: Good manners and applying common sense can go a long way in improving the lives of those with disabilities.

Please offer me a seat – improving travel for disabled people?

Posted in Accessibility, Customer Service, Disability Awareness, Disabled Access, Disabled Parent, Equality & Diversity, Flyinglady Training, Media, Personal, and Public Transport

 

Whilst browsing through my twitter account yesterday, I became aware of a new scheme which Transport for London are trialling, which encourages passengers to give up their seat for someone who needs it more, particularly disabled passengers.  Participating passengers will have a card and wear a badge, saying “Please offer me a seat.”

As a disabled wheelchair user who regularly uses public transport, albeit not in London much, I have very mixed feelings about this.  Although I am fortunate enough to at least always have my own seat, (thankfully!)  I am often left very frustrated by my fellow passengers attitudes, who fail to consider my needs by pushing on to trains or buses in front of me and using the designated wheelchair space as a dumping ground for their luggage. (Rather than taking the time to put it in the designated space for luggage)  It is much easier to manoeuvre my wheelchair before everyone else gets on but few people ever consider this.

So on the one hand, I think Transport for London should be generously applauded for taking the initiative to improve things for disabled people; they have identified this as a significant problem and are taking proactive steps to improve the experience for disabled passengers, particularly those who may not feel confident in speaking up to tell people what they need.

But on the other hand, I feel sad and frustrated that it’s considered that such schemes are needed. If people were more considerate and thoughtful, we would all have a much more positive experience of public transport, including disabled people.  If we all moved as far as possible, leaving the front seats available for those who need them, as is the intention, there would be less need for people to move – and be torn away from their Smart Phones! 🙂

Common sense also plays a big part.  We all need to be aware of those around us and be prepared to assist those who may need a seat or even assistance with luggage etc.

I think many disabled people may also feel self-conscious about wearing a badge which advertises the fact that they have a disability. Others may feel cheeky about asking for a seat, particularly if their disability isn’t immediately obvious. And although I understand that the scheme relies upon goodwill, unfortunately this isn’t always forthcoming and some disabled people may fear confrontation from those who question their greater need for a seat.

Despite my reservations, I hope the scheme is successful and at the very least, encourages people to be a little more considerate of the needs of their fellow passengers.

A little bit of knowledge . . .

Posted in Customer Service, Disability Awareness, Disabled Access, Equality & Diversity, and Fighting for Change

As a disabled person, I consider myself to be fairly lucky.  Yes, I face physical challenges on a daily basis but they haven’t stopped me from living a fulfilling life, getting a good education, raising my own family or running my own training business. I was fortunate enough to be born at a time when people’s attitudes towards disability were beginning to change and being disabled wasn’t seen as such a tragedy.

But, even now, some thirty years on, some people’s attitudes are firmly stuck in the past, in a time when the Medical Model of Disability dominated and disability was viewed as an individual problem, rather than a challenge for society to overcome.  In the space of just a few weeks, I’ve experienced three different incidents where customer facing staff have failed to cater for my disability, causing upset and distress.  In the first incident, the staff member didn’t have the patience to just listen to what I was saying, instead expecting a family member to speak for me.  In a second, similar incident, the staff member made absolutely no effort to understand me and refused to let me talk to another member of staff. With the third incident, I was made to feel like a nuisance simply because I required a ramp in order to access a service.  In all three cases, it was absolutely clear that the staff members hadn’t received Disability Awareness Training or at most, had fallen asleep in the middle of it.  This despite the fact that disabled people in the UK have a huge spending power (£80bn I’m told) so an investment in such training would pay off in no time.

So yes, I still consider myself lucky, but it is attitudes which still need to change.  A little bit of knowledge would go a long way in improving the lives of disabled people even more . . .

The Silly Season

Posted in Accessibility, Customer Service, Making a difference, Personal, and Uncategorised

Well, the silly season, as my Dad calls it, is over for another year and although I love Christmas, I can’t say that I’m sorry to see the end of the chaos which always descends upon the high street. Retailers always seem to neglect the needs of disabled customers by cramming in as much as possible and restricting access to tills. Each shopping trip from November onwards becomes more stressful than the last and my patience wears thin, as yet another over enthusiastic shopper fails to look where they’re going and I narrowly avoid running them over!

After boycotting the shops between Christmas and New Year, our supplies were beginning to run low so I braved a trip to our local Aldi. It seemed that the silly season was still in full swing so I decided just to grab the basics and get out! Joining the long queue which didn’t seem to move, I was thankful that I did our big food shops online, from the comfort of our warm and cosy home. No such queues online! Fraught and frustrated, I finally got to the till and paid for my couple of items, and then I hear a small voice. “Is there anything I can help you with?” and I turn around to see a young lad, no older than eight, eagerly awaiting my reply. In all the madness and chaos, this young boy was thoughtful enough to offer a hand. My mood changed completely and I was so touched by his kindness that I accepted his offer and asked him to hang my shopping on the handle of my wheelchair. I thanked him profusely and all the silly season stress was suddenly forgotten. I left the shop smiling and suddenly glad that I’d decided to brave the shop.

Small acts of kindness could reduce everyone’s stress levels and perhaps make next year’s silly season a bit more bearable!

Happy New Year!