The Virtual Cure.

Like most introverted geeks I’m a big fan of video games, and spend so much time playing them that I’m considering replacing my wheelchair control panel with a game controller. While I’m fond of some role-playing games my favourites tend to focus on either driving skills or combat, perhaps because I’m a weird kind of adrenaline junky who doesn’t like rollercoasters but still wants thrills.

There was a time when I wasn’t as comfortable playing video games as I am now, partly because of the stigma against female gamers that was prominent until relatively recently. It is only in the past year or so that I have come to describe myself as an avid, if casual, gamer. However in that time I have developed a deep love of video games that I refuse to be ashamed of, either for being a woman or being disabled. Nor do I take my gaming habits too seriously; they are what I do when I want a break and maybe a little stress relief, and are particularly fun when paired with a glass of wine (as is the case with a great many things).

A good video game is as immersive as an Agatha Christie novel and triggers genuine emotions as the story unfolds. Admittedly the emotions from Doom tend to be more of the “DIE YOU —— ——-“ type, but Horizon: Zero Dawn is a little more nuanced in between beating up giant robots with a spear. A game that can invest you in the setting, characters, and stories so beautifully feels real as you play. It doesn’t feel like I’m pressing buttons to move a digital image; it feels like I’m there reacting to the situation as it all happens. This is undeniably exhilarating for anyone, but for me it means I can experience the thrills of vigorous activity while only getting a cramp in my thumb. If a game is good enough it feels as if I can run and jump and do crazy somersaults that I couldn’t even manage pre-disability, let alone now. Besides, everyone deserves a little fun now and then.

At this point I probably sound like some over-invested nerd and perhaps to some extent I am, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that for a few all-too-short hours I am virtually cured. If for the rest of my life this is my only taste of having a fully-functional and not-painful body then I can live with that. I’m not about to start a gaming channel on YouTube, partly because I would only embarrass myself with my rather comical ability to fall off a cliff at the worst possible time, every single time.

Everybody has their favourite recreational pass-time and I am no different, disabled or otherwise. Sometimes we have a tendency to overlook the importance of recreation and how it can benefit us in unexpected ways. Now if you’ll excuse me, the PlayStation calls…

Time for a Change.

Accessible public toilets are the bane of my existence and the same sentiment is felt among others with disabilities too. Considering that it is a basic human right to have access to a toilet, the difficulty many disabled people have in accessing a disabled toilet is abysmal.

In some places the disabled toilet, if they even have one, is little more than an enlarged cubicle with unsteady grab rails and a broken emergency cord. Sometimes these cubicles are nothing short of filthy, and sometimes they’re being used as storage cupboards. Sometimes they double up as baby-changing facilities creating a problem for both parents and the disabled, and on more than one occasion I have left a cubicle to be berated by an angry parent with a screaming baby for daring to use the toilet. Often enough the baby-changing facilities are not packed away properly after they have been used making it nigh-on impossible for a wheelchair user to enter the stall, and quite often soiled nappies will simply be left on the side instead of disposed of.

In most places there is also usually just one disabled toilet and should someone decide to use the disabled cubicle because it is nearer, or because they want to take a dump in peace (I’m serious, that happens a lot), that delays the person with a genuine disability from accessing the facilities they need. Sometimes people have invisible disabilities meaning that they can’t walk as far as the other toilets or they may have medical waste bags hidden beneath their clothes, so tackling people about misusing these facilities becomes a mine-field.

To combat the situation pro-actively, some establishments have taken to locking the disabled toilet and only giving the key to those who ask for it. However, as I’m sure you can imagine, trying to attract the attention of a member of staff in a busy venue is difficult and rather embarrassing. In the UK there is a scheme with a special key to unlock disabled toilets, providing they have the specific lock available. As I understand it having this lock fitted can be very expensive, so only the big businesses tend to have them.

However, if I have a tough time accessing a toilet in public, then for those who need full changing facilities it must be virtually impossible. I can count on one hand the number of places I know that have full changing facilities, and all of them are large shopping centres stocking exactly the same stock as every shopping centre in the country. The competition for a normal disabled toilet is definitely a problem, making full changing facilities little more than a myth. This forces many people to change on the floor of the stall, which as aforementioned can be cramped and dirty, making it down-right dangerous.

I admit that I can understand the concerns some venues express when talking about full changing facilities; not only do they take up a large space and need high maintenance, but they are very expensive, time-consuming, and disruptive to fit in the first place. They are also still subject to all of the issues disabled people who don’t need full changing facilities face. However, when you consider that access to a toilet is a human right, these arguments fade into futility. Western civilisation has worked so hard to provide the lesser developed countries with essential resources like proper sanitation and yet a whole portion of the population right here face a situation equally as grim.

If you don’t need to use a disabled toilet, unless perhaps all the other toilets nearby are in use, then don’t use it. If you need to use the cubicle to change a baby’s nappy, be considerate of other users including other parents. If you have an invisible disability, don’t be afraid or ashamed to stick up for yourself if you have to. And if, like me, you don’t need access to full changing facilities, try to use a disabled toilet without them if there is one available.

Diary of a Disabled Person Needs YOU.

It’s that time of year again; the run-up to Christmas and New Year is picking up the pace. As such, it’s time for me to plan and write Christmas and New Year Specials, and while I’ve already got a plan for the New Year Special, I’m struggling to differentiate this year’s Christmas edition from last years. That is where YOU come in.

I want to know what Christmas-themed topics you want to read about. All suggestions are welcome provided they relate to the festive season and in some way relate to disability. Short story ideas are equally welcome. It doesn’t matter how vague or tenuous the suggestion is; all ideas will be considered! If your idea serves as the inspiration for the Christmas post, I will give you a shout-out both on here and on social media if you would like that.

