Sunday, May 29, 2016

Having to use the rear entrance makes me a second class citizen: Discuss?

Today's post was prompted by seeing a newly built Wetherspoons during filming a travel blog. I'd gone to Melksham and came across the Old Bear, which is now Wetherspoons owned.  I spotted the front door and inside there were at least three steps.  Naturally, I thought the disabled access will be around the back.  I did not see any signs referring me to the rear nor upon going towards the back (where there is outdoor seating) I did not spy a door or an obvious sign.

This is also a similar situation in Warminster.  This Wetherspoons is different because I know for sure there is a back entrance, cumbersome and involving a one person lift to lower a few feet.  It is difficult if you're entering alone because the door needs to be opened manually and then the lift only just takes my small scooter.  Negotiating it (before) was a fun experience.  Inside there is a ramped access to the rest of the pub and a disabled toilet tucked away in the corner.

My point, especially with the Warminster outlet, is the front entrance would not have required much alteration and in my opinion (i'm no builder) would be simple to do and within the confines of the entrance, which has an inner door to be opened manually.

The excuse as always will involve planning permission and the fact that some are "listed" buildings, which must maintain a facade unaltered to the original.  Let's face it, the Warminster outlet could have changes made that don't impact on the outward facade because the sloping part would not be seen from the outside.

I have never been in the Old Bear so I don't know the layout, but I have been in quite a few Wetherspoons and I do know the general design of them.

My objection to the "rear entry" approach is a big why?  First and foremost, where's the sign that says go around the back, and secondly why should it be necessary in 2016 and all of the disability access laws (although leaving the EU will give this government the opportunity to erode these rights).

I say why because it makes me feel that I am unworthy and not respected or appreciated enough.  It is a strong statement I know but it is just like apartheid, with a separate entrance for the blacks - in this case the disabled.

Let's not talk about some Wetherspoons that have token arrangements for disabled people, for example one in Swindon and the other in Poole.  Both have a lift to go down/up to the levels and in both establishments  it is completely necessary to traverse to that level in order to access the bar and hence order food.

So, why are they (usually) full up with stuff or in worst case scenario, out of order?   I am VERY lucky in that I use the scooter only for getting around and I can at least walk, and just about, use the stairs.   Once you're inside, both outlets have very helpful staff who are willing to assist you but firstly you need to get inside.

I have been told I need to ask for help, if necessary.  Do other customers need to ask?  No.  So, disabled people are now required to ask for help to access the same facilities as the non-disabled.  For me, this is an immediate turn off.

The get out clause is always, "most disabled have or can have a helper".  I don't and never have.  I have a wife but she's in Thailand and I'm sure she would be willing to help if she was here but why should I rely on her?

A lot of the outlets, for example Weston Super Mare, have tightly packed tables - which is good for business.  However, it usually means a 4-place table is occupied by a one or two person "drinker".  On most occasions at lunchtime (the usual time when you become hungry) I drive in and out due to finding no table free.  On the odd time when I do find a table,  I have no where to park the scooter (which isn't a big one so doesn't require a lot of space).

Then, in some outlets the disabled toilet is situated in a weird place, involving you to weave in and out of the tables, which is tricky when they are occupied.  One outlet required a table's occupants to move so I could open the door and use the toilet.  I'm lucky because I have my own RADAR key, which fits most of the locks in Wetherspoons and other food outlets.  But, why oh why, should you have to "ask" someone for a key - inconvenient if the person you need to see is behind the bar and you're desperate.

All in all, as a disabled person I do my best to adapt to my environment and is mostly achievable, but being seen as a second class citizen by society is harder to overcome.

Friday, May 27, 2016

My wife's tourist visa - update

So Monday I wrote to the Croydon complaints department of UK Immigration and they would have received it yesterday.  I specified my objections to the refusal and actually decided to include some outcomes with the idea that they can compensate me for wasting my time and money.

