“Hold onto your hats,” says Lucy Webster, because “it’s a bumpy ride.”
London is famed for its nightlife, thanks to the sheer number of restaurants, pubs, bars, clubs, theatre, roof terraces and music venues on offer.
As such, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s actually really easy to turn up and enjoy a spontaneous night in the UK capital. However, for people living with disabilities across Britain, going out-out (aka to bars and clubs) is a minefield that takes a lot of forward planning. And it’s an issue which Lucy Webster – who describes herself as a ‘digital journalist/planner/sometime reporter’ in her social media bio – has highlighted in her now-viral Twitter thread.
“Let me tell you about what happens when you dare to go on a night out as a wheelchair user,” she says.
Recalling a recent experience in the city, Webster says her evening kicked off in a “relatively successful” fashion thanks to the locating of an accessible bar. (Less positive, of course, was Webster’s interaction with a woman who “keeps talking to me about God and some sort of cure” – but, as she notes, that is “standard fare”).
Things started to get complicated, though, when Webster and her friends decided that they wanted to move on to a nightclub.
They sat down and Googled a wheelchair-accessible option – one which, ideally, wasn’t based too far away from the bar they were currently in. And, based on the search results, Clapham’s AQUUM seemed to be the best option.
When they arrived at AQUUM, Webster and her friends found that the door staff were still letting in a steady queue of people. They, however, were stopped by the bouncers immediately, and told that they weren’t allowed in.
Why? Well, “this is where it starts to get odd,” admits Webster, noting that the club’s lift was working and “physical access” to the venue was fine.
The bouncer, however, refused to grant her access because he felt the club was too busy and “he just wants to keep me safe”.
Naturally, Webster – who is based in London – informed the bouncer that she is used to crowds (all part of living in a city) and “can look after myself”. A second bouncer, however, decided to join the debate, insisting that the club’s music was “too rowdy” for a disabled woman.
“Cue some back and forth,” continues Webster, admitting that she “deployed the discrimination word”.
“This led to the bizarre suggestion that I could go in alone, sans pals, to ‘see for myself’ that it was unsuitable, and the more bizarre suggestion that it wasn’t discrimination because wheelchair users are often let in,” she says. “THAT’S NOT HOW IT WORKS!”
Unwilling to pursue the argument “if @Aquum didn’t want my money”, Webster instead decided to head to KFC (“because sometimes you just give up and get chicken”). Things did not get better at the fast food establishment, however.
“KFC is of course not accessible, so I wait outside and my mates go in,” recalls Webster. “But I am a magnet for drunk people. I am pointed at, laughed at. A man asks if he can spin my chair. I am done.”
She finishes by saying: “I shed some tears in the taxi. I eat a lot of chicken.”
Of course, there’s a common misconception that people with disabilities don’t want to go to clubs. However, as the charity SCOPE recently informed Vice: “Young disabled adults are just as keen as everyone else to go out and enjoy themselves; it’s the unwelcoming attitudes and lack of knowledge among staff and organisers of events that can lead to disabled people feeling isolated and excluded from community life.”
Unfortunately, SCOPE’s research shows that 77% of disabled people say they’ve seen zero improvements in the accessibility of pubs, restaurants, clubs and shops since 2012 – the year that London held the Paralympics and Britain’s attitudes to disability were supposedly transformed.
And, while nightclubs are covered by the Equality Act 2010, which protects people from discrimination, many disabled people find some venues can be far from enjoyable, with everything from a steep set of stairs to the attitudes of other clubbers ruining what was supposed to be a fun night.
As Bela Gor, the legal director of the Business Disability Forum, tells the BBC: “Nightclubs have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled customers.
“They don’t have to change the fundamental nature of their business, for example turn the lights up, or turn the music down.
“But they do have to ensure that disabled people can get in and have a good time in the same way as non-disabled customers.”