In my last post I related how I had challenged Virgnia Ironside during Cheltenham Literature Festival.
Now I want to relate a little more about our visit to the festival and how it effects us, my daughter as a disabled person and myself as a carer.
We've been going to Cheltenham Literature Festival for years - it's our annual escape/pilgrimage/chill out and we wouldn't miss it for the world.
We've watched the festsival grow over the years and we've watched the organisers and staff as they've travelled along a learning curve in relation to disability.
For example there is a room that is no longer used for events where their system of seating wheelchair users at the end of rows simply didn't work as the aisle was too narrow. it took a while, but eventually they came round to our way of thinking - wheelchair users needed to be in the front row in that room. When my daughter was less well we were even able to request the front row corner where there is more space - if her pain levels or feet swelling were too much then we would sit on the floor together - and nobody batted an eyelid! The floor space came into play in other rooms too - and in a couple of venues we have been able to get spare seats moved in so that my daughter could lie down across the seats with her head on my lap and often with cushions under her feet.
Over the years they have listened to our feedback and changed their system for organising wheelchair spaces at events where general seating was unreserved. The system used to be that you went along to the room/marquee early and informed the staff of your need for a wheelchair space. This worked reasonably well but it was time consuming as you had to whizz back and forth whilst still finding time to eat and use the loo etc. Now when we book tickets the venue is automatically informed of the need for a wheelchair space - and the seat reserved for the carer, next to the wheelchair, even has your name on it!!!! So no more yo-yo antics betwee events and necessities.
So the festival is to be congratulated on the way they have addressed problems - some of which arise as new problems as the festival continues to expand. Our visits get easier as the problems that arise are addressed - one day they'll even sort out the disabled loo - but the least said about that the better!!!!!!!
But there is another aspect to our festival visits that is unique in it's ability to provide us with an experience that enhances our lives in an unexpected way - and this relates to the festival goers!
The festival is the one place where we can feel totally accepted and able to do what we want without criticism, strange looks and stares or even the usual able-bodied objection to our presence. Indeed other festival goers welcome our presence and welcome the daughter enthusiastically.
We are never alone at the festival. Its unique atmosphere encompasses everybody, festival goers chat, discuss the events they events they have been to, bemoan the fact that it only lasts for ten days etc. etc. We meet people who might ignore us in other situations, we encounter examples of consideration that rarely happen elsewhere and we share experiences that have no barriers.
This is all a far cry from the usual hassle we get from some sections of the public when we are out and about. Indeed this was brought home to me last week. We nipped into town for an hour or two and soon realised that this was a bad idea. It was half term and as we live in a sea-side town it was extremely busy. But it wasn't just the amount of people that gave reason for the visit being a bad idea - it was the fact that so many of the tourists bring with them their prejudices and stares, their attitudes that we shouldn't be out in public and their general bad manners! This doesn't apply to all of them of course - the two ladies sat near us in the cafe were wonderful - but so many others behave in such a way that you would think we were part of the tourist trail - and we are NOT a local attraction or a freak show! Do these people not see wheelchair users and their carers where they come from?
I actually find it amazing that their stares and prejudices are so normal to them - I mean there they were with their holiday clothes (some of which would be better suited to the recycling bin because they are not even suitable for the jumble - I jest not - there were some REAL sights to be seen!) which often don't meet in the middle, obese men displaying their man boobs as they wander along the high st. without their shirts (maybe they've consigned the shirts to the recycling bin!!!!), pushing and shoving their way through, shouting at their kids and using language that I wouldn't even use for inadaquate doctors - and THEY have the cheek to stare at US !!!
Lesson one - avoid the town centre when the grockles are in!
Lesson two - head back to the Cheltenham Literature Festival next year - we know where we're welcome and if we avoid places and people where we're not welcome it's THEIR loss not ours!