Here's my outcome requirements that I included with my complaint:

1)  A 6-month tourist VISA without having to submit another application to Bangkok or pay any more money
2) A  free upgrade to the visa from 6 Months (our application) to 2-Years (the next one up) as compensation for the inconvenience.
3) A refund of my fee (£91) for the inconvenience.
4) A payment of 5,000 baht (£100) by way of compensation, to cover the money I spent on bus ticket, hotel, taxi and food for my wife to go to Bangkok to deliver the pointless application.

Obviously, 1 and 2 are the bare minimum and 3 and 4 are possibly chancing my arm!   But, as the TV advert goes (Vodafone) "you get nothing unless you ask".

I am now awaiting the response, which may be a few weeks.  The good news and why I decided to go this route is entirely due to our UK friends and their wives.  One couple had their 6 month tourist visa refused and it went to court, which is free.  The guy attended at the time specified and he and the Judge were the only ones in the courtroom.  UK Immigration just sent a note giving the reasons and did not even bother to attend.  The Judge listened carefully to the guy's real explanations and then awarded the visa.  The Immigration department then have 28 days to appeal, which they didn't but it still took them a long time to issue the visa.

All in all 4-6 months.  I'm not really bothered how long, it is the principle that we're fighting - corruption and deception and politics, all things you would not expect of the UK system, but nevertheless true.   At least in foreign countries you would expect it, and could sort it with a wedge of cash.

I was told to let it go, it is the system and you have to work within the system. But the system is broke, unjust and corrupt.  The government get two lots of cash for all the ones who are refused and then decide to reapply - when conveniently the application is approved.  I have come across this sort of thing before and it does not scare me, it just makes me very angry and more determined.  It is not the faceless bureaucrats who have to live with the decision, it is real people with real lives.

Please show your support by liking and sharing the video and posts.  And wish us luck.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Do NOT go to BATH.....

If you do go, be careful where you drive.  BANES council love to scam money from the public for alleged offences, such as driving in a Bus Lane.  That's okay, providing you are aware it's a bus lane and is suitably signposted.

The Law is clear on signage - http://penaltychargenotice.co.uk/bus-lanes/  and the place where I was allegedly caught driving in a BUS LANE does not have ANY of these.

My blog is about being ripped off and then when you refute it, they hang on to the notion that big corporate government is always right.

Of course I wrote to them when I got back and refuted the offence and asked for a refund of £30 that my sister paid for me because I was in Thailand.  She rightly was concerned I'd miss the deadline and end up paying more.

They wrote back with garbage about the signage having been checked in November 2012 and found compliant. Huh?  It's not even any of the ones shown on the website above!

The conclusion of the letter was a warning:  I could go to tribunal but if I lost they would claim another £30 on top of my original £30....

Scammers!

My reply was forthwith, "Do you really want to waste everyone's time?"   A friend had a similar PCN in 2013-14, in the same location, it went to tribunal and was cancelled on the grounds the signage was illegal - he used the information on the website above.

I await my £30 refund by return.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Professional Collaboration with similar businesses?

In Facebook you're given targeted adverts at the side.  One was "Accessible Thailand" so I clicked through to investigate.

I decided to contact them with a view of collaborating on articles and information and I was pleasantly surprised by the positive response.  I have therefore put the link to their site, where they offer package deals to Thailand, on my website and here - Accessible Thailand

For the most Thailand, like any non-EU country, the situation for disabled awareness is not always the best.  This has begun to change and improve for the better, driven in part by Westernisation and tourism.

Disabled people are there but not always seen or if they are they are forced to beg on the streets.  Not just in Thailand but for example Moscow.  Often I saw people, generally amputees, on the metro collecting cash from passengers.   I saw a few disabled people out and about but to be fair, the plethora of steps would be the nemesis of wheelchair users (just as the Daleks couldn't traverse them until quite recently) who would face a mobility nightmare in Moscow.

While in Moscow I did meet one lady, a powered wheelchair user, with a respectable well paid job. She, like myself, was looking for a dating partner however at the end of our meeting she told me she would be holding out for the tall, dark rich American so a relationship wasn't on the cards.  However, in conversations I gained an insight into travel for disabled people in Russia, especially those in wheelchairs.  They can access "dial a ride" that is an accessible taxi, unfortunately one  of very few and in high demand - plus not reliable on the time keeping front.

