Saturday, 28 December 2013

Christmas Walks #2

On Boxing Day I went on another walk with 2 sisters, 1 brother and 3 of his kids. And learnt a bit more:
Down-hill slopes never loose their awesomeness.

 Benches are fabulous for POTS management. And I make a good cushion.

Temporarily vacated wheels will be hijacked.

And argued over.

But returned when asked - so small ones get to push me.

Life is never dull.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Christmas Walks

We have a tradition of going for family walks around Christmas time.

This year was no different in that respect. A walk with Mum and siblings on Christmas afternoon. But I did learn a few things:

Teenage sisters will fight over who gets to push me.
 Being pushed changes my centre of balance. This is very important when speeding on a brick paved pathway.

I can do a good superman impression.

So can my sister.
(we escaped with minor grazes and major giggles)

My family is awesome.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

How to respond to an access complaint

After becoming stuck in a hotel loo (see Toilet Traps) I had a quick word with reception who promised to send the message on. Later I called the hotel, and was pleased that the member of staff I spoke to was aware of the issue and knew it was being addressed by management - and gave me an email address to write to.

I sent the email. 3 times - because I hadn't heard anything back and emails can sometimes end up in spam.

Yesterday I called, and was put through to the Health and Safety team. The manager was out but the assistant was able to confirm that my email had been received and was being acted on, and the manager would call me later.

Sure enough, a few hours later the Health and Safety manager called. He'd investigated and found a solution: the internal door to the ladies would be removed forthwith. And he thanked me for raising the issue because otherwise they might never have seen it - sounding genuinely grateful.

And he asked me to raise any access issues I have in the future, because it was very helpful.

And offered me a complimentary afternoon tea once they've sorted the WC access.

It got me thinking: although an intial email response saying 'thank you for your email, we are working on your case, and hope to get back to you within ?? days' would have been nice (access complaints are so often ignored that unless I get an acknowledgement I tend to assume nothing is happening) the Imperial, Russel Square, got it about right.

And the best bit was that they didn't make any excuses: they said "It just never occurred to me, I'm so sorry." and got on with sorting it.

So, based simply on person experience, what I would say to anyone receiving an access complaint is:

If there is an obvious, immediate solution, like moving a bin from the middle of the access ramp, it should be sorted immediately with a simple 'sorry, I'll make sure it doesn't happen again.' (No excuse, and no fawning necessary. The customer wants to get on with their day, not waste energy arguing.)

And if a person with a disability raises an access issue which is going to take more work to solve:
1. Listen. If appropriate, ask if you can try and describe the problem back to them to make sure you have understood properly. (It is your comprehension being checked, not their ability to communicate.)
2. Apologise. Explain that you will investigate and get back to them with a plan of action. Try to avoid writing off any solutions at this stage as there might be ways they could be made to work.
3. If the issue is having an immediate effect, ask whether there is anything you can do immediately so the individual can get where they want/need to while the main issue is being looked into (e.g. alternative route, using the bathroom of an accessible hotel room, lifting a wheelchair up a step, assistance from staff.)
4. Investigate, think laterally and creatively about solutions and don't be afraid to ask the customer for ideas. Real life isn't ticks in 'accessible' boxes, it's about creatively solving issues.
5. Follow up on your promises - and if finding a solution is taking longer than expected, tell the customer. Keep them in the loop.
6. Tell your customer your plans. And then solve the access issue.
7. Invite them back to experience the improved access.
8. Thank them for their input, and encourage them to raise any issues in the future.

NOTE: Avoid excuses as to why the access issue happened. It happened. It shouldn't happen again. Excuses sound like you are trying to ignore/devalue the access issue raised - even if really it comes from nervous horror at discovering an access fail.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Toilet traps

Some of you will remember my facebook update earlier this week about getting stuck in a hotel WC.

It was frustrating, unnerving, totally unexpected...and very funny.

I was shown into the bathroom by a member of staff - access was easy. There was an adapted cubicle in the ladies with ample space. All in all, pretty good.

It wasn't until I attempted to leave that I discovered a rather effective wheelie trap. It's hard to decribe in words, so I'll leave it to the stickmen.

Being stuck in a warm room when heat intolerant (i.e. one collapses) was not on my todo list, so after dislocating my wrist in escape attempts, I moved on to the moderately embarassing 'phone a friend'.

Only to discover that my phone had 'emergency calls only.'

No way was I calling 999 to say I was stuck in a loo! NO WAY. was hot...and no passing ladies seemed to need the loo....

So I called 999. "'s not technically an emergency...I'm a wheelchair user, and I'm stuck in a loo....could you call the hotel and get them to let me out? - I only have reception for emergency calls."

Fortunately half way through the call a woman walked in. Poor woman. She was met by a set of wheels streaking past at lightening speed, to the sound of "Someones here!! I can get OUT! quick! THANK YOU!! I'M FREEEEEE!"

In my desperation to get out, I may have seemed a little rude, but should the lady who let the slightly panicky wheelchair user out of the loo at the Imperial Hotel on Russell Square, London, on Mon 9th December 2013 ever read this: You are my hero. I am extremely grateful to you.

And to any architects, interior designers, and owners of accessible toilets, please ensure that in providing access, you don't forget the egress!

[Note 1: Opening 1 door with the left hand, the second door with the right hand, and then wheeling backwards with the other hand is not possible due to lack of a third arm.]