Let me know what you think in the comments section, or alternatively you can send me an email via the contact tab on the main menu.  Monetary bribes are 100% accepted on the donate tab, also on the main menu.

I’m genuinely interested to see what you all come up with!

Accessible Ethics.

It takes a special kind of idiocy to deny that being accessible is right, but WHY is it right? I could never explain this eloquently so I’ve roped in a little assistance from my fiance, who just so happens to have a philosophy degree.
PS: These should be useful for shutting people up who hinder accessibility and then defend their actions.

Accessible Ethics.jpg

Andre the Advocate.

André René Roussimoff was more commonly known as André the Giant for a reason; standing at around 7 feet tall and weighing over 500 lbs as a result of his gigantism, he truly was gigantic. He is perhaps most famous for his role in the film The Princess Bride but was also a highly successful wrestler for the company we now call WWE. Due to his fame and successful career it is often forgotten altogether that gigantism is actually a disability.

The most obvious disadvantage of gigantism is the fact that the world is suited to smaller humans. Doorways, ceilings, beds, mirrors, and showerheads will all have posed problems due to his height, and utensils such as cutlery, glasses, and various buttons on pieces of technology will have been too small and delicate for his over-sized hands. Finding clothes that fitted must have been virtually impossible short of having everything tailor-made. For André, these were just the general inconveniences of everyday life.

André didn’t just have to contend with a world built for people smaller than him; his gigantism resulted from the excessive production of a growth hormone during childhood and later resulted in the development of acromegaly, continued growth despite the closure of his growth plates, which contributed towards his death from congestive heart failure. As you can imagine this excessive growth left him in almost constant pain and even required surgery to mend worn-down joints, and he took to heavy alcohol consumption to alleviate the symptoms.

While many people would undoubtedly have stayed behind closed doors in such a situation, hiding from the prying eyes and incessant curiosity of everybody else, André turned his gigantism to his advantage. He used his size to become one of the most beloved wrestlers in history, infamous for his ability to flatten his opponents in the ring, and also to land the roles of gigantic men in films. He managed to get paid for people gawping at him, something which they would have done regardless.

Not for one minute do I think André set out to become an advocate for disabled rights. Indeed, he is remembered primarily for his acting and wrestling careers, as he should be. However it is impossible to deny that in entering civilisation and paving his way to success, he proved that disability is not something to be frightened or ashamed of. He proved that people with disabilities are human beings with human rights. It’s quite possible that he inadvertently triggered some enormous changes concerning the perception of disability, particularly in the workplace. So while I think of him as a wrestler and actor, I also think of him as André the Advocate.

Andre

More Than Ramps or Lifts.

Living in the heart of a city means that everything I could desire is practically on my door step, or perhaps more appropriately, my door ramp. Therefore it should hardly be surprising that I like to take advantage of this fact and spend a great deal of my time in the various bars, pubs, cafes, restaurants, shops, and cinemas in the local area, and as such I have encountered every standard of accessibility from “I don’t think my insurance will cover that” to “world domination is nigh”. It is from these experiences that I have learned a peculiar fact, one that by most accounts would seem counter-intuitive; accessibility is about more than having ramps and lifts.

I have discovered that it is not enough for a building to have ramps, lifts, and disabled toilets; they have to be usable too. I have been in many fully accessible buildings to find ramps and corridors needlessly obstructed, lifts shut down, accessible doors locked while the inaccessible main entrance remains open, or even disabled toilets being used as storage cupboards. Sometimes facilities have to be blocked off if they are unsafe but the fact that routes are blocked is rarely communicated to the buildings users, and I have spent a great deal of my time backtracking down corridors when a simple sign at the entrance would have sufficed.

The people in charge of these buildings pride themselves on their accessible facilities, as they should, but in their pride they fail to implement them. Many a manager has failed to see why I am so adamant that blocking something accessible renders it inaccessible, or why having to wait outside in the Yorkshire rain getting soaked to the skin while my able-bodied counterpart goes inside to get someone’s attention is an issue (God forbid I ever go out with other disabled people, or worse, on my own); the general attitude is that I am making a fuss about nothing and this often means that the same mistake is made over and over again. I believe that in this attitude lies the problem.

When I attended one of my beloved wrestling shows at a new venue, an older building in an industrial complex, it was undergoing building work at the time. There was a central courtyard and on the right was a building containing the bar and the toilets which had two steps up to the door. The manager of this building spoke to me, informing me of his plans to have a concrete ramp put in along with all the other work that was going on, and also to ensure that the disabled toilet had running water supplied to it as soon as he could. On the left was the room containing the wrestling ring and the door was too narrow to pass through without leaving behind some nasty scratches on the wall, and also had a very small step down which my wheelchair may or may not have been able to manage, mostly depending on the level of sobriety of the driver. Thinking quickly the manager opened the double doors around the corner which was serving as the wrestler’s entrance, and guided us down a wide, level corridor into the room. On the way out he made sure that the passage was clear for me and my fellow compatriots to exit the event safely.

This building did not have the same resources available to render it accessible, it being an old, re-purposed building with a cheap rent, exacerbated by the building works. Despite this, the buildings’ staff went out of their way to make sure that I could get in to see the show with no major compromises, and also to reassure me that the standard of accessibility would increase. While they lacked the resources, their attitude meant that the problems were resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

It struck me as I was going home after the wrestling show that accessibility is far more than just having the right car parking spaces, toilets, changing rooms, hoists, ramps, lifts, hearing loops, and other facilities. Accessibility is using those facilities appropriately, not misusing them, and making sure that they are available to those that need them when they are needed. Accessibility is also in the welcoming attitude of the staff who don’t make me feel like an inconvenience on wheels. Accessibility is just a visual representation of equality.