Thailand, the country where family is important.  People are taken care of in the family, not farmed off to care homes or "living independently" in "adapted" accommodation.  Just as with any family member, the citizens live at home and are looked after by family members.

One time I was at a restaurant with the wife and niece, we heard screaming and splashing of water from behind the partition. No one took any notice, not even the customers.  Later a woman, possibly 20-30 years old appeared from behind the partition, dripping wet.  I determined she had CP (having it myself) from the appearance plus additional needs.  A lady came over and shuffled her back behind the partition and encouraged the water play, watching for while.  Whenever the woman started becoming loud, the other lady "shhh"ed her, but eventually departed for other duties.

Another time I visited a water park and swimming pool.  Obvious by the appearance, a family gathered near one of the shallow pools with a young girl in a wheel chair.  All family members assisted the girl into the water and helped her swim a little.   No one took any notice, well no one except me.

At another restaurant, (we did a lot of eating), a car pulled up and a man retrieved a "walker" from the boot for his disabled wife, who I could see clearly was suffering from the aftermath of stroke.  

Health Care is a paid for service in Thailand, no free NHS. All those belittlers of the NHS need to go abroad and access healthcare for a while, they would soon stop moaning.

The pavements are terrible and you'll be better in the road.  I found obstacles in the middle of the pavement, gaping holes and slabs out of line, so pretty much dangerous for me.  They do make an effort with curb side ramps, but they are usually steep.

As in my hotel, a recent build, the front has steps up.  Whoever designed the hotel obviously had no idea regarding disabled visitors and there are no Laws governing accessibility.  At this hotel, there is a "ramp", but it is best used for a "slide", it is very very steep.  The same goes for Moscow.

So, I think the point is, if you're a website of similar aims then I am looking for you to reciprocate the links and to work together for the common good.  Contact me via the website contacts page.

In the meantime give the Accessible Thailand site a whirl, maybe you'll be jetting to The Land of Smiles very soon.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Visa for UK from non-EEA country

Let  me tell you a story. It is a story of discrimination and subterfuge in which I am a involuntary player.  When I became involved in this story, I had no prior knowledge of the system or events leading us to our current place, where we wait with bated breath for a result.

Knowing as I do, my fears are such that the deliberate sabotage of application by visa staff (VFS Global, on behalf of the UK Immigration Department) due to "unwritten" quotas, means that our latest application will probably be returned as refused.

This is a situation that is wrong.  If you complete a lengthy application and provide all necessary documentation, it should go through for review and decision and not have some lackey try to find an excuse to reject it.

Yes, it happens.  The staff can take out part of the paperwork and tell you that you don't need it, yet upon refusal you find the reason was because the part removed was required. There's no refund of your fees.

In our case the photographs (we had specially made) were given back as not required.  After checking it out on the Visa website I discovered the rules had changed for those offering biometrics in their application and photos are no longer needed.  Phew.

Other nasty tricks are to ask loaded questions of seemingly naive Thai ladies who may not have experienced the underhanded nature of visa application staff who only have one thing on their mind.

For example, they will ring up the lady and request they answer questions such as who they are visiting (full names and ages), places and distances, where these places are (in terms of time - 2 hours from London), etc.  My lady was prepared for this and had a written list of answers, such as the names of my parents, the house address, the layout of the house, what she intended doing while staying with me, etc.  We think they did call but luckily it was cut off upon answering.

This time she was asked questions about the visa type and some of the conversation appears to fit the bill of sabotage, simply because all the answers were in the application the purpose of the questioning being to find an excuse for refusal by trickery.

A lot of the visa application companies spend a long time with the ladies coaching them what to say but also what they must not say.  Ours has become complacent and disinterested in us and the advice (or lack of it) means I will not be using them again. This time around there was very little coaching and my request for help subsequently has so far been disregarded.

