York-based freelance writer and blogger Pippa Stacey explains the challenges faced by disabled people in getting around and about. Things most of us just take for granted.
My name is Pippa Stacey, and I’m a writer and digital marketer based in York. During my first year of university, I was your typical student: studying hard, partying harder, travelling the country with various sports teams and for dance competitions, and working towards an honours degree. By the same time the following year, I was struggling to stand up on my own.
I’d been battling for answers to my mystery symptoms since the age of 15, but it was only when my health significantly relapsed and I was struck down by an onslaught of debilitating pain and fatigue, that I was finally clinically diagnosed with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS). Naturally, this all happened during my very first year of university, just as my adult life was beginning.
Back when I moved to York in September 2013, prior to my health declining, it’s safe to say my new friends and I fully made the most of all the city had to offer. As a non-disabled student at the time, there were no barriers holding us back from exploring the tourist attractions and thriving indie businesses that York and the surrounding area is increasingly becoming well-known for… besides the pesky student budgets and the occasional hangover, of course.
However, since chronic illness inconveniently invited itself into my life, things have never since been the same. It’s taken a good few years to really find my feet and begin to feel like ‘myself’ again, but thanks to ongoing support from family and friends, plus a majestic electric wheelchair named Janice, I’m thankful for the quality of life I currently have. With my specific condition, ME/CFS, and the severity it can reach, I’m constantly mindful that I’m one of the luckier ones.
However, as my health has declined over the last 5 years and I’ve become an ambulatory wheelchair user, my eyes have been well and truly opened to the unrelenting and often invisible obstacles that disabled and chronically ill people face in day-to-day life. And the tourism industry here in Yorkshire, wonderful as it is, is no exception to this.
Imagine waking up one sunny weekend morning and thinking you’ll pop out to the shops for a coffee and a walkabout. Simple enough, right? When you’re using mobility aids, however, even a short trip out of the house can require military planning and precision.
First off, you’ll need to find somewhere genuinely wheelchair-accessible: not somewhere listed online as accessible ‘apart from one step’ (unfortunately my heavy electric power-chair hasn’t quite managed to magically jump up one step yet…) or despite the portable ramp that clearly hasn’t been used in a while looking unnervingly like it’d crumble even under the weight of a feather.
Next, you’ll need to trawl Google Street View to work out whether there are enough dropped kerbs for you to access the site, and the likelihood of any cars or vans conveniently parked over and blocking them. For some people, strategising where the nearest accessible toilets are will also be a necessity, and for me, I have approximately 23,457,593 million food allergies to cater for too.
And once you finally have some plans in place, if you’re heading further afield, you’ll head to the train station fully armed with the knowledge that there could be any number of things prohibiting you from travelling that day: lifts breaking down, staff shortages, and the very real risk of being left on the train at your destination. These are all things I’ve experienced within the last year alone.
So I suppose you could simply dismiss the issue: there are still people out there who think that because these are the cards you’ve been dealt in life, disabled people should just accept their diminished rights and ‘be grateful for what they have’. They’re the same people who roll their eyes when I board a bus and add approximately 42 seconds to their overall journey, and the ones who think I wouldn’t dream of going out past 9pm and have the audacity to need some form of transport to get back home again. Quite frankly, it can be exhausting and isolating, and it takes a heck of a lot of strength even for me, always the first one to poke fun at my situation, to find the humour in it sometimes.
But here’s the thing. I’m in my early twenties, and I have my whole life ahead of me. I’m proud of how I’ve negotiated the challenges this new way of life has thrown at me, but the one thing that’s consistently felt untouchable is accessible travel and tourism. There’s only so much I can personally do in an industry that wasn’t designed to accommodate disabled people, and the thought of having to compromise on exploring the world around me simply because of a health condition outside of my control just doesn’t sit right with me. And I know I’m not alone: there are thousands and thousands of disabled people in North Yorkshire alone, all of whom are having to make their own compromises too.
York as a city and the surrounding area is incredibly warm and welcoming, however there’s no doubt in my mind that disabled visitors and those with additional needs are still very much an after-thought. My own experiences, plus a bit of online researching at the information already out there, have led me to conclude that it’s incredibly unlikely disabled people are being consulted with when it comes to providing accessibility resources and information for local areas of interest and tourist attractions. And in saying that, I’m not simply pointing a finger of blame. I know that it’s usually the case that people are simply naïve about disability rights, and that forms part of the reason why I share my own story and experiences.
