Project ‘Get out of the house 2017’ #wheelygood

You know those grey February days when you think it should be spring but it just isn’t quite yet? When the deliciousness of summer beach picnics and lounging about in the park has faded just a bit too far round the memory corner and your feet have forgotten what it means to be flip-flop ready?

So, for me, that’s today in a nutshell. Sat under a blanket for the third day running in the inhospitable company of a vile and flu-like thing, I’m going more than a little four-wall-crazy. And when daytime TV becomes intolerable the internet is my friend between naps, nose blows and making irritating requests for water and ‘something spicy and scratchy’ to eat.

So I’m planning some family days out.

This year we promised ourselves we would do better at getting out and about to explore the beautiful part of the country we live in. Nestled in south east Cornwall, we have all of not just Cornwall but also Devon right here on our doorsteps but we have fallen into routines and habits that mean we often visit the same places. Partly because we like them but also because for us they are ‘safe’ options.

We know that the Eden Project has a Changing Places loo with a bench and a hoist so we can change Orange and that the whole place is a wheelchair accessible, sensory paradise where we can always get something delicious, allergy free and mashable for Orange to eat. It’s an easy, enjoyable and inspiring day out for all of us.

And the wine is good. So it’s always a win.

Out late and totally winning at life at the Eden Project

We know that we can get an all-terrain wheelchair onto any of the beaches in St Ives, and that the food options there are top notch but that the disabled parking only lasts three hours and the alternative, the train in and out from Lelant, isn’t wheelchair accessible.

We know we can easily get a wheelchair round the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth then go across the (flat) square and eat lobster at Rick Stein, or visit the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth and dine like kings at Rockfish afterwards but, while all of these venues have plenty of room to install one, there is no Changing Places loo at, or even near, any of them.

It’s a car boot job or filthy floor of the ‘disabled loo’ (is that mud or poo, water or wee I’m kneeling in today?) to change the boy, risking basic hygiene, spines and dignity as we go.

We know that any beach with a slipway is our friend for a sunny day out with a picnic, and some beautiful wheelchair friendly walks can be found on the moors to either side of us but the same changing challenges abound.

Wet through, attempting a change on the back seat of the car in a public car park

Sometimes, the sheer planning of a day out with Orange means we don’t do it at all. Because family life can be pretty exhausting as it is, and honestly it’s often too much of a bore to try to figure out if a new place we have never been before, a new walk, attraction or picnic spot might be accessible enough for us.

Strangely, access statements don’t seem to contain the information you need if you are going out and about with a disabled child who is 100% reliant on a wheelchair.

We’ve had some pretty dire experiences on days out where the accessibility has not just been an afterthought but where there has been no thought at all.

It was on a ‘challenging’ family day out to Cotehele, a local National Trust property, just before Christmas when I figured that since over half a million tourists visit the south west every summer and 2% of those are likely to be wheelchair users, that’s over 10,000 people a year who  are being poorly catered for.

10,000 people a year. Most of whom are probably here on holiday with their families, because wheelchair users don’t travel alone any more frequently than ambulant folk do.

So that’s actually 30,000-40,000 people a year visiting Devon or Cornwall who need better disability provision, and clear information about that provision, so they can enjoy a family day out.

Even with the distinct advantage of living in the region and knowing where to look, planning a family day out and being confident we will have everything Orange needs is a military exercise.

Just last week, I was planning a walk on Dartmoor and had to visit six or seven different websites just to find an accessible walk, nearby accessible parking, whether there was a Changing Places loo (there wasn’t), and whether there was an accessible child-friendly pub/restaurant/cafe anywhere within wheelchair striking distance that would serve something Orange could eat and that we would all enjoy. That wasn’t booked three weeks in advance.

I’m ashamed to say, I gave up. We stayed at home.

We can’t keep doing that, though. Because venues and owners of public facilities simply won’t be persuaded to install accessible facilities if they don’t see the need. And they won’t see the need if we all stay at home.

I know the National Trust staff had never even thought about the negative impact of keeping their accessible entrance and exit at Cotehele under padlock and key (that you had to go into an inaccessible building and join a queue to request to be unlocked) before we pointed out to them how exclusionary that was.

Guess where reception is? Up some steps, ta da!

I filmed it and everything, because I had total National Trust hives by then and really needed to leave… 

Trying to leave Cotehele in a wheelchair

But fresh in anger we made a promise to ourselves. That we would go out and about with Orange in his wheelchair in a much more intrepid way than we have. Because we need to get out and about for our health and wellbeing. It’s a fundamental need, as well as a nice thing to do.

