Sunday, 29 May 2016

Mobility Roadshow

About a year ago, Neil and I went to the Mobility Roadshow at Donington Park and that was where I tried out rigid frame, lightweight wheelchairs and decided to save up for one. The show is a great place to try things out, test drive cars and wheelchairs, talk to the experts and chat with other disabled people. So yesterday, we went again - this time at Silverstone.

Overlooking the exhibition centre and car park
Exhibition Centre, Silverstone

Test drives

We're both quite into formula 1, so it was pretty exciting just to be at Silverstone race circuit. Part of the track was used for test driving cars. We did two test drives - one for a car that we're already quite sure we like and one for a car that I didn't even know existed. In the morning, we did several laps each in a Hyundai Tucson. It was a completely new car to me and I really liked it. It ticked a lot of boxes for us:

  • high-up car
  • good visibility
  • comfy seats that wrap around legs and back
  • huge boot
  • can take a hoist
Me in my chair, waiting in the pit lane for a test drive
Waiting in the pit lane


In the afternoon, we test drove a Ford C-Max Grand. We had a normal C-Max in Finland, so we were likely to be happy with it. It's a shame that Toyota weren't there, as the other car we are potentially looking at, is the Rav-4.

There was so much other stuff there, that it would be impossible to mention everything, so here are a few of my personal favourites...

Segways

They had wheelchair segways! Neil liked them as much as I did and actually, I think they could be quite a hit with able bodied people too. 


Neil and the demo guy on their segways
Segway demo
I was a bit worried that they might tip over backwards but I found it incredibly stable. You just lean forwards to go and back to stop. You can steer them one-handed, which means carrying coffee would be manageable. I thought that it might solve the thick pile carpets problem. So we asked how much...

£13,500

...moving swiftly on...

Loopwheels

One of the things I really wanted to try was Loopwheels. Unfortunately, I forgot to get a photo but I've pinched this one off their website...

A wheelchair with loopwheels on
loopwheels.com


They have got really good suspension and can smooth out a lot of lumps and bumps. We also looked at different types of push rims that you can get for them. They do some with rubber coating. I liked that because when it rains, mine get slippery and really difficult to push. Rubber ones would give better grip. So, I've asked for a quote... I'm expecting them to come in at just under £1000 per pair.

Hoists

It wasn't even worth taking photos because hoists are so boring but we did spend a good hour or two looking at and trying out different hoists for the car. We are likely to get a new car this summer and if we get the hoist fitted at the same time as buying the car, we don't pay any VAT on the car. This is a massive saving!

After looking at millions of hoists, I think we have decided to go for the smallest one. It lifts up to 40kg and my chair is much lighter than that. It has a carabiner to attach it to the chair and a remote control for lifting.

Mountain Trike

I tried these off-road wheelchairs last year, with a view to getting one as my regular chair but having tested it, I didn't think it would be any good for everyday use. This year, I tried it again. Having had several holidays where an off-road chair would have been brilliant, I was thinking off getting it as an extra. The only problem is the price. It's over £4000.

A mountain trike off-road wheelchair
disabledgear.com

You drive and steer it, using the pull handles. The advantage of this is that you don't get mud up your sleeves. What we did discover, which we will almost certainly do at some point, is that they now hire them out for long weekends or for a week or two. If you hire it, fall in love and then buy one, they knock the hire price off the cost. You can't say fairer than that really.


Saturday, 21 May 2016

Getting Away

I feel like we've been away a lot recently. There was a time when going away was so easy. I could decide on the spur of the moment to go somewhere, pack a small bag of essentials and just go. Then we had kids and going away suddenly required military planning and an overnight stay required so much stuff that the car looked like we were heading off for several months. Then the kids got bigger and spontaneity and small bags came back into our lives again. Now we're back to military planning and enough luggage to equip a small village.

