Over the past few weeks, I’ve become increasingly concerned about the struggles that some disabled people seem to have when using or accessing the most basic customer service.
Let me explain; the Guardian recently published a story about Anne Wafula Strike, a Paralympian wheelchair user who was forced to wet herself on a train because the accessible toilet was out of order. (http://bit.ly/2jw0Xzz) A few days later I came across the story that Frank Gardner, a wheelchair user and BBC journalist, had been left on a plane because the equipment needed to help him disembark was delayed. (http://bit.ly/2jvKYkV) Then Socitm which represents IT and digital professionals in the public sector, published research which revealed that one-third of website home pages used by local authorities are not accessible to many disabled people. (http://bit.ly/2jvY41G).
I guess these stories are just the tip of the iceberg and that many of you have personal horror stories about the lack of accessible services you’ve encountered.
What troubles me is that legislation was passed back in 1995 that was supposed prevent these difficulties from arising. So what is going on?
Clearly, financial stringencies have a part to play, but I’m not convinced that this is the main reason. I sense that for some service providers disabled consumers are just a nuisance. They think it is less expensive or less complicated to ignore us and hope that by placing more barriers in our way or by making life harder for us, we will go away. Hence the term “swervices not services.”
Am I being harsh or exaggerating the situation? I don’t think so! We have been complaining about the lack of appropriate customer service and access for years; we have eschewed the benefits of inclusive design for decades; we’ve protested, sued and lobbied and despite all this, our concerns continue to be disregarded.
Perhaps there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Doug Paulley’s recent victory in the Supreme Court concerning wheelchair spaces on buses is a pointer to customer service providers that they will have to do more or face serious consequences. (http://bbc.in/2jGj3Bx)
I thought I’d take a few moments of your time to share some thoughts with you before we head off for the Christmas holidays.
The first is the news that my youngest daughter Grace recently presented us with our fifth grandchild a lovely little boy who will be known as Austin James. We now have enough grandchildren to form a basketball team
although because they are all under seven, we might have to wait a while before they start winning any medals. The arrival of baby Austin got me thinking about the kind of world that he and our other grandchildren will inherit.
Will it be a world where people routinely begin all their sentences with the word “so” which drives me to distraction? Will they still have to cope with individuals who say “Pacific” instead of “specific”? Will radio stations that claim to play non-stop music still spend fifteen minutes in every hour pumping out endless poorly produced adverts that exhort people to buy stuff they don’t need? Will they still be told that 78% of 92 women agree that face cream X got rid of their crow’s feet? Will “Strictly” and “Bake Off” still be on the telly?
Will the world still talk endlessly about saving the planet but never agree about how it should be done? Will the conflicts that so beset our time be resolved or will the politicians still be talking but doing nothing?
Will they still live in a world where disabled people find acceptance difficult to come by? Will the unemployment gap for disabled people have been halved? Will they live in a world where equality, respect and tolerance are commonplace?
If we are to see real change, then we need to stop talking and start doing. The problem is that everywhere we look we are overwhelmed by the size and scale of the task, and we could be forgiven for feeling utterly powerless.
My good friend Dave Rees told me this story; you might have heard it.
Apparently, millions of starfish were left stranded on a beach after a violent storm. A small boy was walking along the seashore picking them up one by one and throwing them back into the sea. An older man out walking his dog along the beach stopped and asked the little boy, “What is the point of throwing them back into the sea there are millions of them? What difference will it make? The child picked up another starfish and threw it back into the water saying ” I made a difference to that one”.
My question is what are we all going to do in 2017 to make a small difference so that my fledgeling basketball team stand a real chance of inheriting a very different world?
Have a lovely Christmas holiday and a very peaceful and fulfilling new year.
Hello, everyone, this is a first for me. I am posting something written by someone else! Lazy or what? Actually not! I read this article written by Sue Karstens and thought it amusing, educative and insightful so on that basis I thought I’d share it with all of you. I hope you enjoy it and if you’ve got something you’d like to share let me know.
Some years ago I worked in the accounts department of my local leisure centre.