I also made a promise that I would use this blog to start to build a useful resource for people who might be planning a holiday or a visit to Devon or Cornwall and who are finding it hard, like we do, to find places to go on wheels. With information that’s more user friendly than a tick box access statement. A little mini guide to getting out and about as a family with a wheelchair user in the south west.

It will start small but, since we’re never, ever moving house again (not just because we love it here but also because disabled adaptations will see to it that we can’t, but that’s another tale), I figured that over the years it might build into something really handy for people.

Having sunk to a new flu-based low of watching Parliament Live for two days now, this morning I stumbled across the #disabilityinquiry in which Changing Places loos were a hot topic.

It reminded me of our promise to get out and about with Orange, to go to new places and to start to build a place online where families can find genuinely useful accessibility info about our beautiful part of the country.

So I suppose this is the distinctly low key launch of what I am going to call #wheelygood. Or not. Watch this space for our first trip out, once this flu-vile thing-bug interloper buggers off.

Orange This Way will be taking part in Disabled Access Day, 10th-12th March 2017

 

A very public (in)convenience

This post first appeared as a guest post on the Cardew Physio & Performance blog as part of a series of blog posts promoting awareness of continence issues during National Continence Week.

I don’t know about you, but one of the reasons I’m not at Glastonbury this weekend with all the other mud-coated revellers is because I can’t quite get my head around the festival loo situation. Queuing up in the rain to use a long drop with no toilet paper is enough to put me right off going to Glastonbury, even with the most star-studded of line ups or luxury boutique camping on offer.

But can you imagine if there were no toilets at Glastonbury at all? Or if there were toilets that were only accessible to people over the height of 6ft 5? Or that would collapse if anyone over 10 stone entered the cubicle? There would be uproar among the hundreds of thousands of Glasto fans.

Or, quite simply, people wouldn’t go.

We have become used to toilet facilities being available to us pretty much wherever we go in the UK. Public toilets began being introduced in London in 1851 and since then have become a familiar feature of cities, towns, villages, attractions, public buildings and restaurants across the country.

It would be unthinkable to go for a day out in a public place or to a major event and there not be a toilet available, right? Wouldn’t it?

Unfortunately for some of the most vulnerable people in our society this is not the case. Until the advent of the Changing Places campaign in 2006 there were no toilets available in the whole of the UK for the ¼ million people who cannot use standard or typical accessible/disabled toilets.

According to Changing Places, this includes people with profound and multiple learning disabilities, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, severe physical disabilities as well as some older people. A quarter of a million people.

This quarter of a million includes my son, Lawrence, who is five years old and wears a pad because his disabilities mean he does not have adequate control over his own toileting, or the ability to transfer to a toilet, even a ‘disabled’ one. He needs to be changed by a carer, regularly, throughout the day.

When he was tiny, we used the baby changing facilities like every other parent. Luckily, these have been installed in most public places and restaurants across the country because managers have recognised that families with young children are an important and valuable part of their customer base who have money to spend.

Unfortunately the same is not yet true for severely disabled people. A quarter of a million people. And their families.

In the vast majority of public places in the UK, the place where severely disabled people get changed by their carer is the toilet floor of the disabled loo. The filthy, often urine-soaked and dirty, toilet floor. A place that most people would only want the soles of their shoes to touch.

This is the now the reality we face with our little boy. The same reality faced by vulnerable, severely disabled people and their carers across the country. It is not safe. It is not dignified. It is not kind. It is often the reason why severely disabled people and their families are limited to local short trips out only, or why they very rarely leave the house at all. For many carers, lifting a disabled teenager or adult from a wheelchair onto the floor of a toilet and back again would quite simply be impossible, never mind the filth.

What people like our little boy need is a toilet that can be used in safety and comfort for both him and for us as his carers, which has more space than a conventional disabled loo and the right equipment – including an adult sized height adjustable changing bench and a hoist.

Changing Places have made great progress on campaigning for suitable toilet facilities for severely disabled people over the last 10 years, but there are still less than 1,000 across the whole of the UK. In Cornwall, where we live, there are only 10 Changing Places toilets in the whole of the county.

I am delighted to say that this will soon become 11, as a result of a local parent the new (and fabulous) Cornwall Services on the A30 has understood the need for these facilities and is fitting one as I type.

I am, though, sorely disappointed to see that in all the £17.6 million revamp of the Hall for Cornwall, there are currently no plans to install a Changing Places toilet, despite vocal campaigning from parent carer and disability groups.

