Friday, 18 August 2017

Accessibility Review On Our Latest London Trip

London Panorama, Big Ben

So, James & I went to London on Monday, I suffered after with pain in my hips, feet and back but I’m so glad we went. I sometimes feel upset when we visit these places because it reminds me that I’m not in a position both financially or physically to do little trips out like this as much as I’d like too. My body is fragile, so is James (although he will never in 1million years admit it) so I tend to stay in my comfort zone where I know rest isn’t far away.

Anyway, so we stayed on the south bank area, one of my favourites in fact because we were visiting the sea life centre and London Dungeons. Now, this was my first time going to the dungeons at all, I’ve been to the sea life centre a lot but it was my first time seeing the new ocean invaders display! My main worry was accessibility. With James using a stick and with my feet, back and hip I was worried about how we would get on which is what inspired this post. I thought I’d talk about the accessibility and ease of going to these places with disabilities and mobility aids.



So first, let’s talk about my favourite place, or one of my favourite places in London (London Zoo is right up there too, they are joint 1st) The Sea Life Centre. Now I have been here a lot, so I knew the layout well. My biggest concern at first was getting up the stairs at the entrance to get into the actual sea life centre to get tickets. It’s usually a long wait (especially on school holidays) and the steps are big. James doesn’t do well on stairs or with standing up waiting for a long time. Luckily there were some employees in the ticket collection and season passes entrances, which is on the ground no steps needed! We politely explained the situation and she was more than helpful. She brought us past everyone, took us to a till and gave us our tickets, no waiting and no steps! She was so lovely to us and I only wish I remember her name! We then had to go through the usual security and we both had bags. James has trouble opening his bag and closing it, it takes some time, some security guards are so impatient and rude. This guy was totally different. He was polite, helpful and let him take his time, even helped him at one point. 2 minutes in and we’d already had amazing help.

Next was getting around and places to sit. Everything is accessible. Lifts are available although you still do get those few people who can’t be bothered to walk, so sometimes just being vocal about it is enough to make them feel embarrassed enough to move. Steps are also available. Everything then is on the same level. There’s benches and places to perch almost everywhere, some people just like to watch fish and other animals because its relaxing…I’m one of them. There are lifts to every floor so no need to struggle to get up the stairs and most of the corridors and areas are large enough to fit a wheelchair and/or buggy in so very spacious. 

Everything is very colourful which helps with certain disabilities and adds, even more, stimulation to any already interesting and extraordinary place. It can get crowded which if you suffer from anxiety or claustrophobia etc you should be mindful of, but there are areas big enough that you can escape. Obviously, certain times are busier than others, and so planning trips could be important if you need a quieter time. We went in at 11.45am which we thought would be packed but wasn’t half as bad as we imagined. Toilets are also in quite convenient places and while they obviously are not everywhere, you are always close to one. Obviously again if it's busy there may be a small wait but that’s the same everywhere. When you're leaving there is a shop, which if busy could be difficult because of crowding but everything is set out so it's wide enough for wheelchairs etc. 

While I’m talking about the sea life centre it let's just touch on their conservation efforts. Everywhere you go inside there are reminders that conservation and saving endangered species is very important and at the heart of what they do. Sharks are one of the biggest(I'm biased but I think most impressive) displays but also an animal that needs a lot of protection. The centre really makes sure you know this, and I love that. When people criticise, animals being in tanks I do to somewhat agree, without seeing how they are being cared for etc it’s easy to think the worst but you cannot fault their conservation efforts or their breeding programmes at a time when populations of certain species are at such risk. One day I'll do the shark feeding experience and the behind the scenes tour but that extra money I don't have. 

All in all, the sea life centre is not only an awesome place to go and see marine life and educate yourself on lots of different species but it’s also very accessible. Everyone is welcome and everyone can go. This place is great for kids, the elderly, groups of people and even just a trip by yourself. 

London Dungeons was good fun and it’s an experience I recommend to everyone. I have never been before, most of my family would never go but I’m up for experiencing everything! Firstly, like with the sea life centre getting in was our biggest issue. Now they had no way we could see of getting in without going up the steps, and the nearest employee happened to be at the top of the steps. I’m sure if we had asked there would have been a way in but if we're honest we couldn’t be bothered with the hassle, so we climbed those stairs. Then to get the tickets we had to get into a queue and I swear it was the narrowest line I have ever experienced in my life, I even commented to James that I felt I needed to lose a few pounds just to fit the ropes! We got the tickets and got in line. We waited about 10 minutes just get in but it's summer holidays so I'm not surprised. We encountered another security guard like usual and this guy was the grumpiest guy on the planet. I had to help James with his bag and he literally said nothing to us but 'i need to see in your bag' Not even a damn smile! There was then even more waiting. Pictures were taken which was annoying if I’m honest I don’t like pictures and they made it seem like you had to. Then even more waiting. So yes, a lot of waiting.

https://www.thedungeons.com/global/images/common/dungeon-logos/the-london-dungeon-2x.pngThen getting around and places to sit. Well, let me tell you. They do have a few lifts here and there BUT they only run at one time on the hour. I think it was at a quarter to every hour and he didn’t tell us until we bought our tickets. He asked if we’d be ok and if we wanted to wait but it was just before half past we didn’t want to be waiting around even more. James decided he’d be ok with just his stick so we went on. Places to sit were few and far between, in some areas there were seats available but because it was interactive it wasn’t every room. You also had to contend with other people feeling they were entitled to seats.

The interactive aspect of the dungeons does impact the accessibility. If I’m honest if you were wheelchair based, a very slower walked or found walking very difficult it would be hard to enjoy the whole experience. There are 2 rides, neither of which you could do if you were wheel chair based. James managed one, we didn’t attempt the other because I can’t do anything other than water rides. So, we skipped that. Anxiety is a bugger for rides that I'm strapped into.
Due to the interaction based experience it can be difficult to join in completely, they pick people from the audience to join in and these aren’t always easy. James got picked twice! They wanted him to sit in a torture chair while they explained what they would have done to him, this included walking up a step. James always has tremors so it wasn’t exactly easy. He sat there shaking in front of everyone( i could hear people saying he was shaking because he was scared!) So, this can make it even harder to feel a part of the experience. If you have anxiety and don't like standing out etc this definitely isn't for you. I like to blend in, not because of embarrassment but because I hate the spotlight on me, so I actually couldn't see as much as I had wanted to because I was hiding in the shadows from being picked. 
Another problem would be if you suffer from anxiety or phobias such as the darkness or claustrophobia. It is jumpy, it is dark, it is tight in some areas, you could be chosen and picked out. There was a mirror maze that was difficult and no one could find a way out at first (James did, my hero!) and people were getting crowded and I felt so trapped I did start to panic a lot. I hated not knowing how to get out and being trapped with lots of strangers. Basically, I was on edge the WHOLE time. To then get out you have to go down more steps. 

All in all, it was a good experience and I’m glad I did it, but I wouldn’t do it again and it isn’t the best place to visit as a disabled or anxious person. Obviously, they have tried to make it accessible for everyone without compromising the experience but all in all, it just doesn’t seem enough.



To finish the day we walked along Southbank, one of my favourite walks, all the way to London bridge. If you enjoy photography like I do then this is a perfect walk to get some shots, not only of the infrastructure but of the art work and buskers. That entire walk just completely encompasses everything I love about London. It’s alive, it's colourful, it's different and there’s something for everyone and even better...from start to finish there wasn't a single step we HAD to climb! 

*DISCLAIMER* I am not being sponsored for this post, neither was I asked to do this by either attraction. This is entirely my own personal views and does not reflect everyone's opinions, only my own. 

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