I had always loved sport in general, and one of my passions at that time was running. Having participated in four London Marathons, I was looking for a new challenge. It came in the form of a knock at my door, and the arrival of one of the gym instructors.
“You have run the London Marathon, haven’t you?”
“How would you feel about running as a guide for a blind runner?”
She explained that she had a client in the gym who had been referred to her by his GP. It was an unusual story; Ray had gone to work on a building site, where he had fallen and banged his head. He seemed to be okay but collapsed at the station on his way home, and when he woke up, he couldn’t see. No warning, no history of illness. He went from sighted to blind in a heartbeat. He lost confidence and became clinically depressed. The exercise programme was to aid in his recovery.
It was Suzy’s responsibility to design a fitness schedule. She told Ray to set himself a goal. He said that he wanted to run the London Marathon. She smiled and suggested a realistic goal, but Ray was adamant; he was not a man to accept half measures!
Our first meeting took place on the running track during my lunch break. My training partner Helen had joined us because even at this early stage I realised that I was going to need backup. If I became ill or injured at any point, I didn’t want to impede Ray’s progress.
We were all terrified. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be up to the task; the only thing that worried Ray was that he would trip and take one of us down with him. We got our heads together and decided that we should worry about getting the training right, having a laugh, and accepting whatever may happen along the way. With that in mind, we ran a couple of laps on the track, just to see how we would get on.
The first issue that came up was staying in contact with each other. We began by holding hands, but it became apparent very early on that this would not work. Sweaty hands and one-armed running would be unsustainable over twenty-six miles. We tried a length of rope, but it was just too flexible. Helen came up with the idea of using a dog pull – the rubber bow-tie shaped toy. It was rigid when we needed it to be but would bend when the distance between us closed up. Perfect!
After a couple of training sessions on the track, we progressed to the road. What an eye opener that was (if you pardon the expression!) I felt like a cross between a sports commentator and a contestant on the Golden Shot (for those of you old enough to remember the show). I spent my whole time going “Left a bit, Right a bit, Puddle! Kerb coming up in three, two, one, down, three two, one up… … I had to be aware of every step, pothole, grating, pile of wet leaves, stray Jack Russell that crossed our path. Ray trusted us completely, which overwhelmed me. We progressed without mishap – other than the odd stitch from laughing too much!
Our next move was to participate in an actual road race. We chose a 10k, and duly rolled up to the start. We started at the back, just to give us space to get into our stride, but it wasn’t too long before we began overtaking runners. This highlighted another issue. When running in a crowd, you can’t always see the ground in front of you. This meant that both our instincts and reactions had to be quick to avoid any last-minute hazards. Water stations were an issue too, but with two guides, one of us could stay with Ray while the other grabbed drinks for us all. There were other practical difficulties too. With two female guides, we were very grateful to our fellow male runners who were happy to assist with bathroom breaks and locker rooms visits.
All too soon the day itself dawned, and we assembled, bright and early in Greenwich Park. Helen began by trying to describe the scene, but gave up when Ray and I fell about laughing; it wasn’t so much her “schoolteacher” manner, but the fact that she was pointing to landmarks as she described them. We had discussed such things in the bar after training on many occasions – how common expressions suddenly seem tactless. “I see what you mean, or “look before you leap.” Ray always wanted to avoid the Fawlty Towers “don’t mention the war” scenario, where everyone tried not to mention the fact that he was blind. It was a fact, not a judgement of him.
Early on Helen had been mortified having spent half an hour being teased by Ray because she had spent large sections of our run stopping to salute lone magpies. She turned to him and said, “so what do you do when you see one magpie?” There was a pregnant pause before he grinned answered: “Say Hallelujah I suspect!”
The start was always going to be problematic; Thirty-five thousand people milling around, kit bags to get onto lorries, finding the portaloos, collecting bottles of water, and all the general pre-race rituals. We positioned ourselves early and allowed the assembled masses to gather around us. Tannoy announcements kept us up to date with the progress of the race. An ironic cheer went up when it was announced that the elite runners had gone past the three-mile mark when many of us had yet to take our first steps.
