Last week was one of the busiest I’ve had in a long while in terms of things regarding disability, and complaining which I enjoy doing.
On Tuesday I met with Marc Radforth from the German international trolley manufacturers Wanzl. He came down from the Midlands to meet with me in a local branch of British supermarket Sainsburys, who of course use their shopping trolleys. We talked about the current options when it comes to choosing and using a trolley to carry out your shopping fun, which is normally something one undertakes in a mindless fashion – person approaches trolley park, person selects trolley at the front of the queue of trolleys waiting in line hoping to be picked and taken for a spin, person turns trolley around and walks around supermarket putting items in said trolley. This is fascinating right? Please keep reading.
Sounds very simple and straightforward, and normally the only problems arising from trolley selection and use, are things like getting a trolley with a wonky wheel, and trying to insert a 3 year old into a tiny folding flap of plastic seating when they insist on not walking, and you’re not allowed to leave them tied up outside anymore. Then they moan about the seat being cold or wet or too hard. You try saying to them “What do you want, a bloody goose-down recliner and a pina colada?” You tell them children in third-world countries don’t even have such luxuries, but even that doesn’t make them feel guilty enough to stop whining. The problems don’t stop there though. Well for most people they do, but I’m not most people. My difficulties and needs don’t follow any textbook guidelines, even ones about wonky people. Usually wonky people are taken to a supermarket, pushed around and helped in their shopping needs, but if they happen to be a parent (really!) and wish to be a parent whilst going shopping, their child would have to be transported in a trolley/pushchair pushed by someone else. There are no options for baby/child-friendly trolleys for parents who also cannot walk themselves. Currently, my option is this: put baby+carseat in the raised-up ‘BabySafe’ trolley (I mean, someone else will do this for me as I cannot reach) and then other person pushes trolley around with my baby in it whilst I travel behind/in front/next to the trolley rather than being in control of it myself. Onlookers don’t know I am this baby’s mum and inside I’m screaming,’I know he’s cute, I made him!’
Wanzl read my Tweet about the trolley issues I have and got in touch with me. They said it would be useful if someone could meet with me to discuss my needs and possible future options. The good thing about a company like Wanzl is that from the meeting I had with them, it was very clear that they will go above and beyond the effort made by most companies to try and provide for all needs. But they can’t provide for this without someone telling them exactly what is needed and what is currently not available. We talked about the new lower-level Babysafe trolley that I found at Asda and Marc said that this style of trolley was re-designed with the help of people on Mumsnet where it was mentioned that the tray for the carseat was too high both to reach and plonk a heavy baby and carseat on, and also to see over. I have been witness to my PA who is 5’8″ crashing into a wet floor sign that she couldn’t see whilst pushing the trolley. Luckily it wasn’t a toddler. The base of the new trolley was also brought up so it isn’t so deep to reach into. These trolleys are currently in Asda stores, with Sainsburys and other stores to follow suit shortly.
The problem I’m having is that even with improvements to the existing carseat trolley, and also the provision of other trolleys for parents to slot children into (just any child wondering aimlessly will do but parents tend to provide their own) like these:
Or these with a typical toddler seat:
…I still could not have my child in the trolley that I’m pushing and be able to fit shopping in too. I often use baby slings but they’re not always practical when shopping. I get very hot whilst babywearing indoors and if you need to bribe your child to stop crying by paying them in biscuit currency once they come of age at around 7 months, then they need a place to sit. You might be thinking ‘isn’t there a trolley that attaches to wheelchairs?’, and you’d be right as these do exist at most large stores, and Wanzl have also improved these recently by making the attachment arms easier to operate for people who have problems with dexterity, like I do. Here I am trying out how these work and how I can indeed put a baby carseat in one of these trolleys. But it is unsafe as there are no straps, and although I have since tried this and know that the possibility of my baby falling out of both his carseat and the trolley is very low, that’s not what the trolley was made for and if we have an Earthquake in the foreseeable and he falls out of it, I’d very much regret using an unsuitable trolley. There isn’t a folding toddler seat either. And also, with a carseat/child in the trolley, there’s no room for my coffee grinder, my sledgehammer and my horse-riding jodhpurs to go when I’m shopping at Aldi.
During our meeting, Marc from Wanzl told me about a young man in Northamptonshire whose disabilities and requirements were so specific to him that they designed and manufactured a trolley just for him to use at his local supermarket (not sure what happens when a different supermarket has an offer on beer or something but that’s besides the point). So some companies are willing to help even if it doesn’t bring them mass orders and profit in return.
We came up with quite a few notes on what I would need from a trolley. A good sense of humour, likes long walks on the beach, that sort of thing. But mainly just a trolley that I can affix to my wheelchair and have my child sat facing me. Wanzl use ‘eye-contact with parent’ as one of the advantages to their parent and child trolleys, so it’s appreciated that the child needs to be facing whoever is pushing them rather than being strapped to the front of the trolley facing forward, like an unwanted teddy bear on the front of a dustbin lorry.
