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Fiona Jarvis on finding stylish and accessible bars and restaurants

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"Keeping my sense of style was the one thing I could control"

Fiona Jarvis- Blue Badge StyleWhen I was first diagnosed, the most frustrating thing was that I could no longer wear high heels. I was also worried I may no longer be able to drive my lovely classic car. Fortunately I was still ok to drive but the heels went to the back of the wardrobe.

Eventually I had to walk with two sticks and latterly I was in a wheelchair, so I knew how to cope with various stages of disability. Throughout this time I refused to compromise on my lifestyle. Many people don’t realise that this is one thing you can still control, even if your body has given up. I also realised that I wasn’t the only person that felt that way so I put my findings into a website.

I set up Blue Badge Style because I found colleagues, friends and family often asked me where they should go for lunch or a night out. I always knew the latest cool place to go. I also kept a list of stylish places to take clients and made a note of the access and facilities, as by that time I had to walk with a stick (antique of course). I didn’t want to be embarrassed by a client having to carry me up some steep staircase. From my own experience I know that a shop or restaurant might have a ramp, but how far away are the Ladies and how many flights of stairs are there?

In addition to our website, we now have a Blue Badge Style smartphone app which reviews hundreds of events, bars, restaurants and hotels, as well as disability aids and accessories, and campaigns for better access for all. Some venues have made changes as a result of Blue Badge Style, but they’re few and far between. Cost of installing facilities and the excuse that there’s not enough space or it’s a listed building are the usual reasons for no disabled facilities. Sometimes there are facilities but they are totally useless.

One of our most popular blog posts is on ludicrous loos. It’s funny but disappointingly true. Things are slowly getting better but it’s an uphill battle. Even though there’s a £2 billion reason to be inclusive (that’s how much people with disabilities spend in the hospitality industry every year), we need to be as vocal and belligerent as the disability movement in the USA. We shouldn’t be an afterthought for restaurateurs. We should boycott premises without disabled facilities and then architects and property developers will listen! After all if Hampton Court or Glastonbury can have disabled facilities, anywhere can!

My advice for someone who’s been diagnosed with MS? Don’t compromise or be embarrassed. It took me five years to accept that I wasn’t going to have the body I imagined. Keeping my sense of style was the thing I could control and gave me the confidence to overcome anything.

Fiona Jarvis is the founder of BlueBadgeStyle.com, an online lifestyle guide for people living with a disability. She was diagnosed with secondary progressive MS in 1989.

To find out more about Blue Badge Style visit www.bluebadgestyle.com or download the app from the Google Play Store or the Apple shop.

There are now quite a few website and apps offer accessibility guides to UK venues – have you used any? Which have you found useful? Let us know and we’ll publish your suggestions on our blog. Email opendoor@mstrust.org.uk or call 01462 476700

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