True Gripes: Wheels of hellfire: The arts are for the disabled too

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The pub was packed. I knew the doorway wasn't wide enough - an experienced wheelchair lounger can spot width restrictions a mile off - but my thirsty and inexperienced pusher thought otherwise. I was soon firmly wedged in, and starring in a full-blown farce as people in various stages of inebriation weaved to my aid. I admit to wanting my 15 minutes of fame, but I just hoped this wasn't going to be it.

Access to the arts - what remains of them - is also riddled with booby traps. Cinemas are invariably run by automatons whose dress and manner are as anonymous and as ineffectual as the corporate body that owns them. To them, anyone in a wheelchair is a fire hazard and, I hear the manager's cry, ramps and lifts are expensive. Well so are their ticket prices: concessions apply during the weekday afternoons only. To me, these venues are synonymous with stairs. I found a lift at Greenwich, but the Well Hall Coronet has enough stairs to tire a Hollywood starlet. The pull of Stephen Rea or Tommy Lee Jones or Ray Liotta, however, is usually strong enough to get me up most flights. If my brother is with me he carries me like a modern day Galahad, which gives me a chance to practice my acting skills and improves his pulling power, he claims.

Cinemas also suffer from the two up, two down and a set of heavy doors syndrome. I know it's art deco, but it's also the Nineties and a post-modernist ramp would do nicely, thank you. The doors are not so easily overcome, short of replacing them with automatic ones. A relatively simple alternative would be to programme the automatons to open the doors for anyone who looks as though they do not work out on a daily basis.

Theatres and their staff, along with their concessions, are slightly more user friendly - I can't fault the Donmar Warehouse - but there are obstacles to overcome in many other theatres. Access to the Savoy Theatre is only possible after a trip round the block. The two drunken dossers we met on our way were harmless compared with the steep hill (I worried for my pusher's heart) and several dangerously high kerbs.

Art galleries on the whole are easier to get around. The Royal Academy provides excellent facilities and attitude. I pay a vastly reduced rate and my companion gets in free. They also provide free parking - not a bad find in the middle of Piccadilly. However, after visiting the Goya exhibition three times with three different penurious pushers, I realise one can have too much of a good thing.

I understand perfectly that theatres, because of their beauty and/or size, are difficult to adapt, but the attitude of their staff should be a simpler matter. Venue managers should be sent to America to study just how easy access can be. They could then be sent to disability awareness classes to learn the multi-faceted meaning of the word 'disabled. For example, I have difficulty walking so I use a wheelchair to get to my destination. Once there, I am perfectly able to use the seats provided.

I could go on ad infinitum with stories of obstructive access, convoluted routes, locked doors and 'just a few steps, dear, but you would only get bored. I let my pushers get angry; me, I've had too much therapy, but put that Disabled Rights Bill through Parliament and I will get even.

PS I wish to apologise to any cinema, theatre, etc that believes they are totally wheelchair friendly, and indeed would like to hear from them.