Saturday, 2 April 2016


Going through my photographs is a good way of remembering the blog posts I've written in my head but which I've not managed to actually write on screen yet.  This picture was the prompt for my first solo business trip in my new job.

A conference on children's right to play took me to Belfast, by plane.  It was the first time I've travelled completely alone by plane since I got the wheelchair but after last year's Paris trip I wasn't too worried.  It was also great that no one at my work hesitated about me going for a second.  The assumption was that if I thought I could manage, that was fine.  The cup in the picture is from the dinner the night before, which was held at the Titanic Belfast.

I flew across on FlyBe .  Work booked the flight and indicated I need assistance and then the airline contacted us and asked me to complete an information form with the dimensions of my wheelchair (assembled and broken down) and my assistance needs.  It was the first time I've needed to provide so much detail - but it's a pretty small plane.  At both airports (Edinburgh and Belfast City/George Best) I made myself known to the assistance team, confirmed I needed the ambulift as there wouldn't be an airbridge, but wouldn't need the aisle chair (I'm learning the routine!), then said I would meet them at the gate at the agreed time.  They were both fine with this - an improvement from a few years ago when they didn't seem to like you getting out of their control.  

I'd booked late and wasn't able to get into the same hotel as the rest of the conference delegates and with the Premier Inn right by the Titanic Belfast fully booked, picked the Hilton as being the nearest to the airport, Titanic and the right side of the city for the conference venue.  It was slightly dearer than the Premier Inn but not much.  Really spacious hotel room and really accessible while still being comfortable and fully furnished (I once stayed in a room where all the furniture had been removed to make it accessible!)

The conference itself was at Cultra Manor, which is within the grounds of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum (which is a massive site - mostly wooded and very beautiful on a sunny spring day).  It's a lovely venue with good access - nice ramp and a proper lift.  Lovely view across Belfast Lough.

The only disappointment of the trip was the taxis.  I'm used to cities, certainly in Britain, having plenty of London taxis.  It's pretty easy to just lift the chair in.  Private Hire cars are usually hatchbacks or estates, with plenty of room.  However in Belfast most of the taxis were very large, mostly upmarket saloon cars - Audis, Mercedes. VWs.  I discovered that my wheelchair would not fit in an Audi A6's boot, even with the wheels off and the back folded.  There was also a real scarcity of wheelchair accessible taxis.  As a result, I was advised by both the main taxi companies that I would need to request an estate car (station wagon) - at an extra cost of £5.  The Northern Irish contingent at the conference were horrified but it seems there are some ongoing issues with taxi companies treatment of disabled people in Northern Ireland.

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