Back to Barcelona

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Some of you may remember my previous blog entry on Barcelona.

Well, we decided on a last grown-up weekend before our lives are further complicated with the arrival of another nipper. Our choice of destination was Barcelona. Penny hadn't been before, and I loved the city and was keen to return.

I'm sure that I was influenced in part by the knowledge that Barcelona can offer a hassle free destination for wheelchair users. However, this was not the main factor. It is a city that seems to radiate a sort of easy pride. The atmosphere is welcoming without being fussy or overbearing.

There is a sense that the people of Barcelona have been enjoying the same activities for a very long time. Eating at the Boqueria Market:


 Promenading among the Gaudi architecture in Parc Guell:


Or riding around in horse-drawn processions throwing sweets at the crowd:


The Metro is wheelchair accessible, as are the streets and taxis. But that didn't seem so important this time. Knowing that access was not going to be a problem made it drop down the list of concerns, which demonstrates why inclusive design is important.

For those of us who may have different requirements to allow us to participate fully (Now THAT'S a candidate for euphemism of the day), practical and low-key provision makes us feel, well, normal.  This may seem like an odd description, but turn it around: NOT having practical, low-key provision makes us feel abnormal and, more importantly, excluded.

I'm not sure I would go THIS far to include everyone, mind you:


So, Barcelona.
Next time, I will avoid wearing black, as I seemed to spend the entire weekend covered in a fine light dust.
We had some fantastic food, the best being simple Tapas in a bar.
We were wowed by the Fundacio Miro, although inevitably the exhibition was of British Art (his seems to happen to me wherever I go in the world. Then again, I go to British Galleries to see work from everywhere else, so I suppose it evens itself out in the end).

All in all, we had a wonderful weekend, despite unusually low temperatures. It was nice to see the sun, regardless of how many jumpers were needed.

The only negative was on our return flight. We arrived at the EasyJet desk in Barcelona to be told that Airport Security insist that wheelchair users transfer into an Airport wheelchair at the check-in desk and check their wheelchair in with the luggage.

This is a huge step backwards, and an argument that has been going on in Airports around the world for some time. To put it in some context. my wheelchair is not a suitcase. It's not even like being to to check in you shoes and hobble up to the departure gate in someone else's high heels. In truth, I'm not sure that I can find an analogy to accurately describe the relationship between a wheelchair user and their wheels.

Of course, I refused, and went up to the Security Check in my own wheelchair. There, I was given the same policy and the explanation that they had recently caught someone smuggling drugs in a wheelchair.

Presumably, if anyone is caught with drugs in their clothing, everyone will have to check-in their clothes and wander the Duty-Free in Airport boiler suits. I shudder to think what's going to happen next time a smuggler is caught with a shipment of coke up their backside.

I managed to get the Security staff to feed the parts of my chair through the scanner and then re-assemble it for me. This didn't take long as it wasn't very busy, but it is hardly a workable solution as many people have chairs that wouldn't fit through the machine, especially anyone in a powerchair.

If wheelchairs present a problem for security, then airports need to find another solution. At Stansted, for example, my wheelchair is swabbed for traces of explosives, and sniffer dogs are used in many airports to check passengers for drugs or prohibited food-stuffs.

Wheelchair users are as reasonable as other people. We are affected by smuggling and terrorism, too. But throwing £4,000 worth of wheelchair to the baggage handlers is not an acceptable solution. It's hard not to suspect that security is being used as an excuse to make getting wheelchair users on and off the plane easier for the airport authorities, regardless of the inconvenience and anxiety they may cause.

It is important to remember that disability forums are littered with accounts from people who have had their wheelchair go missing or arrive in the baggage hall to watch mangled parts of it going around between the suitcases. I am fortunate that I have a spare chair at home. It's a bit battered, but it works. In the event of my wheelchair getting lost or broken on the return journey, I would only need help to the car.

But many people do not have a spare. And what happens if your wheelchair is lost or broken on the outward journey? This is why we insist on staying in our wheelchairs until the last possible moment.

This shouldn't, mustn't, put wheelchair users off taking weekend breaks to other cities. But it is probably worth getting to the airport even earlier and being prepared for a polite, but protracted discussion on policy. If enough of us are insistent, the authorities will have to think again.

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