Wheelchairs and mud – not a marriage made in heaven!

Using a manual chair means the wheels are narrow so they sink easily. Having absorbed that fact early on I don’t usually make mistakes nowadays.

On outdoor audits I try for dry days; I’ll look for ruts and footprints in the dry mud and work out how bad it would be on a wet day. Sounds like I know what I’m doing but I can still be caught out.

I once arrived for an official conference during my early days working in Calderdale – it was very wet, but I thought the car park would be tarmaced. Wrong!

I thought there would be empty designated parking spaces at the entrance. Wrong!

I ended up parking in the mud at the back of the car park, getting out in the mud, pushing through the mud to the entrance, and looking and feeling like a dirty drowned rat when I eventually got inside.

Not the best start to the afternoon!

My worst mud experiences by far came as a parent, taking my rugby fanatic son to junior rugby matches and training. From Under 9’s to Under16’s, (that’s eight seasons – yes, eight) winter Sundays had to include a trip to our local club or to a match elsewhere.

Yes, there was excitement! Yes, there was banter! Yes, there were bacon sandwiches! And yes, there was mud, glorious mud!

Being a junior team meant we were usually sent to the furthest pitch, away from the clubhouse – the one through the underpass, beyond the motorway, past all hope of rescue (don’t ask where the toilet is). I always had pushers, however, “come on Dad, take your hands off the wheels, trust me”.

I never crashed but the chair would be covered in mud over the footplates.

The final insult was my son – immaculate out of the showers in white shirt and smart tie on match days. However, he’d walk into the shower fully clothed in his kit, get undressed in the shower, stuff the sopping kit into a bag, and pass the whole dripping mess to me to wash for next week! Adding insult to injury.

I ruined so many clothes during those days, not to mention the frequent mess in my car.

Thankfully those days are behind me now, or so I thought.

As you know I like a good rock festival in the summer, and we have a great one at Jodrell Bank called Bluedot (Earth from space – geddit?) Mid-summer, always bone dry, until the last event when there was a record-breaking downpour the night before. Parking in a very muddy field should have warned me off, having to be carried through the entrance gates to a little patch of grass should have set off the alarm bells, but no! I was on a mission! I’ve never been so completely covered in mud during my whole life. The worst part was crossing the sea of mud to the accessible viewing platform, way over there…. I set off and got nowhere, then a friendly voice – can I help? broke my leg years ago, wheelchair for six months, know how crap it is…and off we went. Perfect result, brilliant music but then had to leave my chair and outside clothes on the patio when I got home while I transferred to another chair to go into my house! Hosed it all down next morning.

But my favourite mud story doesn’t involve me directly – a few months ago I was auditing a potential communal garden which was bordered by an open wire fence. Whilst writing some notes I noticed pre-school children playing on the other side of the fence. They’d found an interesting puddle, and were absorbed with buckets and spades. The boys started conversation – why are you in that chair? do your legs work? my Grans got one of them. How fast will it go? The usual. Whilst answering as well as I could I noticed a little girl sitting

in the puddle and using a spade to pour the (very) muddy water down her outstretched arms and onto her (very) white dress! Whilst driving home I couldn’t rid my mind of the image of the loving parents coming to pick up their beloved child in her (once) white dress!

Until next time,


Chris the mudlark

Patient with ALS in Australia first person to tweet using direct thought via brain-computer interface

Synchron, a brain computer interface company, today announced a Twitter takeover by Philip O’Keefe, one of the patients implanted with the Stentrode brain computer interface. Mr. O’Keefe is the first person to successfully message the world on social media directly through thought using an implantable brain computer interface.

Mr. O’Keefe, a 62-year-old man with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), successfully turned his direct thought to text via Twitter when he messaged “Hello World” using the Stentrode brain computer interface.

When I first heard about this technology, I knew how much independence it could give back to me. The system is astonishing, it’s like learning to ride a bike – it takes practice, but once you’re rolling, it becomes natural.

Now, I just think about where on the computer I want to click, and I can email, bank, shop, and now message the world via Twitter.

Philip O’Keefe

Mr. O’Keefe took over the Twitter handle of Synchron CEO, Thomas Oxley, MD, PhD, @tomoxl, using the hashtag #HelloWorldBCI. Mr. O’Keefe’s goal was to share his experience of regaining independence with the world and offer inspiration for the future.