The race unfolded slowly. We walked much of the first mile, as the sheer volume of runners made it impossible to pick up speed. Eventually, gaps opened up, and we were able to settle into a comfortable pace.
To say that the terrain was variable would be an understatement. Between carpets and cobblestones, we all had to keep our wits about us. Water stations were a nightmare, with plastic bottles strewn across the course for several hundred yards. One wrong step and any one of us could have sprained an ankle. Due to a little luck and a lot of preparation, we survived without incident. Helen still insisted on keeping up the commentary (without the pointing), and Ray thought she was getting her own back when she described the rhinoceros running beside him. It wasn’t until we got him to stretch his hand out to the side and edged him over that he came into contact with our thick-skinned companion. The smile that spread across his face was a delight to witness. We were now officially surrounded by lunatics!
Our fellow runners were incredibly supportive. Helen had obtained some high viz vests. Ray’s clearly stated “blind runner”, and Helen’s “guide”. I wanted to run in a Scooby Doo costume and put “dog” on mine, but sadly they were only available in size 7-8 years, so I had to settle for “guide” on mine too. It just gave those running around us an opportunity to provide us with a little more space, and more importantly not to try to run between us.
We made it. We crossed the finish line arm in arm in slightly over 5 hours;
Not my fastest time, but far and away my proudest moment. Ray kept thanking us, but in actual fact, it was his drive and enthusiasm that kept us going through those dark February mornings in the pouring rain when we were heading out for those long, long training runs. He never once faltered, never once complained. Every challenge was met with joy and devilment. We carried on running for a long while afterwards; anything from ten-mile road races to cross country – complete with styles, ploughed fields, and loose horses. The highlight had to be a ridiculous event, aptly named “Only Fools, Not Horses.” It is run over the cross country section of the three-day event course at Blenheim Palace – complete with jumps. Fortunately one of the burlier male runners joined our team; we would never have got over the jumps without his help. It was my turn to trust Ray as he braced himself at the top of the bigger jumps and reached down to help me over. The water jumps were extraordinary, but Ray handled it all like a well -trained thoroughbred. Princess Anne would have been proud of him!
We didn’t do it to prove a point. We just did it for the pure hell of it, and I have photos of us laughing so hard that we can’t stand up straight. Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to belittle the enormity of the impact that losing his sight had on my wonderful friend; but without it I would never have met him, and would have lost the opportunity to understand the pitfalls that face so many visually impaired people have to negotiate on a regular basis. They say you should walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. We managed twenty-six, and for all but Ray it was a real eye opener!
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
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
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
At long last, the summer has arrived! Time to take off my fleece!
What an extraordinary few weeks it has been. First, we had all the drama of the Brexit vote and then all the carnage that followed. A new non-elected Prime Minister and Philip Hammond appointed as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Boris Johnson inflicted on the rest of the world as our Foreign Secretary with Nigel F and Michael Gove nowhere to be seen. I don’t have the time or the space to update you regarding the state of Her Majestys Opposition! Alongside all of this mainland Europe and the USA, witnessed multiple shootings and stabbings, some clearly connected to terrorism others attributed to mental health issues.
More recently in Japan 19 learning disabled people were murdered, and 25 others were seriously injured by Satoshi Uematsu, a 26-year-old care worker who gained access to the residential setting where they lived. It came to light shortly after these murderous attacks that Uematsu had a history of mental health difficulties. Uematsu declared
his hatred for the 800 million people with disabilities across the world, saying they should be exterminated, and the cost of caring for them should be spent on other things. It is alleged that he supported Adolf Hitler’s views on eugenics and had written to Japanese officials volunteering to kill disabled people as they were a drain on society.
These horrific incidents have done nothing to enhance the way the public views disabled people, particularly those who rely on the state for their support or those who are trying to manage a complex mental health condition. Now more than ever we need to reinforce the fact that most people with mental health conditions are not violent and that disabled people, in general, can and do make significant and valuable contributions to our society.
