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,

Cheers,

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.

Britain loses hundreds of public toilets

Cash-strapped councils have closed a fifth of conveniences, leaving some people with no choice but to stay close to home.

Republished courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd, written by Chaminda Jayanetti.

Public toilets are not as convenient as they were. Getting caught short outside home has become an increasingly tricky problem as a result.

The trouble has been caused by austerity-hit councils in the UK who are not legally required to provide toilets for the public and who have cut expenditure on them in order to protect services that they are obliged by law to provide for local people.

The result is a major reduction of Ladies and Gents across the nation. According to Freedom of Information data obtained by local government researcher Jack Shaw and shared with the Observer, the number of public lavatories that local authorities have funded and maintained fell from 3,154 in 2015/16 to 2,556 in 2020/21 – a drop of 19% across the past six years, which comes on top of reductions in previous years.

Public health workers have warned that this loss of public conveniences is now causing major problems for a range of people, including the homeless, disabled, outdoor workers and those whose illnesses dictate frequent toilet use.

Continue reading here

The high cost of living in a disabling world

For all the advances that have been made in recent decades, disabled people cannot yet participate in society ‘on an equal basis’ with others – and the pandemic has led to many protections being cruelly eroded

Republished courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd, written by Jan Grue

At times, it feels as if the disability rights movement won. After years of groundwork, 1981 was declared the International Year of Disabled Persons. I was born that year, in Oslo, Norway, and though I did not receive my first diagnosis of muscular dystrophy until I was a toddler, the coincidence is apt enough: I was born into a world that was, at last, beginning to recognise this aspect of my being in it.

Then, from 1983 to 1992, came the United Nations’ Decade of Disabled Persons. And the Americans With Disabilities Act, the UK’s Disability Discrimination Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The turn of the millennium was marked by a litany of good intentions and disavowals of unequal treatment – by an endorsement, as the first article of the UN convention has it, of disabled people’s right to “full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others”.

I came of age in this world, more or less protected by these rights. In Norway, which produced its own act in 2008, I received an education, found work and started a family. I am writing this as a tenured professor, as well-protected as a member of a protected class can be. And yet I am writing with a feeling, as Tony Soprano had it, that I came in at the end – that the best, in the sense of our best and greatest hopes for universal, rights-based protections, and for the logic of anti-discrimination, is over…

Continue reading here

Do Something Different in Yorkshire

Do Something Different Survey Results

Time flies when the sun is out!  Back in June we launched the ‘Do Something Different’ project which is setting up a web based resource aimed at families with children and young people with a wide range of disabilities, plus disabled people and their carers/Personal Assistants.   The resource will feature a selection of venues, attractions, parks, walks, short breaks and will be for anyone who is looking for suggestions on interesting and varied days out in the Yorkshire and Humber area.

To do this we asked you to fill in our survey or comment on our face book groups ‘Visits Unlimited’ and ‘Visits Unlimited Days out in Yorkshire’.

Do Something Different Survey Summary

The results were really encouraging, over 60 people entered the survey and over 40 different places were suggested.  It was lovely to see the wide range of venues and activities that people visit, and we hope that this will help encourage others to try and do something different!

The places listed in the survey were numerous here are some you know and hopefully a few new ideas:  Eureka; Flamingo Land; The Yorkshire Wild Life Park; Castle Howard; The Yorkshire Sculpture Park; The seaside; The South Yorkshire Aircraft Museum; The Cow and Calf; Ponderosa Farm.

We asked for diverse ideas and that is what we got!  Most people said they chose their favourite place because of the accessible activities and venue (85%) and the friendly/ helpful staff and volunteers, (64%).

Here are some of the reasons people recommended their favourite place:

  • Diggerland: The staff have a real can do attitude and help kids with disabilities push their own boundaries.
  • Flamigo Land:  My son being allowed to be lifted on rides as most parks insist you have to be able to stand and get on and off rides.  If your child is daredevil like mine then this great as they can actually enjoy the rides
  • Yorkshire Sculpture Park:  Cheap day out if you have a Max card. Food’s nice but you can take a picnic to save money.
  • Wentworth Gardens: The farm is accessible to disabled people, the staff are lovely, it’s not expensive and it’s not too big. Even the shop has reasonable priced toys
  • Yorkshire Wildlife Park:   Staff are very friendly and empathetic to the needs of families with children with additional needs and its easy to get around with or without a wheelchair. There is also plenty of seating in case they get tired partway round.
  • Scarborough:  Accessible with buses and lift to main town in Scarborough.

We asked how these venues could be improved and the most frequent answer was better/ more accessible toilets, some felt the staff could be more aware and more friendly.  Parking and recognition of need for parking close to the venues was also a problem.

These points are invaluable to others as it is first hand experience.  It is this information that will make the Do Something Different Resource of real value.

The project doesn’t end here.  We are now looking at the information available on the website and will then be approaching all of the places mentioned in the survey to see how, using your feed back we can make them more accessible.  We want to offer training and support to enable them to implement the ideas and changes recommended by you.

Its not too late to get involved.  We will be updating you on the face book pages and asking for more information on some of the places mentioned, this resource needs to be current and reliable so in turn we will be relying on you!

Finally a huge thank you to everyone who completed the survey and gave us feedback.  We look forward to continuing this dialogue until we have ‘Visits Unlimited’ across the country.

Also a special thanks to Samantha, Sara and Leanne for the lovely photos.

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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National Trust and Accessible Tourism

The National Trust’s focus

The national trust is one of the UK’s home treasures. With beaches, gardens, pubs, lighthouses and parks, their presence all around the UK has given the public years of great experiences and education.  Like most attraction providers though, the national trust are aware that there are always improvements to their customer service and experiences, so they called us in to help out.

Open minded to accessibility

We joined some of the national trust groups and what a pleasure to work with them. We met up with Sara and her team at North Lincolnshire and South Nottinghamshire National Trust properties and had a fantastic day sharing our strategies and visitor journeys with them.

Katie and myself delivered our ‘Customer Service for All’ one day programme to delegates from The Workhouse, Gunby Estate, Hall and GardensBelton House and Tattershall Castle.  Delegates participated with tremendous enthusiasm and commitment and as always, we came away with so much as well.

What did the national trust take away?

Our learning outcomes included:

  • Building confidence and customer service skills in meeting the needs of visitors with access needs
  • Addressing inclusive operational practice
  • Action planning all aspects relating to accessibility
National trust trianing
Reflective practice

 

Our one day’s training is packed not just with the; what needs to be done, but the understanding of why your changes make a huge difference.  We involve you in the whole journey as much as the structured planning.

 

 

 

Sara offered her feedback.

‘Visits Unlimited were excellent to work with. They came with a can do attitude, shared their knowledge freely and supported the group throughout the day. The staff team felt that this was one of the most positive training sessions that they had experienced and that what they learnt would be easy to use in the workplace. Thanks Matt and Katie for spending a rewarding day and sharing your knowledge and your life experiences with us.’

Sara Blair-Manning – General Manager, North Lincolnshire & South Nottinghamshire.