Skip to main content

Saturday, 28 March 2020

We're all very selfish!

Last Saturday, we were amongst the crowds that flocked to the coast. On Monday the Health Secretary described us as "very selfish". At the time, I disagreed strongly. Very selfish made it sound as if we knew that it would be busy and just didn't care about anyone else. I still don't think that was the case. I think many, like us, just didn't realise that everyone was going to do the same thing.

The road through the East Riding was much, much quieter than normal, so we thought our plan had worked. When we got there, the north bay was busy so we drove round to the south bay, which was quiet compared to normal. The disabled bay, opposite the Olympia, that is normally full, was empty. We were the only car parked there, and one of three when we left. We walked past the spa and as soon as possible, with my mountain trike, got down onto the sand. It was quiet and we had a nice walk.

On Look North, Peter Levy asked people who had done this terribly selfish act to text in and explain why they had done it. I don't think many replied.

So why did we go to the coast? Well, the reality is, we usually do go to Scarborough. I grew up there. My family are there. It's home. Also, as a wheelchair user, the beach and Marine Drive are a place I can exercise without worrying about accessibility or getting hurt. I have Liggy, my assistance dog. She has many food allergies and the beach is usually the one place she is safe from dropped/scattered food. I can let her off lead for a really good run, knowing that the only thing she is likely to eat, is seaweed, and that is one of the things she's not allergic to, along with fish. So, knowing that we may not be able to exercise her properly for months, we took her for a run last Saturday.

Did we think it was a holiday? No.
Did we disregard the advice? No, at that time, the advice was to stay 2m apart from others... and we did.
Were we being selfish? Not intentionally. We were also buying milk and bread to deliver to my parents, who are self-isolating. My dad had surgery very recently and needs a nasty virus like a hole in the head. So we bought them essentials and delivered them to their house. We didn't go in. We stood out on the driveway. We didn't hug. We just made sure they were okay. I had even stopped at the toilets at Staxton Bank on the way to them, so I wouldn't need to go into their house and use their toilet. I'm grateful for the disabled toilet there, but it's cold, dark and not very pleasant.

It didn't feel like a selfish act.

This week


From Monday, we have followed the lock down guidance. We normally shop together. I'm allergic to beta-carotene. It's a natural food colouring that is in many fruit and veg (carrots, swede, beetroot, mango, etc) as well as being added to many products. It has an e-number, E160b. Normally, we have to shop together. Neil takes the food off the shelf and passes it to me. I check the ingredients. The same products can have annatto colouring one day and carotenes the next, so we have to check every product every time we shop. Unfortunately, the ingredients are so small that Neil can't see them.

This week, Neil has shopped without me. We're asked for just one person to shop. This does mean, we will inevitably buy food which I can't have. We'll waste money on products that would make me ill. Some will end up in the bin. Some will eventually make it to a food bank.

We've organised our one form of daily exercise so that Liggy gets two walks. She is a working dog and her well-being is everything to me. She enables me to keep my independence. She's not just a pet. So in the morning, I'm walking her and in the evening, Neil is walking her. For the most part, that will work fine. I mean, we like to go for a walk together but Liggy's needs come before our likes. She is normally out and about with me all day - at work, shopping, in town... I hope she is still able to cope with all that after a long isolation. I hope the public will be sensitive and not overwhelm her with too much attention when all this is over.

Building up sufficient strength to self propel the distances I do, has taken many years of exercise and hard work. I have two chairs - my normal day chair and my mountain trike. They use different muscles. It's important to me to keep up sufficient exercise that I don't undo all the hard work I've done. So the plan was to use my day chair for most walks but on my days off, drive to the canal or the park (both local) to use my mountain trike, and keep those muscles working.

Then I saw the police posts about not being allowed to drive for exercise. That is difficult for me but I tried not to be selfish and attempted the walk along the riverbank behind our house. We are just metres from the River Ouse. Neil walks there a lot. I rarely do... certainly not without help. That is because there are five entry and exit points. Two of them (the ones at each end) are ramps - steep but just about accessible. The rest are steps and one of them has a metal barrier to stop motorcycles going up there. The path is wide and clear most of the way, except for one very narrow point. We've managed it once before but Neil took Liggy, as together, we were too wide.

Having made a very selfish move last Saturday, I just got on with it yesterday. I took Liggy and my trike and we went a kilometre or so to the bank that has a ramp... and we got up onto the bank. It was a beautiful day. Nobody was about apart from one couple that I passed. They were keen to point out that I would not get through the narrow section further down. As I continued, I tried to work out what to do. The only other exit that doesn't have steps, is an unmade path into the cemetery. It's there because lots of people use it as a cut through. It's steep but at least not steps and no barrier. So I tried it. Actually, I made it down the steepest part okayish but then hit a tree root at the bottom and kind of catapulted to the right. In a matter of seconds, I was laying on the floor, covered in mud. My chair was upside down and Liggy was still attached to it and kind of stuck.

