Disabled? No room at the inn, say Burwash Weald couple

Campaign for wheelchair access to pubs. Jason and Celia Caulkin, Burwash Weald
Campaign for wheelchair access to pubs. Jason and Celia Caulkin, Burwash Weald

Lunch or dinner at an historic local pub? A pleasant and trouble-free outing for most of us. But what if you are fit, reasonably active but confined to a wheelchair?

A Burwash Weald couple are taking up cudgels on behalf of everyone with a disablement who finds themselves restricted by poor access, unhelpfulness, embarrassment or a downright rude response.

Jason Caulkin, 48, a business development director from Willingford Lane, is paralysed and must use an electric wheelchair.

He said: “It’s amazing the number of restaurants, pubs and hotels that have gone to great lengths with costly makeovers without a thought for how someone like me can get in and out. I’ve heard excuses for not having a ramp - ‘we’re a listed building’ is a favourite one. If the National Trust can provide portable ramps at over 300 historic houses and castles, so can any organisation.”

Jason’s wife, Celia, 64, said: “We’ve been to local pubs where a flimsy bit of plywood has been rolled out. It would break under the full weight of the wheelchair. Other restaurants send out a couple of strong men to lift my husband but he finds that undignified.

“When we rang one smart, local hotel, the owner asked ‘ is it a very big wheelchair’ rather as if we wanted to park a double buggy! Another said ‘we have lots of different levels’ but that’s OK with us as we just want a table in the bar.”

The pair offer bouquets to pubs like the Black Pig at Hurst Green, the Swan at Dallington and lots of the Italian chains which could not be more helpful.

Jason explained: “I always ring first and ask what wheelchair access they have. It’s surprising how many don’t know and have to go and count steps.

“Life for anyone in a wheelchair is complex and therefore I wish businesses open to the public would consider how important it is for us to just enter and depart in a quiet, civilised and relaxed manner.”

The family say providing wheelchair access doesn’t have to be costly or complicated. “There are thousands of portable ramps on the internet. The Ramp People (www.theramppeople.co.uk) do next day delivery so there are no excuses.”

To increase business, Jason advises putting a permanent ramp or getting a portable one; putting on your website you have wheelchair access; putting a wheelchair symbol sticker in your window, (as in France.) Jason described a recent lunch where two groups had wheelchair users. “If the pub had not had wheelchair access they’d only have had two tables of customers instead of five. Not bad for a miserable, wet Monday.”