We've had a number of trips away that have been difficult in some way or even downright disastrous! Accommodation, we have learnt, can make or break a holiday or trip away. As time goes on, I've become more comfortable with checking out what we're booking and ensuring that we get what we need. Here are some of the things we have learnt to do...

1. For basic overnight stops, to break a journey or be in the right place for an early morning start, we have found nothing to beat Premier Inn. You can book online and choose an accessible room. Having said that, an accessible room might have a wet room or a shower over bath and the only way to know, is to ring before booking. I generally do the online search and then ring the intended hotel to check that they have wet rooms. It's always a 0845 number but there's a website called 'SayNoTo0870' where you can put the number in and it usually gives you a normal, local number to ring instead. So I ring and then, if they have wet rooms, I book and then ring them back with the reservation number and get a wet room allocated. We did once try this process with Travelodge but it didn't work out anywhere near as well and we certainly won't be trying that again.

2. For a week or more holiday, it is worth paying more for good quality accommodation. Last October, we went to Cardiff and stayed in a cottage in Porthcawl. It was not accessible, though advertised as okay for people with restricted mobility (just not wheelchairs). It was a nightmare! The bathroom was impossible! The bath had its own mobility issues and felt like it was going to collapse. There was nothing to hold onto, no grab rails, nothing. The toilet was low down and the seat was loose. The beds were very low and had a thick wooden surround which made it very difficult to get out of bed. I just thought, "Never again!" We're going back to Cardiff again this year for Josh's graduation but this time, we're booking a wheelchair accessible city centre apartment and paying a lot more for it.

3. Check out restaurants, pubs, town centres, etc before leaving home. It all goes back to the military planning thing again. A good example was Stavanger in Norway. Before we went, I had looked it up online and found out which places were good for wheelchair access. As a result of what I read, we took my freewheel (which we hadn't planned to take) and boy, did we need it?!?! Both locally and on holiday, we have had occasions where we have attempted to eat in pubs and restaurants which had steps and no accessible loo. Fortunately, we always manage but it makes it less enjoyable, so now we tend to ring in advance and check.

4. It's easy to run out of medication, medical equipment, etc whilst away. Now, I try to organise these well in advance and I always take more than I should need. Yes, it does mean taking a case full of Tenas and catheters, as well as all the associated wipes, bags and protective mats, but that is much better than running out and not being able to empty or having to buy expensive replacements whilst away.

I like going away, especially for a weekend. It's nice to go to events or see towns that I've not seen before. It's lovely if those visits work out well and you end up feeling totally normal and relaxed. It's really not nice though, if you can get to places and you end up feeling like an inconvenience and in the way. Do other disabled people plan really carefully? Is there a way of bringing back that spontaneity and just deciding to go somewhere? How do others find short breaks and holidays?

Sunday, 15 May 2016

What a difference a stair lift makes!

Every so often, Neil goes away for a few days. Preparing for this can be a bit like a military operation. He does as much shopping, cooking and washing as possible to leave me with as little as possible to do for myself. Even so, by the time he gets back, I have generally been exhausted and in pain.

One of the 'little' things that Neil does without either of us probably realising how often, is going upstairs to get things for me (or downstairs, if I am upstairs). This is where the last couple of trips away have been better. Since the stair lift was fitted, I can get up and down the stairs, without my knees and back hurting. It also removes the stress of trying to remember everything I might need between morning and evening, to avoid unnecessary journeys up and down the stairs.

Picture of stair lift at bottom of stairs

The seat folds away - you can see the fold line - so that it isn't in the way when not in use. The footrest also folds away. You can get automatic ones that fold themselves up but I decided I didn't need that.

Picture of the hand control and swivel lever

In the picture above, you can see three light blue things. The top one is the seat belt. Okay, let's be honest, I wore it for the demo and will probably never wear it again. The blue thing that looks like a beak coming out of the armrest is the control. You push it in the direction you want to travel. I have discovered that pushing it more firmly does NOT increase the speed. The lever by the seat is to swivel the chair round. When you get to the top, you press that (there is one on each side) and turn the seat round to get off.

