Bath-born Ben Rushgrove is a British sprint runner with cerebral palsy, who set a world record for the T36 200m at the 2007 Paralympic World Cup becoming the first athlete to achieve under 25 seconds in the event. At the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London, Rushgrove won the bronze medal in the T36 Men's 200m. Ben spent the day exploring the city with a friend in a wheelchair, to discover how accessible the heritage city is to those with restricted mobility...
Bath is a beautiful city, and I should know because I've lived here nearly all my life. I say nearly all because I went away to boarding school when I was ten. It wasn't because my parents were rich or anything, it was because I was disabled. I got the best education I could and returned to Bath to study at university. But, of course, a good many of my friends are disabled, and so when I was asked to take a look at the city I love and make it more accessible I jumped at the chance, in no small part because I wanted my school friends to visit and have the same experience as everyone else.
So confident were the Visit Bath team in their new accessibility initiative that I knew I had to come up with a challenge! So I called upon my good friend JT to help. All I told the organisers was that I was bringing a friend and that they would be in a wheelchair. Little did they know, JT had recently traded up and was now sitting astride Frontier V6, which is a huge six-wheeled electric wheelchair with a top speed of 10km/h and weighing in at almost 110kg! And, as a result of years of experience, he was confident of failure. We arrived ready to see what this historic city had to offer.
The day got off to a good start - the guide was really welcoming and not at all intimidated by JT's hairstyle or wheelchair. We set off across town learning all about why the Abbey graveyard wasn't the Abbey graveyard and why the rugby pitch (a trip to Bath is incomplete without at least a mention of rugby) had the space to be where it was, the guide continuously pointed out good places to cross the road and voiced reminders to be mindful of the traffic. We took a route across the Royal Victoria Park, the only royal park outside London. I was learning too! We finally arrived at the magnificent Royal Crescent. So far, so good.
This is where the test went up a gear. It turns out that No. 1 Royal Crescent has been having something of a makeover and is now 50 percent wheelchair accessible. So a look from JT - was this really going to work? A Grade I listed building is about to take on the mighty Frontier V6. Well ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to report that the building and the people in it won.
Let's start with the building. Everyone goes through the same entrance. This may seem like a little thing, but it's the little things that make us happy. Next came the new lift. I have no idea how they managed it, but it's a full-size, fully operational lift which even JT's monster could fit in with room to spare. There are a couple of places where it is a bit of a squeeze but we got through and left the house in the same condition we found it, and we found it in pretty good condition. There are some interesting artefacts and some wonderful paintings, not to mention the electric machine which you wind up to create a static spark, what fun!
The guides and representatives we encountered at No. 1 Royal Crescent were welcoming and not in the least bit phased by the possibility of their newly refurbished paintwork being scraped and scratched by the chair. JT is, of course, an excellent driver, but they didn't know that. They were able to answer all our questions and have a lot of fun at the same time.
There are, of course, more disabilities than being in a wheelchair, so I think it's important that you understand that access for all disabilities have also been examined carefully, and thanks to Steve Jobs, the iPad has yet again come to the rescue. They have a virtual tour of the entire house which can also be used for individuals with visual impairments and an audio description function is available.
I would recommend a trip to No. 1 and a guided tour to anyone, whether disabled or not, it's well worth a visit to my hometown!