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Accessibility and Me

by Regan Kelly (she/her)

The image is an infographic with a green background, and a blue splodge in the bottom left and top right corners. In the foreground there is a polaroid style photo of Regan in her wheelchair glowing in the sunshine and looking happy ! Underneath is the text “Accessibility and Me, by Regan (she/her)”. The LUNA logo is in the bottom right corner.

“the quality of being easily reached, entered, or used by people who have a disability”

My name is Regan I’m 21 and would like to talk about the importance of accessibility to me on my journey living with Multiple Sclerosis. To me, accessibility means independence, it means freedom.

Initially, when I was diagnosed with MS my physical symptoms weren’t that bad. I could walk without an aid and didn’t think much about the struggles people face when using a wheelchair. Fast forward 5 years and now I mainly use my wheelchair to get around and the world around me has certainly changed. The thing’s I once took for granted have become the thing’s I want to challenge.

It really hit home to me that the world wasn’t built to be wheelchair friendly when I tried to simply go shopping for clothes. The experience was somewhat traumatic if I am honest. Being in a wheelchair meant I couldn’t easily manoeuvre around the shop, I struggled to find anywhere that allowed me to turn in my chair. The clothing rails were so close together that it left me feeling claustrophobic and like I was getting in the way. These are things I had never experienced before and all that had changed was my mobility? After asking my boyfriend to read me prices and sizes I finally found a few things to buy, only to be met by a payment area that again brought issues. The payment pad was secured but too high and too far back for me to reach so I had to ask for assistance to pay. On top of this, the area was so cluttered with displays that my chair got jammed and I found myself getting embarrassed.

I quickly felt I wasn’t able to do things I once could independently. I don’t like relying on others and struggled with accepting help.

An example of what accessibility can look like and the difference it can make is something I have experienced with a local restaurant. They had purchased a ramp that could be placed down when it was needed after I had contacted them asking about their disabled access. Many local businesses are built in old buildings and many have stairs to the entrance. It’s often an issue in terms of accessibility and I wish it could be addressed; being based in a building “built before accessibility was a thing” is an excuse too often used to pass responsibility off. I’ve been in contact with my local MP to discuss what can be done to improve pathways, shopping experiences and even transport services. I’ve very quickly discovered that those with a disability need to be their own advocates even outside a healthcare setting.

Accessibility for those that use mobility aids not only improves quality of life but encourages movement, socialisation and boosts mood. According to the government website “There are over 11 million people with a limiting long term illness, impairment or disability” in the United Kingdom. With numbers so high I don’t understand why accessibility is still an issue. I’ve often felt it an after – thought in planning and this really makes you question how those with a disability are seen.

Once upon a time I was embarrassed to ask for information about a business’ policies on accessibility but now I realise that the more it’s mentioned, the more conversations are had about it. Recently on my Instagram I have talked about the impact a lack of accessibility has had on me. An individual reached out and asked me for advice on how they could make their shop more accessible. It really cemented to me that people will listen and try to learn if it’s a topic made more mainstream.

I do feel guilty for my previous lack of consideration to those that faced accessibility issues. As an able bodied individual I didn’t think of how the world affected those with mobility aids and disabilities. I’m forever grateful to charities such as LUNA for being available so that I can educate myself during my journey with chronic illness. It’s definitely been a learning curve for me, and I refuse to stop talking about accessibility and the lack of it. I hope to see a change in my local area and I’d urge anyone that can to use their voice and encourage others to do the same. The future may be brighter and we will be seen and appreciated.

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