“My hope is that I’m paving the way for people to tweet through thoughts,” was his closing statement.

Philip received the endovascular Stentrode brain computer interface in April 2020 following progressive paralysis caused by ALS which left him unable to engage in work-related or other independent activities. Mr. O’Keefe has since been using the technology to reconnect with his family, and business colleagues continuing email exchanges and staying actively involved in his consultancy and other business projects.

“These fun holiday tweets are actually an important moment for the field of implantable brain computer interfaces. They highlight the connection, hope and freedom that BCIs give to people like Phil who have had so much of their functional independence taken away due to debilitating paralysis,” said Thomas Oxley, MD, PhD, CEO, Synchron. “We look forward to advancing our brain computer interface, Stentrode, in the first U.S. in-human study next year.”

Synchron’s flagship technology, the Stentrode is an endovascular brain implant designed to enable patients to wirelessly control digital devices through thought and improve functional independence. Synchron’s foundational technology, a motor neuroprosthesis (MNP), is implanted via the jugular vein using neurointerventional techniques commonly used to treat stroke, and does not require drilling into the skull or open brain surgery. The system is designed for patients suffering from paralysis as a result of a broad range of conditions, and aims to be user friendly and dependable for patients to use autonomously.

More information on BusinessWire here.

Updates from our own Access Consultant – Chris Cammiss

December news!

Seems to be a very long time since I wrote anything, but that doesn’t mean I’ve not been busy – oh no!  Work is as interesting and demanding as ever, if not more so, and the rest of my life hasn’t been dull either.

I recently completed a long report for Calderdale on a huge road project connecting Halifax to Huddersfield, touching Elland etc which involved a lot of driving along busy roads, checking out possible crossings, negotiating roundabouts, coping with tricky gradients and discussing the dreaded “shared space” beloved by planners and hated by disabled pedestrians.

I’m still on the Accessible Calderdale project – stalled by Covid but still in operation – and found myself at St Matthews Parish Centre this month. Lovely, welcoming space inside but a crazy car park, too steep to push my wheelchair out of and a busy road to cross from the church without the benefit if a crossing. (The absolute downpour I encountered didn’t help – especially as I left my coat in the car. It’s a man thing).

I also noticed that the Calvert Trust were advertising for Trustees this month so I thought I might apply to see what they were all about. I’m happy to report that they’ve co-opted me onto their Operations committee. Little do they know…..

Outside work my car passed its MOT. It’s Motability but they extended my lease because I couldn’t get around car showrooms which were shut during lockdowns.

Had a lovely weekend break Shropshire in a country house which has an RHS connected garden. Very accessible garden and only one tiny portable ramp in the house. The staff used it so much they are going to leave it in place permanently!  On one day we mentioned a nearby house with a stunning garden which was unfortunately shut for the winter. They immediately rang them up and arranged for the garden to be opened up just for myself and partner!

Finally, I’m fully jabbed and now hopefully bullet-proof. Both Covid jabs, official booster, flu jab and even Shingles. Are there any more?

Northern Rail work continues at pace. Very exciting developments. Next week I go to check out a mock-up of an accessible toilet pod. If it stands up to scrutiny then it could be the answer on hundreds of Victorian stations which don’t have appropriate buildings to construct an accessible toilet in or don’t have many buildings at all. Watch this space for developments.

I conducted my most recent Audit on the Accessible Calderdale project at AgeUK in Halifax. Great place, friendly staff and the strangest door system I’ve ever come across. Two narrow single doors next to each other, with a central column? Unless one was originally “in” and the other “out” I can’t fathom it.
Some work to do soon for the new Leisure Centre – can’t wait for that! Just my cup of tea.

Outside of work, we had to say goodbye to our beloved caravan (over twenty years old) which had endured so many fierce winters on the Cumbrian coast that the chassis was about to collapse. A new one just wouldn’t be the same.

And my final act of the month so far has been to successfully complete an online Speeding Course. Yes, I’m afraid to admit I was caught on camera speeding around. Not racing up to Cumbria, not chasing around Manchester where I live, but driving around Halifax a few mph faster than allowed! But online was better than the classroom version I did a few years earlier! (another story)!

Have a great Christmas and see you again in the New Year.

Access For All

Access for all is the way forward

Access for all is more than policy when it comes to businesses, visitor attractions and community spaces.  Accessibility is being taken seriously in todays business market and the benefits are quickly mounting.

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