John Lewis (a favourite retailer of mine until last week) responded to Changing Places a few days ago to say that they ‘didn’t have space’ to fit a Changing Places toilet in one of their flagship stores that has over 70,000 square footage of retail space. Imagine if they said they ‘didn’t have space’ to fit regular toilets, or if they said they didn’t have space for a café, or a shoe department? Unthinkable.

Already, even with Lawrence being quite small, we are finding ourselves planning family days out and long journeys around where there is a Changing Places toilet. We love the Eden Project, because they have a fabulous Changing Places loo, as do the Life Centre and Drakes Circus shopping centre in Plymouth. But beyond that, it’s pretty sparse. What will we do when we can no longer lift him ourselves and when we get sick of carrying around a mat soaked in urine from the toilet floor?

We will be isolated.

You see, it’s not just the person with disabilities who suffers when there is no toilet they can use. The lack of Changing Places facilities isolates entire families too. Families who have money to spend at your restaurant, shop, theme park, hotel or festival, just like everybody else.

So please, if you are a restaurant owner, a hotel, shopping centre or theme park manager, or a local authority public convenience planning officer (do they even exist?) then please, please fit a Changing Places toilet. Not only will you see the investment repay itself with new loyal customers but you will be changing lives.

Oh, and by the way? If you’re heading to Glastonbury this weekend and one of your party is severely disabled, you’ll be thrilled to hear that the festival has a Changing Places toilet in the Spring Ground Accessible Campsite. For everyone else, if you’re not keen on the long drops, you might want to check out the compost loos… Good luck 😉

What’s your why? #whyirunldn (Well, not me…)

Watching the London Marathon on the television as a child, I always used to think it was totally amazing that a human being could run 26.2 miles. It seemed like such a super-human feat when I was six. And thirty years on it still does. Which is precisely why it’s Mr K rather than me heading out there tomorrow morning with a six figure number strapped to his chest, an electronic tag on his shoe and vaseline in interesting places.

I often used to wonder why people did it? Why volunteer to put yourself through that? Blisters, chafing, awkward toilet trips, hmm, no thanks. But as I got older I started to understand why people challenge themselves to their limits and sacrifice their own comfort for the good of others.

And then we had Orange.

And then I was grateful to all those tens of thousands of runners who determinedly put one foot in front of the other for mile after mile after mile. And I began to realise that events like the London Marathon are so awe inspiring not just because of the superhuman physical and mental challenge, but because it brings people together.

It is people at our best. Regular, common or garden folk challenging themselves to do something super human, very often for other people who need help.

Every one has their own reason for wanting to run the London Marathon. Because it’s on their bucket list, because they entered the ballot for a laugh and got a shock when the pack dropped on the doorstep announcing ‘You’re IN!’, because they are an athlete, because they want to prove to themselves or others that they can, in memory of a loved one, or because they are raising money for a charity close to their hearts.

The reasons for running are many and varied but for us, for Mr K, it’s because having Orange has opened our eyes. Before we had Orange in our lives there was a whole world we didn’t understand, because we thought it didn’t apply to us. But it does. It applies to anyone and everyone in humanity.

Anyone and everyone could, one day, have a disability. Or a child with a disability. Or a parent who becomes disabled in later life. Anyone and everyone could, one day, become a carer. And while life is easier today for people with disabilities in the UK than it was even five or ten years ago (big up to the DLR for the wheelchair lifts and the Excel Centre for the Changing Places toilet by the way), it can still be a very hard place to be.

In our family, we don’t seem to like to do things the straightforward way either, so of course it should be no surprise to us or anyone else that in having a child with severe and complex disabilities, we also happen to have one who has no diagnosis for his condition. We have absolutely no idea why Orange has the disabilities he has and just about every medical test he has ever had (there have been many) has come back to say he is ‘normal’, whatever that means.

On 29th April 2016 it is Undiagnosed Children’s Day, led by SWAN UK, the small but growing charity that supports families like ours who have an undiagnosed child. It is no exaggeration to say that without SWAN UK we would not be able to cope with all the uncertainties and difficulties that come our way because of having a disabled child who has no diagnosis. With no diagnosis there is no prognosis, no known future, no pathways of care in the NHS to follow and no known programmes of therapy that can help. Everything is an unknown.

But we are not alone. There are thousands of families facing the same challenges. The daily challenges of disability but also the additional load of uncertainty that comes with having no diagnosis (disclaimer: people with some diagnosed but rare conditions face this uncertainty too).

And so, that’s our ‘why’.

