Guest post by Kelly from Harrogate. Kelly’s story made headlines when her 12-year-old son Joe, who has cerebral palsy, couldn’t go and see a film at his local cinema because there was no wheelchair access. Ironically, it was National Disability Access Day – and the film was The Theory of Everything, the biopic of Professor Stephen Hawking. Here she shares what happened next.
Our local cinema is a listed building and they cannot adapt it to allow wheelchair access to all its screens – fair enough. But when I phoned them to ask if they could perhaps show the film on an accessible screen over the weekend, they said no.
I was so shocked and sad. I am a single mum and I have four other children, so it takes a lot of organising and planning to do anything at the best of times.
So I had a rant on Twitter, like you do these days, and the BBC picked it up. Suddenly my mobile phone was ringing all the time – the BBC Look North team wanted to speak with us, then the local radio stations and then Sky News! I couldn’t believe that all these people wanted to hear about what happened.
The journey I’ve been on
I think I have gone through every emotion possible since Joe was diagnosed at nine months old. I felt denial, anger and guilt. I didn’t want to face the fact that he was disabled.
But then when Joe was three, he started attending the nursery attached to a special school.
One day we were called to a meeting. We were put in a room, but Joe wasn’t there. Then the teacher came in and said, “Joe wanted to show you something”.
Then in came my little boy, wheeling himself along for the first time ever. I had always carried him before. Gosh, he was so proud, so pleased with himself!
I just started crying. The physiotherapist put her arms round me and said: “He needs to be in a chair. He needs to know that this is what he needs, and you have to help him.”
That day, for the first time ever, I used the word ‘disabled’. I saw that my boy would always have to face things I would never fully understand. But as his mother, I was going to make sure that he had access to everything that my other children had.
That’s the reason I decided to stand up and fight about the cinema. I felt I had to give my son a voice, and show him it’s okay to say: ‘I want what everyone else has, please’.
I want him to know that there’s nothing in this world you cannot do – you might just have to do it a bit differently.
Tackling the issue head-on
As a result of all this, I’m now in the process of setting up a website about accessibility in my area. It’s a review site for days out and attractions, and at the moment we’re concentrating on Leeds, Harrogate and York.
There’s nothing worse than getting in the car for a day out and then having issues with access, so we collect details about disabled access. It will also have a page of all the disabled-friendly clubs in the area.
Families also leave us reviews of places they have visited, so that people know how accessible it really is. Let’s face it – just because it has a ramp at the front door doesn’t mean it’s wheelchair-friendly!
We finally saw The Theory of Everything, and as we left the cinema Joe said: “I can do whatever I want mum – look at Professor Hawking.” I was so proud.