To travel or not to travel that is the question.

How many of you reading this think about the cutlery you might use when you go out for a meal? The chances are you’ll be much more interested in the menu, the prices, the people you’re eating with and the restaurant’s ambience.

A similar situation arises when considering going to the seaside on a gloriously hot summer’s afternoon. If you’re fastidious, you’ll check your car tyres, the oil, you’ll fill up the windscreen washer bottle, and you’ll make a list of things to take that will make the trip more enjoyable. I doubt that you’ll think to check on the availability of toilet facilities at motorway services on route or at your destination!  

For many disabled people, particularly those with severe or complex mobility impairments, the exact opposite applies. The availability of appropriate toilet facilities will be uppermost in their minds, and the lack of certainty about whether the necessary facilities are available may be enough to prevent the trip to the restaurant or the seaside.

What’s ironic is that accessible facilities have not kept pace with the increasing availability of personal transport through programmes like the Motability Scheme. The motor industry and, in particular, mobility vehicle adapters have continued to design and develop all manner of gizmos that enable even the most severely disabled person to either own and drive an accessible vehicle or to be safely and comfortably carried in one as a passenger. The variety of electronic devices now available is mind-boggling. Vehicle tail lifts make it possible for extremely heavy powered wheelchairs to be lifted and secured; seat transfer systems assist people to move from their wheelchairs into the driving seat, electronic hand controls take the strain out of steering, braking and changing gear. All these innovations, of course, come at a price but what is the point of spending thousands of pounds on an accessible vehicle if you can’t enjoy an accessible environment on the route to and at your journeys end?

It’s not all bad news. Wheelchair users have seen significant improvements in the provision of accessible toilets.  The National Key Scheme better known as the Radar key began in 1981. Since then, more than 400 local authorities and thousands of businesses have joined the Scheme. Some 9,000 toilets are now listed as being accessible via the Radar key, but the figure is probably much higher. Wheelchair accessible restrooms are far more common, most motorway services, mainline railway stations,  shopping malls and theme parks have had these facilities for a very long time.

A study in 2009 by the University of Dundee found there were 250,000 people in the UK for whom a standard accessible toilet does not meet their needs.  Accessible restrooms are great for those who can get themselves out of a wheelchair unaided. However, lots of people cant do this, such as people with profound and multiple learning disabilities, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and some older people. John Lewis, the famous high street retailer, recently made headlines for all the wrong reasons when a mother complained that she had been forced to change her severely disabled child on the toilet floor.  John Lewis defended itself by arguing that it didn’t have enough space to provide bigger toilets but promised to review this when it refurbishes or builds new stores.

The Changing Places campaign (http://bit.ly/2E9Dc8X) begun back in 2003 seeks to ensure that the most severely disabled person has access to appropriate toilet facilities thereby enabling them to do what most of us do without even thinking about. As a result of the Campaigns activities, there are now well over one thousand Changing Places toilets across the UK. These toilets provide not only, as you might expect, a w.c. and wash basin but also offer a hoist, a sizeable drop-down table for changing purposes and plenty of space to enable carers or support workers to assist the person where necessary. It is becoming increasingly possible to plan a trip using the Campaign’s route planner to identify suitable toilet facilities on your journey. As an example, I plotted a route from Hertford in Hertfordshire to the Brighton Marina in Sussex and found at least seven facilities that meet the Changing Places criteria.

Picture of a Mobiloo vehicle showing entry ramp at the rear and an open side entry
Mobiloo vehicle

A more recent exciting innovation which began in 2014 is the development of the Mobiloo. (http://bit.ly/2H1JfQk) The concept is very similar to the Changing Places facilities, but with a significant difference. The toilet equipment is fitted inside a small van or lorry which means it can be located at just about any outdoor event, space permitting of course. Mobiloo is a social enterprise that now has a fleet of seven vehicles across the UK.  The vehicles are for hire and come with a volunteer driver who shows people how to use the equipment onboard.  The Mobiloo opens up all manner of fascinating travel possibilities; gymkhanas, craft fairs, sports events, music festivals, Glyndebourne and Glastonbury here we come!

We’ve come a long way since the days of institutional care for the most severely disabled people in our society. Independent living, autonomy, accessible housing, personal transport are not just pipe dreams; they are becoming the norm. We will know we’ve cracked it when those with the most complex disabilities can travel around the country without worrying about whether they can find and use the loo!

 

( This article 1st appeared on www.cartwrightconversions.co.uk website)

Accessible Florence

I’ve just returned from a short city break to the beautiful Italian city of Florence.

What made this trip so special was the fact that we’d managed to find an accessible apartment, right in the city centre, whose history went back to the 14th century. Most wheelchairs users don’t get much choice when it comes to accessible holiday accommodation, although this is slowly changing. Normally I have to stay in square box modern hotels with as much character as a drawing pin.