This shows the stair lift, part way up the stairs

To save money, we bought a reconditioned lift but as you can see, it looks like new. When you buy reconditioned, it is the motor and the rail that are used. They put new upholstery on it. So far, I have been more than happy with it. It is great for Neil to be able to go away for a few days, without worrying that he'll return to find me in pain and tired out!

Sunday, 8 May 2016

The pros and cons of cruising in a wheelchair

Background
To set the scene, we have cruised before and loved it. About 10 years ago, we did a couple of cruises on the Queen Mary 2, one transatlantic and one in the Med. We found it really enjoyable and that was why we decided to try it out now that I use a wheelchair.

Why P&O?
We almost went with Cunard again, on the grounds that we love the QM2 and were sure of getting good service. However, we wanted to visit the Norwegian Fjords and preferred earlier season, before the worst of the mozzies and whilst there was still a chance of seeing the Northern Lights. P&O had an early season cruise, visiting four towns on the fjords and for what we would have paid for Cunard's inside cabin, we could have a P&O balcony. So we decided to switch and booked a week on Azura, one of P&O's bigger ships.

Embarkation
We chose to drive to the port in Southampton. It was really easy! We pulled up in a line of cars outside the terminal building. Porters helped us unload cases, which were then taken straight to the ship. When we had got ourselves sorted out, made sure we had everything we needed and were ready to go, we handed the car keys over and someone else parked the car in the car park in the blue badge area, which was helpful for our return.

Wheelchair users were fast tracked through check-in. It was very easy and we were on-board quite quickly. We had one hitch - we had accidentally been upgraded to a better cabin but it wasn't accessible and we only spotted the mistake the day before boarding. This seemed to cause some difficulties as the luggage went to the wrong place initially and our key card needed three attempts at being activated before it would work.

Accessible cabins
Our cabin was on deck 14 and had a balcony. All the accessible cabins are right next to the lifts, which is helpful. More on that later. The cabin was a very good size. Plenty of room to get a wheelchair around it and easy access onto the balcony. Neil had to move a chair out of the way but then I could access the balcony independently.

The en-suite wet room was excellent! It had rails to the left of the toilet (which suits me best) and the shower area had drainage around it, so that the whole floor didn't get wet when you had a shower. In true style, we broke the toilet...


... but they sent a chap to come and fix it pretty pronto!

Getting around the ship
They have obviously attempted to make the ship look as luxurious as possible but this has one major drawback for wheelchair users and their pushers. Thick, plush carpets are the worst for wheelchairs, especially if you have small front casters. Most of the public areas are carpeted and it became exhausting trying to get around independently. I wasn't the only one who found this difficult. It became quite a talking point amongst fellow wheelies.

The other major negative about this cruise was that the ship did not have anywhere near the right lifts to people ratio. We often had to wait ages for a lift, only to find it was already full. Because it was such a nightmare, many people got in a lift going in the wrong direction, rather than risk not getting in one at all. There were many wheelchair and mobility scooter users on board, as well as people with restricted mobility and the downright lazy. Neil made a point of delivering me to a lift and then using the stairs - because he can!

Restaurants
There are two main kinds of restaurant on board and we used both. The main restaurants were 'club dining' and 'freedom dining'. The only difference is that club dining means you always sit at the same table with the same people. We were glad we did that, because the two other couples at our table were great fun! We tended to eat here in the evenings for our main meal.

 

The other restaurants are buffet restaurants. There were two of these on deck 15, which was easier for us to get to. We had breakfast and lunch in the buffet restaurants, as well as occasional snacks. You just head in and take whatever food you fancy. My only criticism of it was that there wasn't as much variety as Cunard's buffet restaurants, but there was still enough to keep you going.


Going ashore
I suspect I found this experience more irritating than most other wheelchair users. They were well equipped with people to aid and assist you on and off the ship but they only wanted to do it their way. They didn't listen to what I wanted and tried to take over and I felt quite disempowered by their attempts to be helpful.

