Thursday, July 06, 2006

Wheelchairs at the Agricultural Show

Every year we all look forward to the Tiree Agricultural Show held at the Rural Centre. The organisers do a fantastic job and I’m full of admiration for them. Quite apart from the judging of the livestock entries – which I know absolutely nothing about – there's always a host of interesting exhibits and demonstrations.

The Tiree Agricultural Show always has the atmosphere of a real event and everyone has a great time.

There’s just one thing about the Show that always bugs me and that’s wheelchair access.

Now before I write another word I want to throw my hands up and say that I don’t know what the solution to this is either.

I know all about this problem at the Show because year in, year out, myself and a colleague from work take at least two wheelchair-bound people to the show in the big blue Council bus.

If you’re familiar with the Rural Centre you’ll know that the parking lot is not wheelchair friendly. But then it doesn’t have to be: near the main entrance to the Centre itself there is a concrete platform intended to be used by people wheelchair users getting out of a car. Access to the Centre is then straightforward.

Full marks to the Rural Centre.

The problem at Show time is that the most interesting stuff happens away across the parking lot, in the field adjacent. Getting a wheelchair across here is a nightmare. I’m reasonably fit and I really struggle.

Often at past shows I’ve had to pull the wheelchair backwards across the gravel as this was the only way to make any progress. Quite apart from the sweating, the grunting and the breaking of many health and safety rules on my part I feel this is quite embarrassing for the person who is actually in the chair. We tend to attract attention!

When we get to the grassy area things are only slightly better.

Most years we have to leave earlier than we would like to simply because the journey to and from our vehicle is so arduous and takes so long. Also, within a very short space of time the people pushing the chairs are completely worn out. Me included.

The Rural Centre and the Tiree Agricultural Show are two separate entities.

The Rural Centre, I’m sure, feel they have met their obligation to provide wheelchair access. In this I believe they are correct.

The organisers of the Show probably don’t have the financial resources to install some kind of temporary causeway to and around the main field for wheelchairs. And let’s face it – it would only be used once a year!

So, I don’t honestly know what the solution is. All I know is that what I do on that day is not easy for the person in the chair or the person doing the pushing. I probably shouldn’t be doing it and neither should my colleagues. But our refusal would mean that these folks would not be able to attend one of the main annual events on the Tiree calendar.

No one is to blame here but I think we have to realise that an unfortunate set of circumstances may lead to wheelchair users being discriminated against.

Do you have any suggestions about how this problem could be resolved? Are you also a wheelchair user or do you assist someone who is? Leave a comment (click on ‘comments’ below) or email me at gdwscott@hotmail.com.

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