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I went to The National Theatre a week or two back to see a play in The Cottesloe, The Effect, starring Billie Piper and Jonjo O’Neill. Very good it was. Better than I expected with enough humour to amuse but not distract, plenty to think about and some really excellent performances all round. No complaints there.

But did I enjoy my evening in its’ entirety? No. I found myself … unsettled by other factors than the main event.

Okay, not entirely The National’s fault, but parking was a nightmare and likely to continue to be so as the redevelopment plans for The Cottesloe and its’ surround are carried out over the next eighteen months.

I do get that this is necessary and for the long term good but might they not have given some thought to the parking difficulties for wheelchair users when they closed The National’s underground car park without allocating extra space in an environment already under severe parking pressure?

Not anticipating this problem, we nearly missed the start as we tried to persuade the security guard to let us park in the Access spaces behind his barrier. He did eventually let us in by the skin of our teeth and not before completely stressing us out.

And yes, if you’re asking, there was a lot of space behind that barrier and it is both more difficult and time consuming for wheelchair users to find parking off site and walk back to the theatre. So, great, this is yet another hassle to factor in for every trip across …

To compound my misery, as EaZyD unloaded me outside the doors, one of the guards, doormen, who knows - he had a uniform on - rushed out and said:

“Thanks, mate. I’ll take her now.” And made a grab for the wheelchair. “Where is Madam going?” He asked EaZyD!

Stunned, I stuttered, “Sorry …?”

As EaZyD said, “But I’m coming too …”

The guard paused, looked at EaZyD and asked, “Will you be okay taking Madam’s wheelchair inside?”

Bloody hell, I hate that.

Look, I know I’m a fat, middle aged woman in a wheelchair but do people have to make it quite so apparent that it is entirely beyond their comprehension that I might have an able-bodied partner or a life beyond that of being the sad disabled person they perceive me to be; are they not trained enough to speak to me in my wheelchair about my intentions? And, this is not the first such experience I have had of this.

Anyone else with me here? How do you handle it? Me, not so well, I fear, because it really upsets me.

They’re unsure of our connection and make assumptions based on their negative perceptions - wrong thing to do! Why not just ask whomever is closest, me or EaZyD: Do you need any help? Have you been here before? Polite and neutral.

Is our problem partly because EaZyD is black so compounded by racist perceptions on top of disablist ones … gets better and better, no?

Who knows, who cares. It upsets me.

Inside the theatre, they had changed the seat configuration and installed a huge, solid, barricade between audience and floor. I had to negotiate an awkward platform and still could see only 50% of the stage area. Does no one at these places sit in a wheelchair, pretending they cannot move, to check these things? Many of us cannot scoot forward and lean over a balustrade - we’re in wheelchairs and paralysed. Grrr.

I sometimes wonder why I bother. The trouble is, if you don’t, life just gets more limited, doesn’t it?

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Arts - February 2013
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