Finally just an update; as most of you know, I’ve reunited with my old chum Simon Minty and together we are having a lot of fun putting together a regular podcast. If you’d like to take a listen please visit us at Phil and Simon Show
Earlier this month I made my annual pilgrimage to the Mobility Roadshow, this year held at the home of British motorsport, Silverstone. On arrival, I bumped into a couple of old friends, one of the reasons I go. They recounted horror stories about parking a long way from the exhibition halls and having to wait for over an hour for wheelchair accessible courtesy buses.
Note to organisers; if you organise a major event where vast numbers of wheelchair users are likely to attend then locate parking close to the venue, preferably not on grass, if this isn’t possible then find another site!
After spending an hour familiarising myself with the layout of the Show, I began the search for the new kit. You know the sort of thing, wheelchairs that will climb bridlepath styles, powered wheelchair batteries that last a year and weigh less than a kilo, solar powered accessible vans, scooters that elevate so you can reach the top shelves in the supermarket. Sadly none of this was in evidence. More of the same old stuff, being demonstrated by less than enthusiastic sales teams who had an air of “I wish I were somewhere else” about them.
There was one headline grabbing piece of kit, called the Genny. As manual wheelchair users, we know how easy it is to get our small wheels stuck in pavement cracks or tramlines, the joy of dog poo on our hands, getting soaked because we can’t wheel around and carry a brolly.
The Genny is designed to eliminate these problems. It is a two wheeled powered device, based on the Segway, it’s full of gyroscopes and smart tech which enables the user to turn on a sixpence (remember those!). It climbs kerbs, goes across fields, you can carry an umbrella while holding hands with a loved one, and, most importantly, you look cool while you’re doing it. There is only one tiny little drawback the Genny cost around £13,000!
All in all, I found the Show somewhat disappointing, it felt jaded and lacked pizzazz and excitement. If the organisers want to ensure we’ll all come back next year, they must find ways of encouraging inventiveness and innovation. They could make a start by reducing the costs for smaller companies so that they can afford to rent stands to showcase their products.
Now where can I lay my hands on £13,000?
Almost forgot, here are the links to some interesting disability stories.
It seemed inevitable that one day there would be a podcast of me chatting with my buddy Simon Minty about all things disability. Simon and I have been having these conversations for nearly twenty years, until now, unrecorded, while working, travelling or just hanging out together.
We have very different backgrounds, we are from different generations, we have different politics and contrasting comfort zones. We both share a commitment and passion for equality, fairness and social inclusion of disabled people and have spent many years working to achieve it or at least see some progress.
The great thing about our discussions are that we know one another so well and respect each other so don’t have to pull any punches now. Sometimes we’re considered, at times, we just shoot from the hip. We can make each other laugh and still, after all, this time, make the others jaw drop with a single comment.
We have already recorded two shows, and they are available online. We’ll continue to record one each month until we run out of things to say. Which means they’re going to keep coming for quite a while… we will mix it up from time to time and invite some guests on the show.
Our latest show discusses the merits or otherwise of being disabled in the US compared to the UK. Is it just about attitude? Do you tip if someone is providing a service related to your disability? Why do some disabled people not use equipment that would improve their life? And if disability kit can ever be cool? And if so, who to and where do you find it?
You can subscribe, follow us, get in touch, etc. with via the various links below.
Hello once again. The last time I wrote to you I was waxing lyrical about my Caribbean cruise, well, it didn’t take long for me to come down to earth with a bump.
In the final few days of our cruise we learned that my wife’s mother Jean, a lovely 89-year-old was suddenly taken seriously ill. At almost the same time, I took to my bed with the worst case of flu I have ever experienced. Four days under a duvet and then as weak as a kitten for three weeks afterwards. My illness meant that I couldn’t visit my mother-in-law as often as I would have liked.
Sadly after two months of struggle Jean finally departed this life and we were left to remember a loving, supportive, generous, and caring woman. Her passing caused me to reflect on the NHS and the care that she had received from all the staff who looked after her.
Jean spent two months in the hospital, first in intensive care and then on surgical and rehabilitation wards. What you notice immediately, when you spend any time in an NHS hospital, is that the doctors and nurses come from all over the world. (Where would the NHS be without immigration?) The second thing that is very obvious is the high number of agency staff working on the wards. The nurses seemed to change on a daily basis so it was rare to see the same person two days running. This inevitably led to things not being followed through, presumably because the handover between shifts with so many ‘temporary’ staff was less than perfect. An example of things falling through the cracks was that monitoring food and liquid intake were sometimes not recorded, this led to increased anxiety for us as we couldn’t tell whether Jean’s lack of physical improvement was due to not drinking or eating enough.
