I have just returned from a month in the USA with my family, it is a trip we make once a year to visit my Mum who lives in Florida. Whenever I come home I am always massively depressed as I love being in America and would have loved to have lived there in another life. Returning to the UK is always a massive shock to the system and takes a bit of getting used to, especially when it comes to the weather!
I often take time to consider the pros and cons of being in the in the UK v USA as a parent with a disabled child. We all have this preconceived idea that the USA is way ahead of us when it comes to looking after disabled people. We seem to think that the USA us at the forefront of new technology and must be making changes to make people’s lives easier etc but I’ve found that isn’t actually the case!
Living in the UK with a disabled family member does have its benefits, and I’m not just talking about financial ones! So, taking into account 9 very important factors, who wins in the battle between the UK and USA when it comes to providing for disabled people?
How many times have you walked into a shop in the UK without opening a door? You’ve probably never even thought about it but I can only name one or two stores near me where I have to physically open the door as the vast majority have electric doors which automatically open as soon as someone walks by a sensor. This is a god send for wheelchair users and anyone pushing a wheelchair (or a buggy). But in Florida, where most stores have air conditioning because of the weather, it is rare to find an automatic opening door. Some stores do have a button you can push but most stores I visited didn’t even have one of those and because everyone is used to opening the door for themselves it doesn’t seem to occur to them to hold it open for a wheelchair user. I had more doors slammed in my face in my 3 weeks in the states than I have had in 3 years in the UK!
Winner : UK Score: UK 1 : USA 0
Pavements (aka sidewalks)
These seem to be few and far between in the USA, but that could be because people just don’t seem to walk anywhere in the USA! Crossing the road is a nightmare too because although they provide pedestrian crossings, the law in Florida (which isn’t the same in all states) allows cars to turn on red lights and the pedestrian crossing is only lit for a short while so you have to be pretty speedy to cross before the other lights go green, not like here in Worthing where they seem to be set long enough for a tortoise to safely cross! You really are taking your life into your hands when you cross a road in America!
Winner : UK
Score: UK 2 : USA 0
The curbs in Florida are huge and are pretty hard to bump a wheelchair up/down safely when pushing it and impossible if you are the wheelchair user yourself, I’d imagine they are pretty similar across the rest of the USA but correct me if I am wrong?
In Florida, even though there are some dropped curbs to allow a wheelchair user to get off the pavement (sidewalk), because of the amount of drainage they need for their heavy rainfall, there is usually a large storm drain at the bottom of the drop curb which the wheelchair then struggles to get over (or gets stuck in) and if you are crossing the road, good luck finding a dropped curb on the opposite side to get back onto the pavement – if you are lucky enough to find one then hopefully there won’t be an alligator on the other side!!
Winner : UK
Score: UK 3 : USA 0
Look, I have a disabled child, people stare, I get it. I am used to it. But the staring we experienced in America was on another level.
People (mainly kids) would literally go out of their way to walk over to us in a shop, stand in front of my son and stare, open mouthed at him as though he was an exhibit in the zoo. I can just about handle that, they’re kids, they don’t know any better. But whereas in the UK the parent would usually apologise or drag the kid away or at least tell them not to stare, in the USA the parents join in with the staring too, it’s like it’s some sort of free entertainment for them!
I used to wonder why I would see so many blog posts or open letters from American writers about this issue as, although I’ve always found it irritating, I’ve never thought a big enough issue to write about – now, I completely get it! American people need to quit with the staring!
Winner : UK
Score: UK 4 : USA 0
We all know the USA don’t have Changing Places toilets and whilst that is a huge issue that urgently needs addressing here in the UK, it somehow seems worse over there because while we have a lack of space, listed buildings and very little development, the USA has quite the opposite. And aren’t the Americans meant to be the leaders when it comes to modernisation and making life easier??
Their stores and restaurants are ginormous, they are all new and when they want to redevelop they don’t think twice about knocking something down to rebuild from scratch so there really is no excuse not to provide something for the most vulnerable people in the community so that they can leave the house.
The restrooms we visited were all huge, all could easily have been adapted with no building works and simply needed the bench and hoist to be retro-fitted. There is some big money to be made there by whatever company takes the bull by the horns to persuade businesses to do this I can tell you!
I would even say the need in the USA is in some ways even bigger than it is in the UK because whilst it is grim to put your disabled child on the floor, it is an option for us when our kids are small enough to lift because that floor at least provides them with some privacy (along with the 77,000 germs and viruses) but in the USA the stall doors are all so high that there is zero privacy and any passing stranger could easily see them under the door.
Of course I am NOT suggesting a toilet floor is a suitable option at all but when there is no other place to use then we have all had to resort to this – in the USA I would have rather left William in a dirty pad than resorted to the indignity of this because of the lack of privacy.
Maybe the lack of suitable toilets might explain why we never saw any other disabled people during our stay, they must all be staying at home instead of facing this indignity, that might explain why people feel the need to stare so much if they aren’t used to seeing disabled people!
Winner : UK
Score: UK 5 : USA 0
We were lucky not to have had to visit any doctors or hospitals while we were on holiday, although we did have travel insurance had we needed to. But just being in the USA and seeing their medical system makes you thank your lucky stars for the NHS.
While we have access to GPs, hospitals and therapy for free, in the USA families are paying thousands of dollars a year to cover their medical insurance and even then, they don’t get the level of support we get from therapists etc.