I realised I'd hurt myself immediately but what could I do? There was nobody around and even if there was, they shouldn't help me. I eventually managed to detach Liggy's lead arm and get her in a safe place. Then I had to turn my trike back over. It's really heavy and everything hurt. Getting back into it and getting home was really painful. I knew Neil was on a work conference call, but when I got back, I couldn't move and had to call him to help me. How selfish!

It's now Saturday again. This morning, Neil will shop without me. Then, at some point, I will have to try to find a way of walking Liggy. Of course, Neil could... but he's not allowed. We can both walk once but I presume I can't donate my walk to him, no matter how much pain I'm in.

So who's selfish?

Well, on reflection, I think we all are. We naturally put our own needs first. In a society where nobody else will do so, we have to. I've done so many selfish things this week. I took my dog for a walk on the beach. I bought bread and milk, even though there was hardly any on the shelves. I've passed people on my daily walk with less than 2m because going into the middle of the road feels inconvenient and dangerous. 

But from my perspective, I've witnessed selfishness too. 

The old lady who was walking in front of me in the cemetery, scattering nuts for the squirrels. Nuts that could make Liggy extremely sick... and at a time where we are very limited on where we can walk. 

The bin men who casually tossed the empty bins back on the street, blocking my way home.

The very tiny child who was throwing a tantrum right in the middle of the path - no 2m passing for anyone there.

The architects, who when faced with a choice between putting steps or a ramp in, to create access points to the riverbank, decided steps would be better.

The motorcyclists, who have obviously caused so many problems along the riverbank that somebody decided the only option was to but steel barriers in, thus blocking anything other than a pedestrian.

The neighbour who had a delivery for some building work and badly damaged the pavement... and just left it damaged. 

Did any of them intend to be selfish? NO! They just put their own needs before the needs that they were unaware of.

YES, we are all selfish. We all think about our own needs first. Of course we do! We're human. Even when we applaud the NHS workers, what we are really saying is that we are glad they will be there when we need them. 

Thankfully, our selfishness usually extends to include those we love. I don't see Neil putting his needs before mine. The speed with which he dropped his call yesterday to help me, shows that he automatically puts me first... as I would, him. 

So maybe the key is to extend the love. We put those we love first... then ourselves. Calling people very selfish isn't the best way of getting people to act in love. Showing understanding might be more effective. So this week, I'm on the look out for acts of love... I'm going to keep a list and post them, to prove that although we are inherently selfish, love is more powerful!

Sunday, 9 February 2020

Loch an Eilein (a few months late)

You might remember that we had a holiday back in October. We spent a lovely week in Aviemore, hiking and sight-seeing.

One of our days out was a hike round Loch an Eilein. I wasn't feeling too good when we set out and didn't think we'd get very far but we ended up having a fantastic day out and a lot of laughs. I meant to post this video earlier but it's taken me ages to edit it down from 2 hours of headcam footage down to about 7 minutes.


Thursday, 16 January 2020

It's bin day

Bin day happens at least once a week... sometimes twice. It often means I'm trapped. I get part way down the street and then the path is completely blocked by a bin... or several. If it's full, I don't stand a chance of moving it. I just have to turn back and take the car instead, or abandon my plans.

How to be good bin-citizens

This morning, I had a rare moment! It was almost as if someone had set the bins out, ready for a perfect bin-citizen photo...

Photo shows one side of the street. There is grass between the pavement and the road and hedges down the side of people's properties. It's blue bin day and each house has their blue bin set as close to the hedge as possible, leaving the path free for wheelchairs and buggies. It's all very neat and tidy!

Today's challenge: be a good bin-citizen. Don't block the path!

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Say nice things...

You'd be amazed at some of the things that I hear as I go around just doing life. I don't think most people mean to offend but some people (me included) do tend to open their mouth before engaging their brain. Sometimes though, people say really nice things. Here are some of the things people have said in the last few days (either to me or near enough for me to hear):

  • Your dog is so well-behaved!
  • I love your wheels!
  • It was lovely to meet you!
  • We're a team.
  • I'll move my car; you can have my space (when visiting a client).
  • Thank you for your help/your hard work.
  • What a beautiful/clever/amazing dog!
  • That (chair) is soooo cool!
  • You must have serious arm muscles!
  • I love you!

Challenge

I'm challenging myself here too! Every day this year, try to say something nice to or about someone. At school, we were never allowed to use that word. "Find a better word," teachers say. Actually though, no... just be nice!

Thursday, 9 January 2020

Alternative text for images

At work, I've been doing a lot of work to ensure that people with screen readers can access everything we produce. Like I said the other day, it's not a binary state. You can't say it is fully accessible or fully inaccessible. Like with many things, we can all do our bit. Start somewhere. Don't do nothing, just because you don't know everything.

What can I do?