Why wall

Today, Mr K took Orange over to the Excel Centre to get registered for the Marathon. While they were there they took a little video about their experiences and Mr K’s reasons for running London. Have a watch. And perhaps have a think about how you can help.

What’s your why?

Everybody can help to normalise disability, because it’s something that any of us can encounter in our lives, and probably will, in some capacity. It’s a small thing perhaps but a smile, instead of a stare, could change the face of someone’s day.

And the bigger thing is that all too often it all comes down to money. Disability is expensive. Support for people with disabilities is expensive. Support for their families and carers is expensive. So we would like to extend a massive and heartfelt thank you to everyone who has sponsored Mr K so far to run the London Marathon to raise money for SWAN UK.

Thank you.

For now, we are all tucked up in bed in our hotel overlooking the river. Significantly more comfortable than last time I sat up in bed looking out at this view while incarcerated in St Thomas’s postnatal ward, and more recently, in actual labour, with said Orange.

Vaseline is on hand, tagged running shoes are by the door, and a last minute dash for nipple band-aids has been made.

So night night from us, and go, go Mr K! See you at the finish line with a cold pint of London Pride.

To sponsor Mr K in the London Marathon 2016 click here!

So, who wants a holiday then?

If you’re in the UK and you’ve looked out the window pretty much any time at all since 2016 began (or what feels like since the dawn of time) you’ll have noticed that it has been grey, rainy and distinctly dismal. And there’s nothing like a bit of dreary British weather to spark off a little holiday browsing.

It’s been over seven years since we went on a holiday abroad together. It’s something we have never done since Orange arrived, partly through fear of what may happen while we are abroad, partly because other financial priorities have prevailed and partly because it’s been so long we’ve got a little decision phobic – if we’re going to fork out for a holiday abroad after so long, it had better be a damn good one, but where to start?

When I was growing up, we didn’t go on what I would call normal holidays. Most families we knew would choose a week in France, perhaps Spain, maybe the States or the Caribbean or a winter ski trip. Whereas our family holidays were distinctly more rustic and, er, character building. Usually involving tents and fields, often in force ten gales. Or if we were lucky, a really ancient house with mice that ran around in frying pans in the night or lobsters that arrived on the front doorstep in a bucket, still alive, ready for us to literally boil them to death and hack them to pieces with a hammer.

Often there were lots of very long walks. Not because they were supposed to be long, but because someone thought it was a good idea to go off-route and promptly got us lost. Pretty much always in the rain or a thick blanket of fog. And nowhere near a pub.

These holidays obviously struck a chord somewhere because now we live right on the shoreline in Cornwall so we can experience these interestingly windswept meteoroligical conditions and wildlife encounters any month of the year.

2015-03-23 10.46.46 HDR

One of the lovely things about living in Cornwall though, is that when the sun does come out, we are right here to enjoy it. We have been very lucky and had some cracking summers since we moved here and I guess this has allowed us to fall into a certain malaise about actually booking a holiday.

2015-04-06 12.25.13

Image for PR With a View

We’ve been able to avoid the difficult questions brought about by Orange’s needs such as special assistance at airports and whether the accessible rooms in the hotel are up to scratch.

The thing is, though, we want our children to experience the world just like their peers do. But browsing for holidays knowing you need to factor in an Orange is not straightforward. My hopes were high two weeks ago when I found a beautiful resort in Greece. Ikos Resorts – everything I would want from a holiday. A little luxury, eco-credentials, great food and enough activities to swerve couch-potato-dom. We really liked the look of their bungalow suites with private pool. Spacious, perfect for all of Orange’s kit. Private pool, spot on for two little water babies and two exhausted grown ups. Stylish too. Excited, I got in touch.

“Sorry, our bungalows are not accessible” was the reply. “You might be interested in our disabled bedrooms in the main building. But they aren’t for families.” Oh.

And this has pretty much been the story of my holiday search so far. Even the legendary Scott Dunn didn’t have anything that would suit. Almost unanimously, what ‘accessible room’ means is a room for an elderly couple. Not a family with a complex little dude and a riotous seven year old.

Slightly crestfallen, I started looking at tour operators who specialise in holidays for people with disabilities. But their ranges were limited in a whole different kind of way. Call me spoilt, but I don’t want to spend my summer holiday in a static caravan in Wales or in a Costa del Complex that looks like something out of Holiday Nightmares.