So, while the NHS has (major) faults, and doesn’t run anywhere near as efficiently as the US medical system (in fact it could probably learn a lot from the USA as far as running more efficiently) it certainly is a major bonus for families with disabled members and something we are very grateful to have access to as it provides a great, FREE, service to us which we would struggle without.
Winner : UK
Score: UK 6 : USA 0
This is the one area where I think the USA wins, hands down.
There are disabled parking spaces everywhere, but not at the detriment of ‘normal’ parking like here in the UK. Whereas we have all the disabled spaces close to the entrance, in one large block, most car parks we went to were pretty clever in that they’d have the first one or two of spaces in each row assigned to blue badge holders so that the non-disabled customers were still able to park close to the doors and we never saw these spaces abused (that’s not to say they aren’t).
They also win this one because the spaces were nice and big, there was plenty of space to get the wheelchair alongside the car to unload William safely & easily and had I been there with my side-loading wheelchair accessible vehicle, I would have easily been able to use my lift whereas I tend to struggle in the UK. Of course, I know this is, again, because the USA have so much space so they can afford to make bigger spaces but if our parking spaces were even just a couple of inches wider it would make it easier for disabled people.
Winner : USA
Score: UK 6 : USA 1
I know we have all had our issues with airport assistance regardless of which country it has been in but I can tell you, hands down, the UK wins every time over the USA on this issue in my opinion.
While many UK airports now have Changing Places toilets, Eagle Passenger Lifters, Autism awareness training and other things which make travel easier for families with disabled members, the same sadly can’t be said of the USA.
At present, no USA airports have changing places style toilets and while the UK currently has Eagle Passenger lifters in 5 of our international airports, the USA only has them in 8 of their airports – which seems like a lot until you do a quick google search and find the USA has more than 3 times as many international airports as the UK and has thousands of other airports which offer internal flights too.
But it isn’t just the lack of facilities which puts the USA behind in this category, it’s also the actual service. The assistance you receive in the UK isn’t perfect but I have always found that those providing special assistance on the ground try very hard to help, they want to make your holiday start or end on a positive note and will do whatever they can do make that happen, and they don’t expect anything in return, it’s their job and most of them will tell you it’s a job they love. Not so much in the USA where, surprisingly, the great customer service America is renowned for, completely disappears. The assistance providers I’ve encountered at Miami and Orlando airports have been rude, abrupt and in a massive hurry to get rid of us despite expecting a tip for their (lack of) help.
In fact, on our first trip to the USA when William was much smaller when we didn’t realise that the assistance providers expected a tip, my husband was held up against a wall until he got his wallet out and paid the guy! I don’t mind tipping someone if they’ve provided me with a service which has helped me and my family but I really resent having to tip someone who has simply rushed me, been rude and hasn’t actually done anything to deserve my hard-earned money and I had always thought that assistance for disabled people was meant to be a free service in airports – seems I was wrong about that!
Winner : UK
Score: UK 7 : USA 1
One thing that is hard when you have a disabled child is that you are often paying an entry fee to somewhere that your child has no interest in / will not be able to participate in because of their disability or you might have to take 2 adults because the disabled child needs to have someone with them all the time, this can make it expensive to visit some places. We are lucky in the UK that most places acknowledge this and will give a carers discount or a free disabled ticket if there isn’t anything accessible for the wheelchair user to benefit from at their venue. This doesn’t seem to be the case in the USA as far as I know (PLEASE correct me if I am wrong as I sure could do with this information).
Last year we took William to Orlando so we could go to the Disney and Universal parks. In some respects, we were treated well as we were given free fast track tickets which would allow us to get to the front of the queue and we were able to switch places so that one of us could go on the ride while the other stayed with William.
But.. at the Universal parks, despite information to the contrary, there was not a single ride that William could go on.
The Universal website states they have wheelchair accessible rides, the park map locates them all for you, but during our 2 day visit, William was not allowed on a single one of the rides in either of the Universal parks, with the exception of the Harry Potter train (on which he wasn’t allowed to sit facing the window so he didn’t get the full experience at all). We even got as far as sitting William on a few rides before being asked to get off, his wheelchair was loaded onto the ET ride and strapped down before they decided it was the ‘wrong type’ of wheelchair and said he couldn’t ride after all, which was really upsetting for everyone.
We had paid about £200 for Williams child pass and he couldn’t access a single ride – is that fair? I don’t think so but Universal don’t offer disabled passes or carers discounts and refused to issue a refund for his ticket despite being told he hadn’t been able to access any of their rides! On the other hand, UK based parks, such as Thorpe Park, offer a free carers ticket which would make the cost easier to swallow even if we got there and found there wasn’t anything William could access there.
Winner : UK
Score: UK 8 : USA 1
So, this (extremely scientific) experiment has proved that, as much as I love the USA and love spending time there, the UK wins when it comes to providing for disabled people and for that reason only, I am glad I live here!
Disclaimer: I am British, and am writing this from the point of view of a tourist in Florida, I don’t have any experience of living full time in the USA (my Mum & Brother live in Florida & Utah) and my experiences are based only on my numerous visits to Florida, the other states in the USA may be different! Please also bear in mind this is just a bit of fun not an actual scientific experiment so please don’t hate on me!!
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