Even with a history of a successful 6 month visit (well actually 5 months because the tight-assed Immigration Department back date the visa to the date of application, which was 3 weeks prior) the next applications are still precarious and treated separately.

This time we'd like to have applied for the 2 year tourist visa however in the space of the Songkran holiday (4 days), the option had been removed from the selection process on the website.  It meant that only a one-off  6 month visa was available and also means that further applications would be necessary in the future.

Any non-EEA citizen has to show they have the financial funding (or support) for the duration of the trip, a return ticket and a desire to return to their home country (a job or family ties or both) plus the basics of being a visitor to the UK includes knowledge of the destination.

I despair why foreign people bother coming to the UK, the whole process is humiliating and degrading.  Yes, the UK doesn't want every tom dick and harry, but I believe it is a little late for that, when all and sundry can come from Europe with no limits or requirements, such as being able to speak English.

Don't get me started on the settlement visa requirements, that include having an English examination certificate!

Let's also not talk about the sponsor's (e.g. ME) income criteria that stands at £18,600 per year that the government have set.  Even as full time employed, I never earned that level of salary.  You cannot apply for a visa if the sponsor doesn't have that income.  To be fair, the income can be made of separate sources.

Luckily for me there is (at the moment) a get out clause for those such as myself who are on DLA benefit; we don't need to meet this level of income, which you must prove in writing.

Finally, I must mention the Landing Card... I have no doubt it is a piece of documentation with the goal of making it as difficult as possible for people.  This card is given out on the aircraft shortly before arrival.  It is in English and according to research I did it must be completed in English.  There are translations to French and Spanish, but this card is for NON - EEA countries and at last glance, France and Spain were in the EU and not required to complete these waste of space documents!

So, if you're Non-EEA, the likelihood is English, French and Spanish will not be your first language, although arguably French and Spanish could be for some countries!  In the case of Thailand, none of these fit.

My wife is expected to complete this on her own and will be asked if she did it herself or someone else did it for her (not that she would be able to understand the conversation).  All the information is available in the passport.  To even board the plane she has to show the visa, which gives permission to arrive in the UK, and that shows the duration and other information.

God forbid you tell them you're staying for six months (on a six month visa).  No, the advice we got was to tell them 2 weeks maximum.  But, logically, if they looked at the return ticket they'd see it wasn't two weeks... Which, would then get you deported because you lied.

On this trip my wife will be coming through UK Border alone.  I will be very annoyed if she doesn't make it through without hassle, because they will, it's guaranteed, ask questions such as "how long are you staying?" (it's on the landing card),  "where are you staying?" (its on the landing card).

I was at the airport recently and I observed them asking the very same questions of some Australians. Last time I answered for her, because she came through with me and I was able to tell the guy "she doesn't speak English" but I wont be there this time .

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Some delicious recipes

Saw this book in Bangkok airport and immediately thought of all the innuendos that you're currently thinking. Admit it..?


 I think someone should have told her about how the translation works in English...

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

The end of a series (Thailand 2016)

Yes, indeed, it is the end of the series.  My Thailand blogs are finished.  I have had issues throughout with copyright claims for music I used on the videos, which was especially annoying because all the music is copyright and royalty free.

Other legit claims, I have not disputed, were because I had the radio or TV playing in the background and these generated claims.

Making videos is not easy. Especially when you aim to produce one a day, which in this case was wholly impossible within the time frame. I have just caught up, 8 days after returning to the UK.  It's the time involved in making them where I fell on unrealistic ground, with the editing taking the least time, well, 3-4 hours for 18 minutes of video...

The rendering is the longest process.  One video of 28 minutes took over 5 hours to complete and then another 2 hours to upload.  The last one, Oasis Sea World took over 10 hours to finish and upload,  that's 7.5 to render!

Please like and share any or all, but above all please subscribe.  Lastly keep watching because this is just the first of many, and throughout the 28 days I have gained invaluable experience of video blogging.

My only changes for future series would be to have a dedicated camera person with the same vision of end product who can just take charge of filming...  and some sort of stedicam...

Thanks again for watching and see you soon.