We haven’t yet found the perfect holiday for us, but the whole experience of searching has got me thinking about what would make the perfect holiday for us:

  • Guaranteed sunshine and just enough warmth to make swimwear the outfit of the day. Not too much though as Orange won’t cope.
  • Luxurious accommodation of the white fluffy towel variety. Infinity pools with a pool hoist. Space. Peace. Quiet. A few well behaved children from naice families for Bea to play with.
  • A gentle, flat stroll in to a pretty marina, with waterfront restaurants that will welcome the children, accommodate a wheelchair and spoil us with gastronomic delights. And wine. Lots.
  • A nanny on hand who has experience of complicated little dudes, is confident using a hoist, feeding small people who can’t chew and administering medication (I know, I know).
  • Flights and airport transfers that can accommodate a tiny wheelchair user with ease and confidence. With dignity for Orange, and peace of mind for us. And a huge luggage allowance.
  • Simple arrangements to send equipment and supplies ahead of time – special milk, medication, nappies, specialist car seat, a beach buggy and a specialist bed. Probably a mobile hoist too.
  • Four hours or less flight from the UK, with sensible flight times that don’t involve hauling ourselves out of bed at sparrowfart.

All of this, but for less than a gazillion pounds, please.

Mark Warner are looking for ambassador families to be part of #MarkWarnerMum and #MarkWarnerDad. I guess this post is a little bit of an inclusivity challenge for Mark Warner, as we have found that most luxury travel companies (and non-luxury travel companies too), don’t really acknowledge that there are families with more complicated requirements than the average who want to go on lovely holidays too.

It would mean the world to us to be able to travel on a lovely holiday as a family. To do normal things, in our slightly abnormal circumstances, but also to make memories too. We don’t know how long we’ve got Orange with us, being brutally honest. And while it’s hard to think that way, we must remember that life is often short, sometimes shorter than you might anticipate. And if we want to do things like travel as a family, we must find a way to do them now.

****This is my entry to become a #MarkWarnerMum for 2016. Wish us luck****

What would be your ideal holiday?

The accessibility challenge

This morning I was trying to trace our AWOL Olympic tickets. In less than two weeks we are supposed to be travelling into town for a once in a lifetime experience to be a part of London 2012 and watch the world’s best weightlifters and equestrians do their thing. But while I sat on hold to the Olympic ticket line, I realised that even if our tickets ever reach us, they are probably redundant, on the basis that I have no idea how we will get there, or get in to any of the venues, with Orange in tow.

The Get Ahead of the Games travel advice website gave us this little nightmare to negotiate, involving a train, a walk, a bus, a walk, a tube, a walk, a DLR ride and another walk. This will be next to impossible with a 3 year old and a 1 year old, let alone one who is too heavy to carry and can’t even sit up, let alone walk.

And should we manage that little assault course, we then have a seating conundrum when we arrive at the venue. Buggies are not allowed and must be left at the door which, regardless of the fact that leaving something that cost over £500 for anyone to help themselves to makes me feel deeply uneasy, it creates somewhat of a problem for us with Orange. He cannot sit up. He has to be supported at all times. He can sit on a lap for a little while, but soon becomes uncomfortable and needs the space and comfort of his buggy seat. It is a real challenge to carry or hold him for any length of time because his whole body is so floppy. In the crudest terms, it’s like transporting a wriggling, writhing, sand bag.

If he had a Blue Badge we could apply for a disabled parking space so we could drive there, get help on the train, or some kind of assistance with special seating at the venue. But he won’t be eligible for one of those until he turns three at the very earliest, that’s 20 months away.

So we are stuck in yet another no man’s land – between ‘normal baby’ and ‘disabled child’, that is getting ever harder as he gets bigger and heavier. It seems there is no help for those who have toddlers with accessibility requirements and the burden of responsibility lies firmly and literally on the parents’ backs. There is a lot of lifting and carrying involved when you have a child who isn’t mobile. Orange is still so young, he doesn’t have ‘disabled rights’ (however limited they might be), but getting about, and into places is getting harder and harder.

Simple things like going to the supermarket. Yes they have trolleys with child seats, yes they have trolleys with wheelchair clamps. But Orange can’t use either. He is too floppy to sit in the child seat, and too small to be in a wheelchair. So basically I can’t go. I am reliant on food delivery, or being able to walk to a shop with Orange in the buggy.

I’m assuming I’m not the only one facing this particular little challenge with a disabled child under three. And yet there is very little acknowledgement that this is an issue, or any help available to struggling parents. Perhaps I’m just missing a trick, and there’s a way round this problem, but it seems right now very much like, once again, we don’t fit the ‘tick boxes’ and so are left to fight our own corner.