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THE DISABLED SPACE: Obstacle race of getting around
Do you remember playing Blind’s Man Buff when you were young?
How about What’s The Time Mr Wolf? Both games, in their own way, focusing on sight.
Are your memories of sports day positive or negative? Those embarrassing moments when, tied to your partner’s leg, you tried bravely to cross the finishing line without falling down?
How about the obstacle race? Enough said...
Of course, these were just games. For disabled people trying to move around Oxford, it is a real life obstacle course littered with difficulties only the sighted and healthy can navigate.
Obstacles in their hundreds wait to catch out the unwary and, if you have any kind of impairment, danger lurks.
Take Bonn Square. A disaster area and you can’t excuse it by saying it’s beautiful. So let’s challenge Highways planners; they give us a combination of Total Wipeout and It’s A Knockout whenever we set out.
You see, it seems ‘fit for purpose’ has been replaced with ‘aesthetically pleasing’. Or, in other words, it doesn’t matter how impractical it is so long as it’s beautiful.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the city to look attractive, but not just as a show home for tourists, deterring disabled people from visiting and shopping. Indeed, perhaps someone could enlighten me as to why some traffic lights have been removed to make less clutter while bicycles are allowed to be scattered everywhere? Tied to posts or arms of seats that were put there to help elderly or disabled people get up after resting...
Is the hidden message (and apologies but it’s a long title) “Disabled People Make the City Look Untidy So Let’s Deter Them But Aren’t We Wonderful Encouraging People to Adopt A Healthy Lifestyle By Cycling”?
Again, don’t get me wrong. I am not against cyclists – I would just like them to park a little more thoughtfully so there are less obstacles for disabled pedestrians.
Oxfordshire Unlimited ran a course for planners called Mission Impossible to show how their decisions affect disabled and elderly people.
Some very brave volunteers enrolled (mostly young, able-bodied men). Naturally, the classroom session was short but then came the real experience – crutches, electric wheelchairs, manual wheelchairs and vision-distortion glasses were dished out for a route we knew was challenging.
And out they went for an hour to experience being less than 100 per cent in all things bodily.
Suffice to say, wiser and exhausted they returned to recount their findings.
All agreed how difficult it was. But will it make a difference? Should I be optimistic or pessimistic? Experience has shown me the latter. While sadly, the plans for Frideswide Square simply make me shudder...