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Sunday, 6 February 2011

How did a disabled person cope when she attended a UNITE anti-cuts Conference in London independently?

I am back in the present for time being due to what this day meant to me, it was a day of firsts. It was to be the first time I had travelled on the Train to London before on my own and the first time I had been to an event like this on my own. I have had many a bad experience on the train even with someone there to support me.So how did I cope with this experience?

A couple of days before I rang up Special Assistance for East Midlands Train Service, the person I spoke to was very helpful and reassuring which put me at ease. She gave me telephone numbers to contact people, if for some reason the travelling did not go to plan.

I approached my day with apprehension, as I said earlier it was a day for firsts so wasn't sure what to expect. The morning came and I got myself ready to go out. My husband dropped me at the station and ensured that the first part of my experiences went without a hitch (which it didn't). When I arrived at St. Pancreas International, I looked out for someone and thought they weren't there to meet me. Out of nowhere a lovely chap met me and got me off the train, and came with me to Euston Road where he left me to continue my journey.

I now had to use my own knowledge of where I was going to find the place. This started reasonably well once I got my bearings, so I went on my way following the directions I had been given. On my journey I came across a massive group of EDL supporters, who were being very loud and obnoxious (drinking at 9 in the morning has this effect on people). They made me nervous and so I was happy when I was away from them.

As I followed the directions I had, things seemed to be going well, then I got lost! I ended up going out of my way, but thankfully got on track again and with a little help from GPS on my phone and a lovely old lady managed to find my way again. I arrived just on time, the usual suspects were outside selling their papers etc. Had a quick chat with them before going inside (once upon a time I wouldn't have coped with just that experience). Once inside everyone was very helpful and put me at ease, directing me to where I needed to go. Within minutes I met another wheelchair user who I learnt throughout the day everyone seemed to know and he was very popular. He also became a very useful person to make contact with, which will hopefully lead to more involvement in the union at an equalities level.

The day continued in a similar way, people being very helpful and friendly. The first part of the day involved all the attendees sitting in a hall listening to a variety of different people sharing their knowledge. This was very interesting especially as it allowed me to put a few faces to the names I had heard. We then went on to different workshops that involved sharing their experiences, this was good although a little repetitive at times.  I continued to tweet throughout the day, to inform people how it was going.

Just before lunch was announced, one of the main organisers came to me and asked would I like to get some lunch before people arrived on mass, so I with the other wheelchair user Sean, went to get some lunch. I was quite grateful for this as 400 + people trying to get lunch was actually quite a nightmare!

After lunch we had another workshop, to go to. I went to the Equalities For All session, which unfortunately was in a different building, because of numbers. It didn't matter too much as it wasn't far and I was shown by Sean where to go. Within the Equalities For All session, there was some interesting comments made, although there was an instance where an individual started to rant about the union. Thankfully he was reined in and others were allowed their say. I found my confidence to say a short piece about my experience of employment and how it lacks equality at times. The response I received after I spoke was very good which meant I was pleased I shared my thoughts.

It was then back to the main hall for the last talks before the end of the day. These were interesting, although unfortunately by this point I was beginning to feel tired and not listening as intently but I continued to use twitter.

I had to leave a few minutes before the end, due to having to get back for my train. I was going to get a taxi but as best laid plans go did I see one until I was nearly at the station? No. I ended having to use GPS to get me to the station but my phone battery died part way back. Luckily it survived to get me out of the difficult bit and I managed  to remember how to get back without too much trouble, although not sure I ended up going the quickest route!

Back at the station I waited for someone to meet me at my designated place. I was told to ring a specific number if someone didn't turn up but as I just mentioned the battery on my phone had died so that was not possible. I only waited a few minutes before I started to get a bit worried. I started to look out for someone to ask, but no luck. I asked someone from first capital connect and they suggested that I went to an office which was really near. So this is what I did. Once I was there they were very helpful and got it sorted for me straight away. Another nice person met me and helped me on the train. He reassured me that he would remind Bedford Station that I was on my way. When I got back to the station there was someone waiting for me and so my day ended well.

So although my day didn't go completely smoothly I have learnt from my experiences and am glad that I went as it has allowed me to network and feel part of something. Although I wouldn't choose to do it on my own I realise I coped well enough not to be too scared of the experience if I needed to do something like this again.

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