1. Whenever you post an image of any kind online, always give it a text description. Usually there is a specific place to add this, called 'Alt text' but if it's on social media, you could just add it into your post. The only time you probably don't need to do this, is if you are sure that only a known number of people will access it, and they can all see. For me, I know that all my Facebook friends can see, so I don't tend to do it. However, on Twitter, I have followers who are blind. It wouldn't be very friendly to post stuff that they can't enjoy, would it?

2. Ah, that's for another post!

Challenge

Post a photo and write a text description of it, that a blind person could use to imagine your image. I wonder how many people will do this!

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Accessibility is not a binary state

Believe it or not, this has come has a bit of a revelation to me!

What is accessibility?

Of course there are certain things that we associate as being accessible or not. For example, step-free entrances are accessible, whereas a flight of steps isn't. Poor contrast on a website isn't whereas good contrast is. 

We have guidelines, which tell us what various places/services need in order to be classed as accessible, and that is helpful... to a point.

So what's the problem?

The problem is, everyone is different. I have three people in mind. We are all wheelchair users. I also have a ramp in mind. One of my friends would definitely NOT be able to get up it. I would (with some difficulty). The other chap would get up it, no problem. 

There are so many disabilities and they all have different access needs. A blind person (I presume) quite likes all those little pavement bumps that let you know there is a road, crossing, steps, etc. As a wheelie with a spinal cord injury, they really cause me a lot of pain. So we have to compromise all the time.

You think you've got access as good as possible but then find there is a new problem. Things change. People change. Equipment changes. So accessibility is a bit of a moving feast.

Is there a solution?

Yes. I don't expect everyone, everywhere to get it right all the time. What I do expect, is for people to listen and acknowledge the issues. If a solution is immediately possible, then do it. If not, let me know what you will do in the short and long term. 

I've just discovered a new issue with some eLearning. It's an issue that will be in every package I've produced. I'm aware of it now but I can't fix them all immediately. I can thank the person who let me know about it, ask if they have had any other issues, listen and try to understand... and put a plan in place to get it put right. 

I wouldn't dream of laughing it off and saying, "Oh yeah, that's silly, isn't it?" and then doing nothing (with a gormless expression on my face). Yet some do. Fortunately most don't. Most want to get it sorted.

Sunday, 5 January 2020

There's a reason for most things

What is he/she doing?

I often get that look - the look that says, "What is she doing?" It's usually when I'm wheeling along and make what appears to be a strange movement or even a determination to stick to my chosen path. I got that look yesterday, whilst wheeling along the promenade next to the beach.

There was a lot of thick sand on most of the path, but a narrow section that was sand free. I charted my course so that I was on concrete rather than sand as much as possible. 

Sometimes it's the camber. Camber is the way the pavement slopes to one side or the other. Sometimes it does both, creating a small section down the middle that is like the top of the mountain. Camber is effectively a sideways hill. Gravity means that I will automatically descend a hill, unless I work hard to fight against gravity. So I usually plot my path to avoid unnecessary effort.

Broken glass and dog-poo are often obstacles in my path. They aren't pleasant for anyone, but for me and for Liggy, glass is a danger and poo could end up on my gloves, wrists, clothes and then, anywhere I touch. Not nice. So I'm constantly scanning the path to avoid them.

Look for the reason

So you're walking along and a wheelchair user does something unexpected... swerves suddenly or takes a certain part of the path. Rather than silently cursing them and assuming they are stupid, look for the reason. There will almost certainly be a reason. Ask yourself what is on the path that they might be trying to avoid? What might cause them difficulty? How can you help them to navigate the path without difficulty?

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Making the world a better place

When I started this blog, my focus was mainly on wheelchairs, how to choose and use a wheelchair, improving the image of the humble wheelchair and other mobility aids. I've also looked at travel, holidays, days out and general examples of good and poor access.

We have just entered a new year... in fact, a new decade. It is 2020. I feel the need to be positive right now. It is too easy to find what is wrong with the world, to criticise and complain. Seeing the good and promoting the right behaviours is more difficult. It has to be a conscious choice. So that's what I'm going to try and do in my next few posts. I don't know whether that will last a day... a week... a month... a year... or even a decade. It matters not! I'm just going to either highlight specific examples of how people have got it right, or offer positive advice on what makes for a better world.

Beginning a new job


My Facebook memories inform me that exactly a year ago, I visited my new workplace for the morning. The aim was to assess the offices and decide what reasonable adjustments were needed. It's the 4th January. I was due to start work on 28th January. They planned ahead. They were proactive. They didn't wait to find out what might go wrong. They took action to ensure that as much as possible would go right. They ordered the right chair, checked doors, toilets, bins, etc. When I started on 28th January, everything was already in place.

Positive action

Plan ahead. Don't wait until an adjustment needs to be made. It could be too late by then. Look at what changes could be made right now. Do it now.