Getting Home from the Christmas Party
By Simon Minty
When I had a proper job, one of the annual highlights was the work Christmas party. A chance to let your hair down, eat and perhaps drink a little too much. However there was always an anxiousness for me. Not so much would I make a fool of myself or a kiss under the Mistletoe, I was worried about how I’d get home. Having a drink meant not driving so booking a very expensive and not necessarily reliable taxi was essential. Occasionally someone booked a mini-bus which I loved as it would pick us up and drop us home safely and allowed drunk group singing of A Horse With No Name.
If like me you can’t walk much and you want to leave your car behind on a night out, a wheelchair or scooter will get you only so far. Just this summer I was in Soho, central London at 10pm and debated about scooting home, some six miles, as it felt easier than trying to get a black cab. Although the London taxis are wheelchair accessible, drivers seem to acquire their own impairment by not seeing me or developing a back problem that prevents them from getting the ramp out. On this occasion, after a mile of scooting I decided to hail a cab. It took twenty minutes, six available cabs went past. The one who stopped immediately told me about his relative who was disabled. It’s clearly who you know in this world too.
Uber, the disruptive and revolutionary app booking taxi service has its critics. Indeed I am one when drivers refuse to take guide dogs plus the concerns about the gig economy. However, personally and selfishly I can say I’m a fan as Uber has changed how I get about. I’ve got an accessible Uber car to pick me up at an airport or take me to Wembley stadium, and it took less than ten minutes to arrive. I now occasionally even leave my scooter behind because the car picks me up and drops me off exactly where I want. No cash required, guaranteed to take me, no awkward tip moment. Along with the scooter itself, it’s been a true independence provider.
Living in London I can access this, as well as accessible buses, black cabs and a smattering of tube stations and overground, if I give notice. Rural areas can be more tricky although private hire cabs exist and often get to know their customers and provide a great service, although I bet there aren’t many accessible ones. Uber is spreading quickly and other developing technology like driverless accessible cars should mean greater independence for many disabled people.
As we know travelling if you are disabled takes more preparation and often costs more. I haven’t completely shaken off my travel anxiousness, but it is getting easier. True independence will have arrived when we can get tipsy, embarrass ourselves and know we can get home ok, just like any other person.
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