Gaining new insights

As a mother of two, a 2- and 3-year-old, I am used to pushing a stroller around and pull and drag it everywhere, in the tube and up and down stairs. If the lift is broken, I swear to myself and start carrying it up the stairs. If I am lucky, someone offers to help.

But what do you do if you are in a wheelchair? There is no chance to drag the wheelchair up the stairs, or simply ask someone to carry it. These were just a few thoughts I had during an insight exercise that all new employees of Funka go through. We got to try what it is like to get about using a wheelchair and with a simulated visual impairment. Never before have I understood what a challenge it is and how important accessibility is.

The first thing I tried was rolling into the toilet. It took a while before I learned how the wheels worked and in which direction I should spin to go in the right direction. It also made me realise how important it is with enough space and to have extra handles on doors and sinks.

The next task was getting from the office down to the tube, travelling one station, crossing streets and pedestrian areas without rolling into people, and the hardest part of all, getting inside the tube carriage. I actually panicked when I was about to do that little push getting the wheelchair inside the carriage without getting stuck in the gap between platform and carriage. To also have time to lock the wheels of the wheelchair before the tube started rolling added extra pressure. I got stuck of course, panicked and screamed. You could not believe the looks I got!

I thought it would be "easier" to try to be severely visually impaired - it was not! It was harder and scarier than I expected. My body’s internal signalling system shouted: "Do not cross the street," when I was to cross an unguarded crossing. To rely 100 % that cars would stop when I put the white cane on the road to cross it was really hard, and my walk changed. I felt small, insecure and unsafe. Trusting yourself is one thing but having to rely so much on others is harder.

The interesting thing was that I became much more aware of sounds and even how it felt under my feet. I also gained new knowledge about what different things mean along the streets, which facilitates a lot for visually impaired.  

This experience is something that everyone should try. For it provides entirely new insights on accessibility and how small things make a big difference for many people. For no matter who you are, you want to get to and from places easily and with as few obstacles as possible. There are so many that are unnecessarily isolated because of a lack of accessibility and understanding. I know that there are many elderly people with hearing impairment who dare not go out just because they are afraid of not being able to make themselves understood. Therefore, I it makes me happy when they teach sign language to children in kindergartens – training in sign language is also something that all employees at Funka have the opportunity to participate in. Relatively few signs make you understand people that use sign language as a first or as a second language. It also increases the understanding of how important accessibility is. Because everyone has the same rights and should have the same opportunities.

Celina Beveridge