Divya Babbar reviews a night out in Richmond from a handicapped perspective
As the weekend drew near my friend and I decided to spend Saturday night out in Richmond. Feeling spontaneous, we made absolutely no plans whatsoever and simply decided to see where the evening would take us. Intrigued as to whether my wheelchair would hinder our fun or if we really could have a ‘normal’, impromptu night out where one thing just leads to another, we threw caution to the wind in the name of experiment. And then, dear reader, I wrote it all down for you.
As with any girly night out, the cinema is always a good place to start. The journey to the Cinema, however, turned out to be a difficult feat. What should have been a 10-minute walking journey turned into a 20-minute wheelchair-riding journey due to an immensely bumpy footpath. The narrow and busy pavements made me realize that Richmond was not very wheelchair friendly. Richmond gave me the impression of being a small town so occupied with giving off an old–English vibe that they couldn’t afford to change a few things like smoothing out the pavement. Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally all for embracing culture and remembering the old, but really how much would a smooth footpath change the town’s vibe?
Regardless, we reached the cinema and even bought tickets before facing another obstacle: a flight of stairs between the ticket desk and the screens. Thankfully there was a side entrance so that I could enter our cinema screen, but there was still no access for me to go to the concession stand. I had to rely on my friend to choose the popcorn (a risky business, when you’re friend doesn’t believe in flavour democracy). I couldn’t help but wonder how hard it would be to install a stair lift or keep a portable ramp, which turned out to be a common thought that night…
We left the cinema three hours later contented with our film choice (American Hustle is truly as good as they say; go see it!), and found ourselves wandering towards the river looking for a scenic bar.
We came across The Pitcher & Piano but lo and behold a flight of stairs! My friend went in to find out whether they had disabled access, and was met by complete ignorance. Upon telling the bartender that I couldn’t get up the stairs because of my wheelchair, he grumpily suggested we go downstairs, not seeming to grasp that when you’re on wheels, the step problem works both ways.
Our search for an accessible bar led us across the bridge and back, and we almost gave up hope that we would find somewhere near the river. Just as we were about to walk back towards the centre of the town, we spotted a hidden step-free path leading down to and along the river. A short walk then took us to Revolution Vodka bar.
The bar had steps leading inside, but after asking the bouncer for help we were led to a side entrance. This entrance required the use of a ramp, but unfortunately it turned out that the ramp they had was broken. However, being the daredevil that I am, I decided to take a chance and use the ramp (which, by the way, was really just a piece of wood). We got inside feeling like champions. Finding a bar near the river, which would have taken an able-bodied person 10 minutes, had taken me 45.
Once inside the bar everything went smoothly. Service was great and the staff were very helpful, ensuring us that they had debriefed each other of my attendance before their shift was ending just in case I needed further assistance. They even took the initiative to let me know they had a handicap accessible toilet. I visited the toilet later that night, and was shown the way by a helpful member of staff. The toilet was appropriately spatial and had the right equipment, but the lift to get there could have seriously used some renovation. A cramped and jolty affair, my friend was able to open the door as we were going up. Upon seeing a brick wall and a drop she squealed “I don’t want you to panic but this might be the end!”
After a couple of hours at Revolution we decided to barhop and ended up at a pub closer to the centre of Richmond. The Old Ship didn’t have any stairs to get in, which was a relief because after a couple of cocktails I doubt even I could’ve managed to pull off driving up a broken ramp. Getting in was not a challenge but manoeuvring inside was. It was quite a tight space with furniture and people everywhere, but I managed. The handicap toilet was on the ground floor which was a total bonus, but when I got inside I found an adult bicycle much to my surprise! Either somebody really drunk had forgotten that they had to park outside, or the bathroom was not frequently used. We’ll leave that up to speculation. For future reference: just because it has wheels does not mean it belongs in the disabled toilet!
The rest of my time at the pub was pleasant though, and we decided to get a cab home shortly after. I thought it would be difficult to flag a handicap accessible cab down, as many of them don’t have ramps. Luckily we were able to find one on our first try. The trifling matter was that the taxi driver had never used his ramp before and therefore did not know how it worked.
All was well in the end, but it just makes you think: how many taxi drivers have turned down wheelchair users because they didn’t know that they had a ramp or how to use it? Despite all the hiccups I enjoyed my night. All it took was some handicap accessibility, kind staff and of course great company.