From the Liverpool Echo
Harry’s just wild about Liverpool- a place where he feels truly independent
Liverpool is one of the best cities for tourists requiring wheelchair access – that’s the opinion of a New Yorker who has fallen in love with the place since his first visit eight years ago.
Harry Lewis, 45, is currently enjoying his sixth holiday in the city where he’s experiencing street events such as Brazilica as well as trips to the theater, cinema, museums and galleries just as easily as his able-bodied culture vultures. And while we may take such access for granted in the city, Harry says it is a luxury compared to the facilities at home.
He told the ECHO: “I live in a place called Greenport which is on the northern tip of Long Island. It’s a very small suburb and I don’t have a lot of access to to places like museums and docks and theaters and also simple things like cabs. I don’t have accessible taxis.
“I’ve been using the black cabs to get about. I just have to call them and they pull the ramp out and pop me in.”
Harry, who works as a collegiate secretary in a community college back in the States, has been so impressed witrh his stay in Merseyside, he kept a diary which he has kindly shared with ECHO readers.
From New York to New Brighton: Harry’s Liverpool Diary
Breakfast at Dobbies in Speke. I have a good history with the place as I took a disabled accessible taxi to high tea there in 2013. It was a big step towards my own independence since I don’t have accessible taxis where I live.
I also had dinner at Pizza Express. It’s a must for me as I have many happy memories there. I had my 40th birthday at the Pizza Express on Albert Dock, and rode the big wheel with my best pal Jason as he wanted my 40th to be memorable. A stroll back to my hotel, the Premier Inn. The great thing about Liverpool One is that It is reasonably flat and easy to push around which is great for a wheeled adventurer like me.
I went into Liverpool One to have some breakfast at Cafe Nero where I happened to meet fellow wheelchair user Louise who was visiting the city for a few days with her gal pal Pixie. We had a nice chat about access within Liverpool One, great for wheelie bound adventures like myself because it is a new build (2008 I think) and mostly flat with only a few inclines.
We also went to the Albert Dock. I was happy to see that the front of the docks are a lot more wheelie friendly with new non-cobble paths. While not exactly cobble free it is more accessible than it used to be, meaning I think I could push at least some of it by myself. In 2008, when I first arrived, the boys had to pull my chair in reverse because my small front wheels would get caught up on the cobbles and would get more upset for me than I would. That said, I think parts of Albert Dock alone in a chair would be tricky but it is worth the adventure because of the beautiful buildings on the waterfront, the galleries, and the museum.
It is all about options and access, which is why I love it here. In the small wonderful town of Greenport, NY where I live, there are many galleries and a small museum all of which is inaccessible to me because the buildings are old and they are protected. The owners claim they can not afford to adapt it, so there may be beautiful, thought provoking art in Greenport, but unless it is hanging in a window I can’t see it.
Had a putter around my hotel, the Premier Inn on Hanover Street, then scooted right next door to Tesco to have a look around.
It is always good fun to stroll the aisles and talk with people because I am so happy to be able to come here, and spend time with my friends. I find it very comforting when I go into a shop and someone calls me love and asks if there is anything they can do to help. As I tell my aunt in America, there are kind people all over the place, and the men and women of Liverpool are a wonderful bunch. For a guy in a wheelchair like me, who comes from a beautiful sea port town and does not drive, this is an amazing journey all made possible because of my wonderful friends in Liverpool. I am one of six children in my family, and I am the only one to own a passport. At one time, travelling abroad seemed like going to Mars, an impossible dream – and now, I couldn’t imagine being without my visits to Liverpool.
As with everything, access is a relative term, and not all of Liverpool is accessible , but Liverpool One is a great place to start as there are many great shops and restaurants and a fully accessible movie theater.
I went to the Odeon to see the latest installment of Independence Day. After the movie, we hit Wagamama on the top floor of Liverpool One. I was glad to find that they had a huge disabled bathroom on the second level of the restaurant via an elevator and the staff were super friendly and helpful.
This may seem like a small thing, but if you have ever been in a wheelchair and had to struggle to get to the toilet as I sometimes have, you appreciate a large, clean bathroom.
I had a surprise birthday party [at Tribeca on Smithdown Road]. In case my expression did not give it away, I really was absolutely surprised and touched that so many friends took the time to show up – which sort of says something about the extraordinary bunch of friends that I have here in the UK. I don’t think I have ever had a surprise party in my life.
When I was little, I went to a special school and all my classmates lived far away. Then when I was mainstreamed into a regular school, I was older and the kids didn’t know me. It was sort of socially isolating.
We went to see Desperate Scousewives in New Brighton.
It wasn’t the best depiction of Liverpool I have seen as it relied on profanity and negative stereotypes to get a laugh but it was fun to go to the theater and laugh with my friends.
Again, live theater is not something that is easily accessible to me where I live.
We went to see Brazilica! Now that is something you don’t see everyday!
It can sometimes be a challenge being in a wheelchair but I am very lucky to have caring friends who go out of their way to always include me and make it nice. We always find a way to make it work and share some time. One thing is for sure, their love and effort is not lost on me. They are blessings to my life and I am grateful.
What touches me most about coming to Liverpool are the friends old and new who take time out of their busy lives to show up and let me know they care.
That never fails to touch me because it really is a very special thing. I have friends who are dealing with cancer, asthma, and debilitating migraines and still they show up in force every time. That can never be forgotten.
We caught the wonderfully colourful Dazzle ferry across the Mersey. It was very special to me because I had a bird’s eye view of all the wonderful places I have been to throughout the years; the big wheel, the Panoramic, the Tate, the Museum of Liverpool. I am impressed with all of the strides Liverpool has made to make life easier for disabled people.
No place is perfect, but the Liverpool I have experienced is pretty darn close. I have an autonomy and a freedom here that I don’t have in the small town in which I live. Thanks to my extraordinary friends, I do more in a week in Liverpool than I do in a year at home because access to things is often an issue.
There are no disabled accessible taxis, the trains don’t run regularly and sometimes it is a two hour wait for a bus home. So for me, Liverpool is the land of plenty, filled with lovely friends, and lovely things to do.
What touches me the most is the fact that so many friends here in Liverpool and beyond have gone out of their way to make my visit here so special and that fact is never lost on me.
I am extremely grateful to have such an amazing bunch of friends, and my heart is always happy when in Liverpool. It is a loving place like no other and as the years pass, and my friendships grow richer, Liverpool gets better and better. Love and friendship brought me to Liverpool, and it keeps me coming back.
Chris Bliss, Estate Director at Liverpool One, said: “It’s great to hear feedback such as this from Harry.
“We put a lot of work into ensuring Liverpool One is fully accessible and ensuring that no one misses out, so to hear this has contributed to an enjoyable trip is really rewarding.”
Cllr Liam Robinson, Chair of Merseytravel added: “This is fantastic to hear. We’re really pleased that Harry fully enjoyed all Liverpool had to offer by freely getting out and about on our transport network.
“While we have come a long way, we’ll always be looking to work with operators to further improve access whether that be to vehicles or the stations and stops themselves.
“We’ve secured funding to make more of our rail stations accessible in the past few years, including the installation of lifts. Trains on the Wirral and Northern Line have been refurbished and have wide doors, wheelchair spaces and audible announcements and all Mersey Ferries and terminals are accessible for wheelchair users and those who are less mobile.
“Most buses in Merseyside are fully accessible and specially designed for people who are less mobile, as are our Merseytravel Centres, which are also fitted with tactile paving for blind and partially sighted passengers and induction loops for hearing impaired customers.”