Another significant issue facing staff was the high turnover of patients, this was quite extraordinary and the beds on all the wards that Jean spent time on were never empty for long. Many of the patients were elderly and very confused and the nursing staff in particular needed to exercise extraordinary sensitivity in dealing with some of the challenging behaviours that they exhibited. I was in awe of their professionalism and patience.
As many of you know I have been involved in campaigns to prevent assisted dying being made legal in the UK. I was concerned that the end of life care that Jean might receive would not be of the highest standard given the demands on the staff and other resources, my concerns were unjustified.
In the final days of Jean’s life, everything that could be done to keep her pain-free and comfortable was done. On the night of her death, she was moved to a side room where we could be with her. Her passing was peaceful and dignified, and I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who was involved in making this possible. We are indeed a fortunate nation to have the NHS and the dedicated people who work in it.
Finally just to put a tin lid on what has been a tough few weeks our 13-year-old Labrador, Blake, collapsed, despite the vet’s best efforts there was nothing that could be done to help him. He too departed this life with dignity, and we miss him but differently.
Can’t wait for May!!
Here are the links to the latest news. I hope they are of interest.
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.
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
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.
How long has it been? A year has turned, Christmas has passed and I have a new website. We have been working on the new site for a couple of months, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’d be particularly interested to hear about any accessibility issues. As you know, websites are never perfect for everyone, but I’m determined to make mine as welcoming and as accessible as possible so do let me know.
My thanks to Graeme Whippy who built my previous site and who I see was awarded an MBE in the New Years Honours list, See what happens if you design my website! Tricia Howey from Narus Productions designed this one so you’d better get ready for a Dameship Tricia!
I spent a very happy evening on Thursday celebrating the work of Susan Scott-Parker, who, as many of you will know by now, has moved from her role with the Business Disability Forum and is now the CEO at Business Disability International.Kate Nash (not the singer!) organised an informal get-together of past and present colleagues and associates, and we all shared a story or anecdote that spoke about our work or involvement with Susan. A mixture of funny and moving tales but all very entertaining. Susan has done so much to change the landscape for disabled people and employers, so it was a very fitting tribute and thoroughly deserved.
Once I’ve finished writing this I’m going to start focussing on packing for my Carribean cruise. Yes, I know it’s a hard life! I don’t know about you, but I’m heartily sick of the weather. I’ve not seen as much rain since our house was flooded a couple of years ago. So the Carribean here we come. The only concern I have is whether my wheelchair will arrive in Barbados and if it does, will it be in one piece. You might have seen my recent Twitter post about a severely disabled athlete who had his £20,000 wheelchair demolished by baggage handlers. Fortunately, the story attracted a great deal of attention on Facebook, and the airline was ‘shamed’ into paying compensation. Here’s a link to the story Airline forced to pay compensation I hope Barbadian baggage handlers are a little more careful with mine. Now where’s the suntan cream, better take the Factor 50? Will tell all on my return. Now here is this weeks news which I hope is useful to you.
The care watchdog has allowed a US outsourcing giant to slash the pay of disabled people by more than half when it takes over two contracts to manage service-users who work as expert advisers on care home and hospital inspections.
Disabled and older people have compared a council’s plans to cut £5 million from its adult social care budget to “social cleansing”, and have accused it of “treating people no better than animals in Longleat”.
A committee of MPs has called on the government to stop local authorities discriminating against disabled people who need financial help following the introduction of the “bedroom tax”.The work and pensions select committee’s report on the local welfare safety net – which focuses on England – warns that many councils are failing to follow government guidance when deciding whether disabled people should be awarded discretionary housing payments (DHPs).
A disabled Conservative MP has warned the government not to underestimate the difficulty of achieving its aim of halving the disability employment gap, because of the extent of “prejudice” faced by disabled people.