All four of the ports we visited had a proper dock within easy walking distance of the town/village. They had ramps to get on and off but depending on the tide, this could mean an uphill or downhill transfer. Either way, they wanted to pull your wheelchair backwards, which I positively hate! Because of this, I chose to walk off, but even then, they wanted to help me, even though they had no idea what my needs were or how they might be of most assistance. For some reason, they were very reluctant to let Neil, who knows my needs better than anyone, help me off. 

Ports of call
We visited four of the ports in the Norwegian fjords:
  1. Stavanger
  2. Ålesund
  3. Olden
  4. Bergen
I have to say, my absolute favourite was Olden, even though it was the least accessible. We took a taxi ride to the Briksdal Glacier, which we attempted to ascend, with me in my chair. The views were utterly stunning but the gravel path was steep and narrow in places. We didn't make it more than half way up but even so, it was well worth the effort.

All the ports had towns which favoured cobbles of one type or another and most places were quite hilly. I found my freewheel absolutely invaluable! I cannot imagine how we would have managed without it!


One tip for climbing steep paths: if you need a break, turn sideways to the path. That way, you won't go up or down and you can rest a while. Going down, I found it easiest to adopt a skiing approach and zig-zag from side to side. That way, you don't lose control and can always head slightly uphill as a way of slowing down.

Summing up
In general, I think cruising is a good wheelchair holiday, except for the difficulties with carpets and lifts. On this occasion, I didn't enjoy it as much as I had hoped, as I got sick. Towards the end of the Olden day, I started with an awful headache and dizziness which lasted the majority of the rest of the holiday. This was made worse by the exhaustion of pushing on carpets and in the end, I had to let Neil push me all the time.

I would do another cruise but in a few weeks, we're heading off to the Mobility Roadshow, where I will certainly be on the lookout for something to make carpets more manageable!

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Ålesund on wheels

This morning's visit brought to mind a line from one of my favourite films... " There comes a point, you're so wet, you can't get any wetter." The weather started off cold and drizzly and progressed to torrential rain.

We went for a walk around the town. It looks a very pretty town but we had decided to explore this morning, then have lunch, then visit a museum this afternoon. In reality, we got so cold and wet that after lunch, we stayed on board.

From deck 14 of the ship, the town looked quite flat. Not so at ground level! We climbed a small mountain to visit the church, only to find it was closed.

We nearly didn't take the freewheel today but I'm glad we did. They don't have much concept here of a dropped curb. I certainly couldn't live here independently.

Once we had warmed up and dried off, we noticed steam coming off the deck swimming pool and were tempted. That was a great move! The pool was so warm! We spent an hour or more swimming with only one other couple. Loads of people passing asked us if it was warm but then wouldn't believe us. More fool them!

Tip of the day: if you are getting out of a swimming pool to sit back in a wheelchair, use a waterproof pad to protect your seat. The other day I didn't but today I did. Today my seat is still dry.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Stavanger on wheels

I shall be posting more detailed information about cruising and wheelchairs when I get home and have unlimited internet again. This is just a quick post from my phone.

Today, we're in Stavanger. It's a lovely city but for wheelchair users, it would be a bit of a nightmare unless you go prepared. Much of the city is cobbled or decorative stone pavements and front casters could easily get caught. Fortunately, we brought my freewheel, which made it much easier.

The city is also quite hilly but there are some good things to do without climbing, if you look carefully.

We went to the cathedral first. It's up a steep hill but Neil pushed me. It's named after St Swithen, which seemed appropriate, as it was chucking it down. Some arty chap called Andrew Smith made a lot of carved epitaphs there. I'm guessing he wasn't Norwegian.

Then we went to the petroleum museum. That had great access. I got in for free as a disabled person and Neil got in cheap. It worked out at about a fiver for both of us. I'm quite interested in oil and organic chemistry so it was a good visit.

It's the place with the yellow flags outside and the round buildings in the photo.