A YOUNG woman confined to a wheelchair after a shock diagnosis has hit out at the poor disabled access in a west Cornwall town.
Doctors discovered that Sarah Cocks, from Long Rock, was suffering from a life-threatening disease just before Christmas and said she would be putting her health at risk if she tried to walk.
Since then the 22-year-old has struggled to get around Penzance and said the inadequate access had left her embarrassed and feeling as though she shouldn't leave her house.
"Having recently become wheelchair-bound, I knew that I would have teething problems getting around places but I wasn't prepared for being made to feel that I shouldn't be leaving the house," she said.
Miss Cocks was due to climb Mount Kilimanjaro as part of a charity event when she was told in a routine medical examination that she had systemic lupus erythematosus – a life-threatening and incurable disease that attacks the immune system. She was also diagnosed with osteonecrosis, which causes the blood supply to the bones to die and begin to crumble.
Doctors told Miss Cocks, following the diagnosis in November, that although she could still use her legs, it was far safer to use a wheelchair instead, to protect her bones.
"Even if I take a few steps I could injure myself and if I broke a bone it would take far longer to heal," she said.
Miss Cocks contacted The Cornishman after trying and failing to use the lift at Wharfside Shopping Centre on two separate occasions.
With her confidence knocked by having to use the wheelchair, Miss Cocks was persuaded by a friend to go for a meal at Renaissance Café Bar in the shopping centre, which has a lift and therefore easy disabled access.
"At the end of the meal we paid and left, only to discover that the lifts had been turned off with no notice that they were going to be," she said.
It was then down to Miss Cocks' friend to push her up out of the shopping centre and down the steep hill back to Wharfside car park.
"This extra hassle, not only for myself but for my friend, was embarrassing to say the least – for this to happen on my first outing, it did nothing for my self-confidence," she said.
"It is very important for anyone who is disabled to not let it affect anyone else around you but this completely put a black cloud over the evening."
After a little persuasion, Miss Cocks again visited Renaissance, this time during late-night shopping when it was thought the lift would still be operating.
Unfortunately the lift had again stopped.
"I was so upset to think that I had basically been banned from having a social life in the hours of darkness," she said.
"These instances have made a difficult transition that I have had to make an almost impossible one."
Peter Wood, manager of the shopping centre, agreed that the lift should have been operating during late-night shopping. He said that for the past few weeks it had been shut at 7pm to try to stop it being used by homeless people or as a place for drug-taking.
"We will be reviewing it and are grateful for feedback," he said.