The accommodation we rented in Florence began life as an open market in the 14th century and was later converted into housing, and then more recently into seven apartments, our accommodation was on the ground floor and wheelchair accessible. Many of the period features have been

Searching for Utopia
Bronze of a man riding a turtle in Piazza delia Signora

retained, most noticeably the vaulted ceiling and exposed brickwork. To gain access from the street, we had to use the supplied split fold ramp but once up the only step, the accommodation was all on the level. We spent a very enjoyable and comfortable four nights in this historic apartment and would recommend it to anyone. Here’s the link http://www.palazzobelfiore.it/

If you’ve ever been to Florence, you will know that there are some things about the place that make it unique. The first is that it’s stuffed full of the most extraordinary art, sculptures and historic buildings. Second, it has some charming restaurants, and other eateries and third the

Me in my chair with the bike attachment
Me in my chair with the Batec attached. Near the Pitti Palace in Florence

pavements and the roads, particularly in the pedestrianised centre of the city, are an absolute nightmare if you are on wheels. Fortunately, I took a manual wheelchair with a Batec bike attachment fitted to the front. Here’s the link http://www.cyclonemobility.com/batec. With the bike attached
the small front wheel casters are lifted off the ground, and this meant that I was able to negotiate uneven and potholed pavements relatively safely and easily. If you are thinking of going to Florence, I would certainly recommend you use a wheelchair or scooter with big wheels.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, every gallery and exhibition we visited in the old city were wheelchair accessible and free, so my wife and I were able to enjoy just about all that Florence has to offer without breaking the bank. Another thing that impressed me was the fact that in a number of galleries there were tactile replicas of some of the paintings, which enabled sight impaired people to get a sense of the works of art on display, it would be good to see more of this in the UK.

Be warned Florence is an overwhelming experience so you will need to pace yourself. Fortunately, there are plenty of places to sit and relax, and the food and wine make relaxing an even more pleasurable pastime.

Have a good week and here’s some news which might be of interest to you. Supplied by John Pring Disability News Service

Government agency ‘blocked attempts to expose abuse of bus access loophole’

Lib Dem conference: Party picks first Westminster candidate from all-disabled shortlist

Premier League clubs ‘will break access pledge’ despite billion pound transfer spree

Grammar school plans ‘ignore impact on disabled pupils’ 

 

Planes and Boats and the search for winter sun

I’ve just returned from a lovely break in the Carribean. Winter in the UK or somewhere nice and warm? Not a difficult decision! Two weeks cruising on a luxury liner being spoilt rotten sounds like a good idea. Well like everything there is another side.

First you have to get to the Carribean. This usually involves a long haul flight of around eight hours on an aircraft that lacks accessible toilets. One of the fundamental rules of flying long distances is to drink plenty of water. Not advisable if you can’t visit the bathroom. Our flight out to Barbados was nine and half hour long, the seats lacked and any form of adjustment and were extremely uncomfortable. Once we landed I had to wait an hour to be off-loaded from the plane. We were then taken straight to the ship, bypassing customs and the airport terminal toilets; the journey lasted another forty-five minutes. Embarkation took around half an hour, so I went eleven and three quarter hours without using the loo! Much self-control and crossing of legs is the name of the game

Cruise liners are brilliant from an access point of view, and P&O’s ship the Azura is no exception. She has spacious wheelchair accessible cabins with roll in showers,  lift access to all decks, swimming pool hoists making swimming possible for the most severely disabled passenger.

Picture of cruise ships berthed in the Dominican Republic
Cruise ships berthed in the Dominican Republic

The trouble begins when you go ashore. Our ship was able to berth in all the places we visited, so there was no need to use tender boats. To appreciate the Caribbean islands you need to venture inland, unfortunately, very few tour buses are wheelchair accessible. The result is that mobility impaired people are forced to stay close to the port to while away their time in endless identical shopping malls. P & O do provide a list of available tours but on our cruise, the accessible buses that were available only had one wheelchair space. I saw, at least, a dozen wheelchair users so this provision was wholly inadequate. In one location they had provided a shuttle bus to get passengers from the ship to the town. Unfortunately, those people using wheelchairs, but who could walk a little, were refused access because there was nowhere to store the wheelchair. It seemed a little ironic that the very people the shuttle was designed to help were excluded from using it.

I do understand some of the places we visited do not have the resources to provide the kind of accessibility we have come to expect in the UK but what I find puzzling is why P & O won’t do more to cater for the increasing number of mobility impaired passengers. The last straw was we

Sign in St Maarten advertising accessible tours
Sign in St Maarten advertising accessible tours

left the ship in St Maarten to see a kiosk a hundred yards from the port entrance advertising wheelchair accessible tours.

Many disabled people find cruising one of the best ways of taking a holiday, it is possible to see places that you might not otherwise be able to visit. I’d be interested to hear about your experiences so please send me your comments and I will do my best to see they are passed on.

To end on a more positive note the sun shone beautifully, my tan has improved, my waistline has expanded as a result of the food being plentiful and excellent, and we met some fascinating people.

Here are some links to this week’s other news. I hope you find them of interest.

Government agrees four more years of ILF transition cash for councils

Maximus ‘has falsified results of fitness for work tests’, says MP

Anger at Osborne’s working-age benefits freeze

Police duo jailed over failure to protect disabled murder victim

News provided by John Pring at

www.disabilitynewsservice.com