Norfolk

Invisible Cities – Having A Disability In Norwich

Something a little different from me today.

I was invited to take part in an Invisible Cities Linkup crested by Sheryl of A Chronic Voice. 

This brilliant idea from Sheryl invites people from all over the world to share stories and information about what it’s like living in their city with a disability or chronic illness. This collection is then available for people to learn, discover and appreciate what it’s like to live in various parts of the world. These pros and cons can be considered for people looking to relocate or travel. Plus it’s just good to be nosey and step in the shoes (or wheels) of somebody else.

An image that you can click on to Pinterest this post. There is a photo of Norwich City Hall clock tower with the title text placed over. Pin this

Firstly I must mention that I don’t have an invisible illness, my disability is all too obvious. Well the main factor is anyway, as I’m a full time wheelchair user. By this I mean that I cannot get out at all without assistance, and I cannot stand. There are other ‘side effects’ of my SMA, a main one being respiratory problems. These are the two factors I’ll take into account when discussing the accessibility of my city, Norwich.

Although my disability is not invisible, having a disability can often make people feel invisible. Being able to access and interact with your surroundings and peers is an important part of life and feeling equal within your community. 

I don’t live in Norwich, I live in a small town a few miles away. However Norwich is my go-to for most things. Leisure, health, pampering, essentials and socialising. 

Q&A: What’s the Quality of Life Like in Your City with an Invisible Illness/Disability?

1. Best thing about your city for living with chronic illness/disability?

The people. I think overall Norwich is a friendly city. It’s small enough to still hold some kind of community feel about it. 

Also mostly being treated as an equal. Yes there are issues regarding wheelchair access (which I’ll discuss in a bit) and there are the odd folk that give you funny looks and treat you differently (yep, that still happens), but much of the time I just blend in now. I like that. 

Norwich can be a hive of activity, there are great theatres, a university, an art school, a castle, two cathedrals and a football ground, but there are also plenty of lovely green spaces, places to relax or picnic by the river.

A large open space, park area with a bandstand in the middle. There are clear blue skies in the photo.
Chapelfield Gardens

Near the coast and countryside Norwich is surrounded by space and beauty, however it is conveniently less than two hours by car or train to the capital, London.

There are many large parks and open spaces within Norwich and it’s wider area. Pollution is fairly low and the air doesn’t feel smoggy. 

The Assembly House is in Norwich, and this hosts some of the best afternoon teas! And I love tea.

2. Worst thing about your city for living with chronic illness/disability?

Norwich is a city bursting with history, this can be a pleasure on the eye but a pain for the wheels.

I actually can’t think of many cons to living in or near Norwich!

3. How accessible do you think your city is in general?

Continuing from the previous question Norwich is an historical city. Age brings with it beautiful historic architecture, narrow doorways, wonky steps, winding staircases. Some of these are very difficult to access in a wheelchair, some completely inaccessible.

Looking up at the outside architecture of a church. You can see it is made from stone and has intricate ironwork windows.
Historical architecture

Now I’m a little on the fence as to what should happen with these buildings. Yes it frustrates me that every time I plan to go somewhere new I have to contact the venue regarding access, ask multiple annoying questions like ‘does your establishment have a step?’ ‘is there an accessible toilet?’ ‘how wide is the door? Yes could you actually measure it please?’ ‘is your accessible lift working?’ (Yes that’s a question I ask more often than you imagine).

But as a creative myself with a Masters Degree in the arts I appreciate and love the beauty in Norwich’s architecture. We should cherish the history and stories these building hold, not knock them down and turn them into shopping malls. But I can get in shopping malls. It’s a difficult situation.

I say buildings should be made as accessible to everyone as humanly possible without destroying history. 

When they can’t then you should be as friendly and accommodating as the fabulous Figbar.

The more modern parts of Norwich are very easily accessed. There are two indoor shopping malls, one with a cinema, and both with restaurants. These are all step free and lifts are available. The main high street is now pedestrianised meaning roads are easy to cross and pavements are wide. 

On to the cobbles. The older part of the city, where all the beautiful architecture and quirky shops are, is mostly cobblestones. Cobblestones and I aren’t a good match! But I love this area of Norwich and persevere, it just means I drive slower than a snail. I’ve mentioned before my brilliant idea or covering the cobbles while maintaining their beauty.

An image looking down one of the streets in Norwich. You can see the cobblestone pathway. The City Hall clock is in the distance.
Wheeling through Norwich

Busses are now mostly accessible. Even though I can’t always get on. There is usually only one wheelchair space on a bus, and there is a constant ongoing debate on who gets priority of this space, wheelchair user or parent with pram. If you’re catching the bus I advise you arrive early and if at all possible go to a quieter stop just before the busy ones!

There are plenty of road crossings and dropped curbs available. 

To summarise I feel Norwich is overall an a reasonably wheelchair accessible city. 

4. How educated is the public on chronic illnesses and disabilities there?

I would say people are reasonably educated on the obvious struggles that come with having my disability, however may not fully understand and relate to the details of what that means. 

Knowledge and understanding can only come with experience and awareness, which is partly why my little blog and space on the internet was created. 

When disability becomes the everyday I will be happy.

5. If you could pass one new law in your country, what would that be?

If we are sticking to the subject of disability then I would like every event, venue, building, to state details of accessibility on their website or have them readily available on request. It is not good enough simply stating that somewhere is accessible, the specifics are different for everyone. This list should should involve facts such as – number of steps, height of steps, alternative access, portable ramp, doorway dimensions, accessible toilet details, etc. (I’m sure many of you could add to my list, please feel free to mention ideas in the comments and I’ll add them here). 

