Monday, September 15, 2014

Legless in America: The San Francisco Downtown Hostel

The San Francisco Downtown Hostel
312 Mason Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

The big thing you need to mention about San Francisco is that it is hilly. Once you get over that fact, you'll realise that most of the buildings are pretty accessible. If you can get there.

The San Francisco Downtown Hostel is very San Fran. The staff will invite you on walking ukelele tours and they are very much about hostel involvement. Just smile, ignore them and indulge in the free bagels. It's a lovely hostel in a very handy location in the middle of the city so it's easy to plan your day from there.

What has it got?

Rooms: They have a couple of American Disability Act certified rooms which are spacious. The beds are bunk beds and you are given the bottom bunk.

Bathrooms: The bathroom was massive. However, they had no handrails and the shower was actually a bath. They provided a stool to put in when you are showering but it was a little dodgy. Keep your wits about you here.

Doors:  The doors are quite heavy and I needed a hand with them a couple of times.

Stairs: The entrance is flat and they have a lift that goes to all floors. Give yourself some time with this lift as it is quite temperamental and you can only press the button for one floor at a time. We lost half a day in here.

Helpfulness of Staff: I didn't require much help from them but it is San Fran and they will probably sell their liver in order to help you.

Parking: There is street parking available.

Rating: 8/10
Why did it lose points? It is a very nice hostel and we got what we needed from it; a bed and a free breakfast. The fact that the wheelchair room didn't come with any actual handrails or a specific wheelchair shower was a bit of an issue and would be a bigger problem for other people in wheelchairs. The lift was an almighty pain in the hole but they have posters everywhere apologising for that. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Legless At Electric Picnic 2014

Electric Picnic is the mother of Irish music festivals. It gets the biggest names and the biggest crowds but why does it feel like they gave access very little thought?

I had a brilliant weekend at Electric Picnic. Portishead, Kelis, Outkast and Pet Shop Boys blew my little mind away but if there is one way to describe their access service, the words pain and ass aren't too far from each other.

For the first time ever, I camped in the accessible campsite at Electric Picnic. The advantages to this are that you can park your car right beside your tent, tents are spread out so you can get in and out of your own easily and they have large wheelchair accessible portaloos. In the other campsites, there are no wheelchair portaloos available so if you're wheeling, you're not peeing (easily).

We arrived late on Friday night so our usual coveted spot in the Oscar Wilde site was gone. For the last three years, we camped on the edge of that campsite because it was a stone's throw away from the main arena. Unfortunately, the accessible campsite was one of the furthest sites away from all of the action; approximately 2-3km. Tucked right in where all of the campervans played house for the weekend, those who need the easiest path in were given the furthest route to take.

On the Electric Picnic website, you can contact to book a spot in the access site. I had emailed them before the festival to ask if the access site would be as far away as previous years. They said the reason it was the furthest away was because it was the closest spot for drivers to go in. While parking beside your tent is incredibly handy when you are arriving and leaving, it's the time in between (i.e. the festival that you bought your ticket for) that you need to be close to the action.

The access officers at the campsite were incredibly helpful and couldn't believe that that was the best Electric Picnic could do in terms of access. One officer mentioned how they had tried for three hours to get a golf buggy to help one camper who had MS to get around but there was no service available.

At Body and Soul earlier this summer, their access officer had a huge presence and gave out her mobile number to everyone just in case. The accessible campsite was also right beside the main arena and they had a shuttle service to bring people back and forth if they needed it.

For the entire weekend at EP, I had to rely on my friends to help me get around.  Luckily, my friends are a great bunch but it meant that I couldn't get to my tent on my own. At festivals, you need to nip back to the tent to get layers or for the very important disco naps so I felt like a nag to my friends when I needed their help. The paths leading from all the campsites are rough with stones and when it was wet, mud was a big issue. The fact that the access campsite was so far away meant that we had more tough ground to cover than the rest of the campers.

Inside the main arena, they had plenty of wheelchair portaloos and viewing platforms if you needed them. The access guards did everything within their means to help but the facilities that they were given just weren't enough.

This year was my eighth Picnic and as the Big One they need to up their access game if I will make next year's my ninth. The music and the fun inside will always be a huge draw but it's the stress and the struggle to get in that aren't worth it.