So, what can you do to support local disabled people in North Yorkshire and advocate for accessible tourism in the region? First and foremost, I would encourage any business owners to take the time to have a look at their own accessibility practices. Rather than treating them as a routine tick-box exercise, really think about how your facilities could be adapted or improved to accommodate those with additional needs and make them feel as welcome as non-disabled visitors.
Don’t be afraid to admit you’re not perfect: disability is a spectrum and no single enterprise can really be universally accessible, but the most gratifying thing you can do is reach out and ask how you could do things better. Consult with disabled people and put yourself in their shoes: not just because you think you should, or to be ‘politically correct’, but simply because you want to welcome as many potential supporters into your wonderful business as possible.
The ‘Purple Pound’, the spending power of disabled people and their households, is increasing year-on-year in the UK, and if you’re doing it right, there’s no doubt that you will reap the benefits. I’d choose to lend my custom to a small business or enterprise committed to accessibility, any day of the week.
I wholeheartedly believe that people in this beautiful part of the country mean well and are generally receptive to learning more about accessibility and inclusivity, even if they have very little personal experience in these areas. Sometimes, all it takes is a gentle nudge in the right direction to encourage positive change, and that’s where I can hopefully make at least a little difference.
Using my blog and social media, I’ve recently begun sharing personal tips, thoughts and access reviews for the various amenities and experiences York and the surrounding area has to offer, from the perception of a chronically ill young adult. Blogging and writing as Life Of Pippa have brought me some wonderful opportunities to collaborate with tourist attractions, local businesses and the hospitality industry over the last few years, and I’m excited to see how I can adopt these important conversations about accessibility into my existing online presence.
By discussing my own experiences, I hope to gradually become an additional source of information for other disabled and chronically ill people, whether they’re locals on the lookout for new suggestions, or those from further afield who are planning to travel to the area as disabled or chronically ill visitors. Let’s facilitate some important conversations about access and inclusivity, and ensure this beautiful county continues to be as welcoming as possible for all.
Pippa’s Top Wheelchair-Accessible Recommendations for a Cuppa in York
1-3 Nessgate, York YO1 9NP
Described as: “A hub of activity, caffeine-fuelled ideas, and delicious smoothies, with an endearing atmosphere perfect for meeting with friends, colleagues as a well the whole family......”
Merchants’ Coffee House
The Hall, Fossgate, York YO1 9XD
Described as: “Open to all, come and meet friends, family and colleagues for delicious food and drink in the inspiring setting of our medieval guildhall......”
York’s Chocolate Story
King’s Square, York YO1 7LD
Described as: “The perfect destination for chocolate lovers to pick up a deliciously decadent snack.......”
21 Lendal, York
Described as: “Righteous and true since 2006. Artisan roasted coffee from award-winning baristas.........”
148 Micklegate, York YO1 6JX
Described as: “Beautiful corner property overlooking the walls. Specialty coffee, ten craft beer lines, and fresh food......"
Sketch Café, York Art Gallery
Exhibition Square, York YO1 7EW
Described as: “Serving a unique blend of freshly prepared food and great coffee, our café gives you the perfect start or end to your visit......”
York Theatre Royal Café
St. Leonard’s Place, York YO1 7HD
Described as: “The theatre has a beautifully airy front of house area, with café, bars and various seating areas, suitable for everyone......”
Rowntree Park Reading Café
Rowntree Park Lodge, Richardson Street, York YO23 1JU
Described as: “Relax and enjoy Organic, Fairtrade coffee, Suki loose leaf teas, homemade cakes and freshly prepared lunches whilst enjoying a book or today’s paper.......”
For those either currently visiting or intending to visit, we aim to be an excellent resource, with detailed listings for accommodation, places to eat and drink and things to see and do. We don't leave it there - whilst on holiday you could need a dentist, doctor, vet or optician. We offer details of where to find some of these too. In addition we provide weather information, transport options and even places you can recharge an electric vehicle.
The team behind Visiting North Yorkshire has 8 years experience promoting tourism in North Yorkshire, designing and maintaining dynamic websites, running successful and influential social media channels and producing & distributing quality tourism guides. In addition to this they have 25 years experience in the IT industry, giving them a complete sphere of expertise in online working - not only are they extremely proficient with "front end" technology that engages with the customer (websites, social media), but also the background infrastructure that supports and operates it. That expertise is available to draw on for Visiting North Yorkshire members, should they require technical advice or support.