After the meeting, I went over to the local Morrisons store (and survived) to look at their kids’ clothes, and on the way into the shop I came across these
beauties monstrosities. They looked like some kind of torture chamber from the days when disabled people were brought up in orphanages because they didn’t meet the perfect-baby expectations when they were born. I couldn’t see any Wanzl branding on them, so they’re off the hook for now:
I’m looking forward to hearing from Wanzl following our meeting, and seeing what ideas they come up with. It probably won’t be the easiest trolley to design, but in my head it looks something like a trolley+baby sidecar hybrid. I know they are willing to help though, and that is very encouraging. Hopefully it will be something that can be mass produced and used in supermarkets all over. There aren’t many wheelchair-using parents shopping at a supermarket at any one time (if we all go together people freak out a bit), so each supermarket might only need one or two of these trolleys available, which isn’t too much to ask of Tesco et al, is it?
Moving on from trolleys (I won’t be saying the word trolley too much more I promise), the day after meeting with Wanzl, I met with Andrew Sherwood from Marks and Spencer (M&S) after my ranting blog, this one, where I discovered that the breastfeeding room at the Torquay store where one can comfortably sit and feed their baby, was not accessible to me. Or anyone wider than this gap >______< it seems. So I whipped one out in the kids’ clothing aisle and fed Rafe there. When I met with Andrew, we went and looked at this room and even he couldn’t understand why it was so narrow, but he guessed it might be because the architects were trying to fit multiple facilities in this room for all sorts of parenting needs. Just no wheeled people. But I have since discovered, in Sainsburys near where I live, a similar ‘change and feed’ room with a breastfeeding area that again, I was too much of a wide load for:
So it’s not just an issue specific to M&S buildings. To the person who was holding the tape-measure on these ‘refurbishments’ – YOU HAD ONE JOB.
Some good news from Andrew Sherwood, whose role is Property Development and Facilities Management (improving access and facilities in M&S stores) he has said that they are always trying to improve things for disabled people whilst shopping. They have, where possible, tried to keep baby changing and accessible toilets separate, rather than people who need to use an accessible toilet having to endure the smell of 30 festering toddler poos, and numerous door-knockings when a parent desperately needs to change their kid’s nappy and you just want to have a wee in peace. They have also made it so that, if they have the space for it, they will have two separate accessible toilets with one being a left-hand transfer and one being a right-hand transfer. This may sound trivial to the average toilet-goer, but when most of your limbs don’t work properly, and you find transferring from chair to toilet on the right easier than on the left, it is such a luxury to be able to choose which toilet is easier, rather than struggling in the one toilet provided by most places.
Andrew told me of the legislation and guidelines used when designing and providing facilities in buildings which should be adhered to by ALL architects so that people can expect the same level of ease wherever they go. As you can imagine, this is definitely not the case. I explained in our meeting that a common problem I have is that to be able to make use of grabrails and bars in accessible toilets, they need to be at a certain height for me to lift myself up on. And there are many places where I know I find it difficult to use the toilet either because the room is too small to turn my chair around in, especially if I’m with the kids, or the toilet is lower than it should be, or the grabrails are too high or they’re too far away. Just yesterday I was at a local hospital and went to use the toilet before my appointment and I couldn’t reach to lift myself up as the grabrail on the right of me was so far away:
I fully understand that this issue probably wouldn’t be an issue for the majority of wheelchair users, as many people have normal use of their hands and upper body. But I don’t. If everywhere was the same so it was equally as easy or difficult wherever you go, there wouldn’t be that unknown when you go to open the toilet door and get that feeling of “oh great, I really need a wee but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to use this toilet, I might have to wait ’til I’m home”.
I think the problem is that most companies think that as long as they have a toilet with a bit of space around it, shove a changing table in there and twenty thousand nappy bins and a grabrail randomly attached somewhere on the wall, and an emergency alarm cord tied up so it can’t be pulled by an inquisitive child, but is actually out of reach to those who might need it and is now rendered useless, then they have done their job by catering for all needs and nobody should feel the need to complain.
Well it’s rubbish, facilities are mostly crap and badly maintained and hardly ever cleaned so you can see last month’s pee dried on the toilet seat because fuck it, it’s not used that often to worry about. At least there’s a toilet with a wheelchair symbol on the door eh?
Knowing you’ll be able to go to the toilet or choosing a trolley that you can fit your kid in and go about your shopping trip should be the least of my worries, I shouldn’t even need to think about it beforehand like most parents. But I do, and it means I often can’t relax or be fully comfortable in most places. Hopefully someday soon that’ll all change.
For now, Andrew Sherwood has asked for the doorway of the breastfeeding room in Torquay to be widened so that I can use it. He is going to make their architects aware of this flaw in their planning.
You didn’t expect someone to be able to write over 2000 words about trolleys and toilets now, did you? Next time I might provide a photograph of one of my favourite accessible toilets with no wee on the seat. Something to look forward to!
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Photos of trolleys are taken from Wanzl’s website. Other photos are all my own.