Actress and disability campaigner Samantha Renke, who is a wheelchair user, gives us the low down of her favourite accessible places in London.
Access rules my life
Hey AccessAble readers, my name is Samantha Renke, I’m an actress, activist and all round loud northern bird currently living in central London. I was born with a rare genetic condition Osteogenesis Imperfecta or more commonly known as Brittle Bones, I’ve never know life without a wheelchair or not having to be super vigilant of my surrounding as any small bump can result in a trip to A&E and my arm, or any other body part for that matter, in plaster for the next six months.
My life has always been one big risk assessment. So much so that I’ve even been known to turn down invitations and spend weeks at a time trapped inside my flat because the anxiety of not knowing if a venue is accessible or if their lift is out of service is too stressful for me to handle.
I now feel like going somewhere that doesn’t meet my needs and potentially injuring myself isn’t worth the risk, I have so many wonderful things in my life that I’ve worked hard for over the years that I don’t want to jeopardise my independence, my career my wellbeing just by going out for some weekend drinks.
The sad thing is I never used to feel like that and would not even blink an eye lid at drunken strangers carrying me up three flights of stairs or being in the middle of the dance floor at a rave.
I suppose what I really need now in my life is to find a balance. I need to feel safe and reduce my anxiety but I cannot lock myself away and not live my life. This is why apps like AccessAble are so important to give me that reassurance as we have all experienced calling up a venue and asking if it’s accessible only to get a reply of “yes we are we just have one small step at the front of the building”.
Venues on the Accessible website and App have been visited by trained surveyors, which makes all the difference.
Dating & Accessibility
Finding a restaurant or bar when you are on a date can be an absolute nightmare. First dates are complicated and awkward as it is without coming face to face with a flight of stairs with some bouncer coming up to you and announcing in from of everyone “it’s ok love I will just put you over my shoulder” or worse being told you can’t come in because of health and safety.
So when both of you have a disability things get interesting. Last year I had a date take me on a boat ride over to Greenwich, after having a stroll around we both became peckish. I needed somewhere with a bathroom and my date who was on a strict ketogenetic diet to control his epileptic seizures needed keto appropriate food found that the Gourmet Burger Kitchen hit the spot. Although not the largest of establishments it did have a very reasonable sized accessible bathroom and a very understanding staff who completely understood my dates dietary needs without it becoming an ordeal.
Please all I need is the loo & a 99p cheeseburger!
It’s a sad fact that when you have a disability particularly when you are a wheelchair user the subject of going to the toilet crops up a lot.
I’ve had to weigh up the decision to make that cuppa tea in the morning with the chances of most likely not being able to get rid of that tea until multiple hours later. I’ve even turned down a free coffee at Paddington station for this exact reason.
If you've forgotten your radar key at home or can’t find any public facilities that meet your needs your next option is a restaurant.
So if you are like me and can sometimes feel a little bit awkward about using a restaurants accessible toilet facilities without actually being a customer then the easiest way around it I’ve found is turning to an old friend, ‘Maccy D’.
Access Able has 161 McDonalds Access Guides across the country, which are great when it comes to access and more importantly their accessible toilets are in my experience the cleanest public facilities around. Once you've used their facilities you can always overcome your awkwardness by getting a 99p McFlurry, because hey what better excuse for ice-cream.
When you are trying to impress but have no clue what you are doing!
Ever since moving to London I don’t seem to get back up north to see friends and family as often as I probably should, but it’s not from a lack of trying. In fact my friends and family now jump at the chance to come on a mini holiday to the big smoke.
Not that I’m complaining as I love hosting, must be my German blood nevertheless, you will find that once you've lived in a place long enough it just becomes home and you are no longer a tourist meaning you often find yourself struggling to find new and exciting things to do when you have guests who are expecting the five star treatment.
Lucky for me just a stone’s throw away is this absolute gem Spitalfields Market.
Hosting a mixture of antiques and modern markets with lots of pop up food stalls from around the world. There is always some sort of live performers or promoters who often hand out freebies to the market goers. More importantly it’s all flat and has an accessible toilet that uses a radar key. Close to Liverpool station and Brick Lane it’s honestly one of my favourite places in East London.
Living in the heart of trendy Shoreditch, it’s almost mandatory to support local ventures. You are certainly spoilt for choice in this East London with pop up cafes and restaurants and quaint entertainment spaces to enjoy local talent so for me it was so important to have come across a local cinema venue that also supported live artists. Rich Mix is very much an iconic venue and for me has a sentimental element. Not long after I moved to London I filmed the infamous When Harry met Sally orgasm scene in Rich Mix restaurant with the very dashing television presenter Rick Edwards. It was a long day filming and I was so very appreciative of the accessible facilities they had to offer.
I hope you've enjoyed my top locations and maybe I’ve persuaded you to give some of them a visit? Although these places have all been selected for their great access I know that we still live in a world that’s far from accessible and equal, that’s why I’ve set up my campaign #DontWantOurCash. If you want to get involved in the campaign then please follow us on twitter @DontWantOurCash and check out the official website for more info - www.dontwantourcash.co.uk