WENSUM - Well, how user-friendly is our town for the disabled?
A dozen years ago a group of senior students from our High school was tasked with finding out how well Fakenham rated as a convenient shopping town for the disabled.
The project was prompted by a local group calling themselves Hobbledehoys. Determined to set about this in a hands-on way, the students got together with Hobbledehoys members and accompanied them on more than one shopping expedition.
This meant pushing them in their wheelchairs or walking alongside as they steered their electric buggies. The whole exercise was conducted according to a list of priorities which included level access to premises, automatic doors, narrow entrances, disabled toilets, internal steps and special parking areas.
The students were quite shocked at how difficult it was to get in and out of some places and quite impossible in others. At that time, of course, the disabled access legislation was far less stringent than it has become in recent years.
I was reminded of all this by the visit of my brother-in-law last week who is fairly seriously affected by Parkinson’s disease. He is mentally alert, still drives but struggles physically to move about with any great fluency. Fiercely independent he gets by thanks to his own determination and the support of social services.
He keeps a buggy in the boot of his car for whenever he goes to the shops so when he headed for town here I asked him to make a mental note of what he thought of Fakenham as a user-friendly place for the disabled.
We still have some businesses with steps outside and inside so these were avoided. What he found difficult was the space – or lack of it – inside many shops for a buggy to move about.
Even in a big supermarket with spacious aisles there were obstacles from special displays. In one town centre store there was no lift to the first floor which could only be accessed by stairs. This left it out of bounds to him. Where the kerbs have been dropped on the market square, many drivers park illegally, if only for short periods.
Buggies have to go the long way round as they can’t get up and down the kerbs.
My brother-in-law lives in Exmouth down in Devon and gives it six or seven out of ten for its disability provision. He was less generous about Fakenham although, to be fair, his shopping excursion hardly took in the whole town. Despite which I reckon we probably do still have some way to go on this one.
Not much publicity is given to the grants awarded by the town council to local organisations from its market tolls account. To fund the Christmas lights, a grant of £7,500 was made to cover the costs incurred by principal organisers Fakenham Area Partnership and Kick Start Fakenham.
A request from Fakenham Age Concern Minibus to help keep its vehicles running and save up for a new one was met with a grant of £2,000. The council also ensured that caring groups were able to provide Christmas cheer by giving Fakenham Good Companions £240 and Fakenham Wives Group £375.
Perhaps the council ought to blow its trumpet a bit more as these year-round grants to applicants in the town really do help make a big difference.
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Friday 24 May 2013
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