6. Which is your favourite city or country (other than your own) and why?

Although I’m not sure I would want to live there, I do love visiting London. Another city full of history. I like the juxtaposition of really modern and historical architecture. The magnificent theatres, the groovy Camden Market, Museums, art galleries, the modern Stratford shopping centre and O2 Arena. I could spend a weekend locked in the V&A! Going to London is often a treat for me, a special occasion, so I don’t mind the hustle and bustle as it’s my own time, I’m in no rush. I also enjoy a taste of the high life, like when I had afternoon tea at Claridge’s.

7. Where in the world would you visit, if disability, illness or level of fitness weren’t an issue?

If money were no object and traveling with a disability was easier I would have been all over the world. I’d have been that gap year student, only in hotels not hostels!

The one place I would like to visit is Italy. The whole of Italy, but in particular Florence. It’s been my dream for at least 10 years. Flying to me is my nightmare though, sitting on a plane seat for hours, being uncomfortable and squished, lifted on to that seat, the fear of arriving to find my chair smashed up. This happens more than you’d hope.

8. What sort of alternative treatments or therapies wouldn’t raise any eyebrows there? (Perhaps it’s ingrained in the culture, totally legal, etc).

I think we are becoming quite an open minded bunch in Norwich. Most people would be understanding and supportive of any treatment we wanted to try.

Medical marijuana has been a big subject in UK news recently, with its proven medical benefits it has still been illegal in the UK since the 1970’s. However only this month the decision was made that from November 2018 it will now be available as a prescription from a Doctor in certain forms for various illnesses.

9. Which are the most and least affordable therapies there? How much do they cost in general?

We are extremely lucky here in the UK to have free healthcare on the NHS. If something is termed as a necessity due to a medical reason then it is most often covered by the NHS. Although if there is a wait and you want to be seen sooner then you could pay privately.

Therapies such as massages can be beneficial for some, I find it help relax my muscles, relieves physical and mental stresses. These are charged at around £50-70 for an hours treatment. 

10. How expensive is it to live with a chronic illness/disability there? Any stats you’d like to share to give a clearer picture?

As I’ve explain most medical needs are covered by the NHS, so I wouldn’t say it is very expensive to live here with a disability. Not much more expensive than for anyone else anyway. 

I find it’s the added extras that can make life with a disability more expensive. Lifestyle choices as such. For example there are wheelchairs supplied by the NHS, and they work and I can sit in them. But they are not as durable or robust as mine, I like to attend festivals, get out and about, some chairs aren’t built for that. So I self funded and charity funded my own chair, which was approximately £10,000. I could have a wheelchair for free, but would it suit my lifestyle. That’s where disability can become expensive, when we choose to buy aids and gadgets which are not deemed a medical requirement.

11. What are the hospitals like in terms of service, quality of care, emergency room protocols, etc?

I would not be here today without the fabulous people that work within the NHS, doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants, emergency services, physio therapists, etc. The NHS is a fantastic thing, but it is pushed and stretched and shoved. There are too many patients and too few staff and funding is short.

Saying that, the quality of care can still be amazing. I have had both good and bad experiences while in hospital, as I’m sure most people have. Waiting times can be often be long, both in A&E and appointment waiting lists. However there has to be an order of priority and whenever I have needed emergency treatment it had been good. 

Pretty much every town has a GP surgery which you register with. This is the first place to go with a non urgent health concern. As I go regularly due to my condition I am fairly well known. There is an alert that appears on my file when I book an appointment which states that I should be seen as soon as possible. This is extremely helpful as appointments can be difficult to get.

12. What should foreigners be aware of in regards to healthcare, if they want to visit or work in your city?

If living in the UK for a period of time you should definitely register at a GP surgery.

Pharmacists at your local chemist can be very useful, they have a vast knowledge and some medications are available to buy over the counter without a Doctors prescription.

There are walk-in medical centres in most cities and some towns. You can just turn up at these without an appointment and ask for advice. You may have to wait a while if they are busy. 

There is an out of hours non-emergency line, by calling 111 you can get advice if you suddenly feel unwell or have a minor accident. They will get a medical professional to contact you or advise you to go to the hospital. 

If emergency help is needed you should call 999. This is the same number for all emergency services, police, firefighters and ambulance. You should tell them the service you require and then explain what has happened. Make sure that you give them your address or thoroughly explain your location. Stay on the phone line until told otherwise. The correct people will then be with you as soon as they can. 

The same image as previously used. Looking up at the architecture of a church. With the title words printed on top. This image can be clicked to pin.
Pin this

If you would like to take part or discover other Invisible Cities head over to A Chronic Voice.

You can also follow me and my life with wheels around Norwich on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

7 thoughts on “Invisible Cities – Having A Disability In Norwich”

  1. Thanks for sharing, Gemma! This was such an insightful read. Seems like Jo also lives in Norwich, so it was interesting to see the two entries from there! The pictures you took help to paint a better picture too. Looks like Norwich is a fab place to live in 🙂 x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for creating a great link up! I enjoyed taking part and considering the accessibility of Norwich. Ah yes I did read Jo’s post, great to see the city from a different perspective. I think Norwich is a great city, but maybe I’m biased 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oooh those blooming cobbles! It is the same in Cambridge. It’s a beautiful city, full of history and prettiness, but those cobbles make it sooo hard to push a wheelchair (and I’m guessing even harder to be jostled about in one!!)

    Liked by 1 person

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