The Access Agency

Hitting the town

We’ve all done it - made up an excuse or convinced ourselves of a reason not to go out. Maybe it was a colleague’s party, a drink with old schoolmates or coffee with Aunt Mavis. And maybe you’ve come up with creative reasons – telling yourself ‘it might rain’, ‘they won’t notice if I skip it’, and the perennial classic - ‘I’ll go next time’.

It’s a habit worth breaking. For one; memorable experiences don’t just knock at your door – you have to make them happen. More than that, getting out can encourage other people to venture out too. And this can only be good. Being visible in our communities - in shops, cafes, at the post office, anywhere – does more for disability awareness than you might think. It’s definitely more powerful than liking a social media post.

Exploring what’s on offer in your home town is a great way to get a taste of travel and build your confidence. Local micro-travels can lead to day trips which can lead to international voyages. Hitting the streets is less stressful and more rewarding than ever with accessibility becoming better every day.

Think about how you can stay connected, explore new places and share stories. With a bit of preparation, a spirit of adventure and a friend or two you might break a rut and discover a new lust for life – or at least a decent place for a flat white.

So, how to make the next-time you leave your place a wild success - gliding along flat, fresh concrete, rolling effortlessly into a cafe that’s generous on space and smiles?

Here are a few of my tips.

Get organised

There are great resources out there for accessible information. Ask a friend or the disabled community for recommendations - Facebook, blogs and websites are great for this – look for listings or sites with photos so you get an idea of what to expect. Phone ahead – ask questions or even ask staff to send photos. Ask for their name too – you can thank them in person. Google Street View offers a way to see the streetscape (the date of the image is on the bottom right). Public transport accessibility is changing constantly, take a look online for the latest upgrades. Car park information can be found online too (The City of Melbourne has a map showing all the disabled carparks in and around the CDB). Planning can build anticipation and excitement – try to enjoy it.

But, take your time

Nothing sours a night out like rushing to get ready. Same with feeling like you’ve forgotten to do something. Don’t stress yourself out – arrange enough time to cover off what you need to. Have a shower, have a cup of tea, feed your gold goldfish and water your plants. Arrange someone to help. Give yourself time to think about the trip in a positive light – to get comfortable with the idea.

Be open

No-one is guaranteed a great time every time they leave the house. To get good odds on a great time out - be realistic. Stuff happens. Bringing a sense of adventure and a sense of humour. Travel – up the street or around the world – is most rewarding when you open your arms to unexpected experiences. Things can turn from bad to good with a positive attitude and a sense of perspective.

May I suggest

If you come across accessibility issues, let someone know. Many councils use ‘Snap, Send Solve - a photo app you can use to report issues. If you’re in a venue let the manager know – don’t grin and bear it. Remember if management does know about it - they can’t fix it. Your polite comments might be met with a solution or a fix for the next person like you who visits. Be open, polite and don’t be shy. Part of accessibility is an attitude – I’ve been to many places that aren’t accessible on paper and yet we’ve found a way to enjoy it by helpful (accommodating) staff or a helpful passer-by. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve been hoicked up a step by a helpful passing stranger.

Re-see the familiar

If you’re heading somewhere you’ve been before, try to see it anew. Imagine you’ve never been there before – what are the noises and smells like? Notice a street name or the detail of the wallpaper. Try re-experiencing it for the first time. You’ll be surprised what you notice. I roll the same patch most days and still notice new things. Also, there’s a lot been said about being in the moment and enjoying the little things, so I won’t go on about it. But put the phone in your pocket and make eye contact with the real world.

Think laterally and solve problems

When you’re getting settled, see if you can arrange things to be more accommodating – for you and other patrons. Can you transfer to a high-backed bench-seat and park your wheelchair somewhere safe? Maybe you can fold your walker and put it out of the way? Think laterally and find ways to make your experience issue-free. Other visitors might appreciate it and you’ll feel more comfortable.

Take the route less travelled

If you’re feeling brave, and you’re with friends, you can ‘plan to be spontaneous’. Be curious in an area that you’re not familiar and get out of your comfort zone. I once wandered into an area I hadn’t visited for years. Meandering around I discovered a great burger place with a bar at waist height I could roll up to. Perfect!

Tell your story

Part of the enjoyment of travel is sharing it with friends - either in the moment or in a story later. Take in the experience - take a photo, draw a picture or write a note. Thank your hosts if they’ve helped you have a good time. How was your experience? Let people in the disability community know. Share it and post a review – this benefits the future visitors and the venue.

That’s it! Hopefully you’ve found something to keep in mind next time you’re planning to head out. Remember by getting out, being seen and sharing your experience you could be leading the way for someone just like you.

This article orignially appeared in Independence Australias’ Inform Magazine