[Note 2: The hotel's Health and Safety department are working on  solving the problem. I will let you know when it's solved.]

[Note 3: Problem sorted, see How to respond to an access complaint. Good work, Imperial.]

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Taxi redemption!

I wrote the yesterdays taxi related post before my final taxi journey of the day. And guess what?

As I left one venue for the next, a taxi dropping some people off just in front of me happily picked me up having seen me in his rear view mirror. And then.....

Guess what this London Cabbie did?

He donated my taxi fare to the HMSA.

So, Mr Taxi Driver who picked up a cartoonist in a white sporty looking wheelchair from the President Hotel and took her to just near Euston Station, thank you. You will never know how much your actions meant.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Taxi woes.

I've been to London a few times in the last month.

I've been for business purposes, hypermobility awareness stuff, and HMSA and Pain UK charity work.

It's been fun, rewarding, challenging, useful.

There's just been one fly in the ointment.


The ones at taxi ranks are fine. Well....ok. I mean, there were several drivers who looked distressed-ly at my wheels saying their ramp was broken - to which I replied that I can get myself in if they'll lift the wheels. Or occasionally they've suggested I go to another waiting taxi which is more easy to access.

Hmmm. Reading it back, that's not a very cheerful definition of fine. But they'd at least stopped and given me a chance.

Because trying to hail a cab out on the street is depressing. I have seen drivers scanning the pavements for custom, 'available' light shining, only to suffer instant tunnel vision and a fixation on the road ahead the instant my arm is raised.
Or the light goes off the instant I am within sight. I've even had them slow down within feet of me only to drive off again without stopping. Possibly when they realised I was one of the party.

I accept: wheels are an inconvenient fare to pick up - it takes longer to get the ramp out and time is money. But guess what? It's inconvenient for me too. I have to have that longer process every single time I ever use a taxi. Every Single Time. And you are seriously telling me that the inconvenience of picking up a wheelchair user just this once is too much?

And the fact that I know I can hop quickly into a taxi if the driver will just nip round and lift my wheels in just makes it even more frustrating.

I did find 3 solutions though:

Option 1: hide round a corner while a friend hails the Taxi (thank you Donna) and only appear once it has stopped. (moderate success)

Option 2: cross the road at traffic lights immediately in front of an available taxi. When immediately ahead of the vehicle, turn and make eyecontact, then hail his taxi. Totally unsubtle and kinda difficult to pretend he didn't notice. (success - but requires vacant taxi at the front of the queue.)

Option 3: enlist the help of an armed police officer. (Perfect. If you have one handy.)

Option 3 is definitely my favourite. The satisfaction of knowing that the person hailing a taxi on my behalf is one who no-one wants to annoy.

But really, truly, what I would really like is not to need strategies and cunning plans. I just want to hail a taxi like everyone else.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Stickmen at the House of Commons

There is a great company called 'Really Useful Stuff' which highlights really useful stuff from all over the place. It is great because although much is really useful for people with a range of disabilities, it doesn't have the dreadful 'hospital' feel - just cool stuff that is useful in getting round ones quirks. They also have a panel of disabled and older people or user testing, mystery shopping, product feedback etc - essential work to my mind.

They recently did a survey on how accessibility of the high street has changed over the past 5 years, and to launch their results they had a cannape reception at the House of Commons, and invited me - of course I said yes!

It is an awesomely beautiful building. And Westminister Hall, where the general public are allowed, and where you go through to watch debates and suchlike, was almost like a cathedral. And it was lovely and cool (yes, of course I lay down on one of the benches using coolness and horizontal-ness to give the best chance of keeping my POTS under control later.)

But before you reach there you first go through the main gate (having told the police the purpose of your visit.) And then down a ramp to security. Everyone else went through the revolving gate and joined the back of the queue.......They opened the wide gate specially for my wheels. The 2 gates had separate ramps down to security. There was no queue on my side.

And it was a beautiful, long, gently sloping ramp. I was good for all of 2 metres. But then I realised I would never forgive myself if I failed to make the most of it.

(Please note I stopped well short of the security staff and remained in full control of my chair at all times. Honest!)

The event was on The Terrace - overlooking the Thames and accessed through the maze of corridors (smelling of a cross between school corridors and hospital disinfectant). It was a fabulous networking opportunity - with suppliers, manufacturers, politicians, charities, and all sorts of people working in different areas of accessibility. To my huge relief they weren't people interested in using the right words but people with genuine interest in accessibility. (I should have had more faith in the RUS guys.)

We also got to hear Sandra Gayer sing - she is brilliant. And Steve Day (a deaf stand-up comic) was hysterically funny. He got it just right - full of 'Oh that is so true - and put brilliantly' moments. His observations on the "ARGH it's a person with disabilities, what do I say!!!" panic - inevitably followed by doing something daft - were priceless. Despite our totally different impairments we definitely have some similar experiences with this! I got to chat with him afterwards which made me laugh even more. His humour was almost like a verbal version of my stickmen. Which may probably be why I loved it.

I even spoke to someone from the Royal College of Art (apparently Environmental Health degrees aren't standard qualifications for artists/designers) but they seemed to like my work - who knows where that might lead?

My only regret is that I didn't get around to speaking to the relevant person from Sainsbury's - I was planning on suggesting that they take a stickman cartoon approach to disability awareness training/reminding. I reckon it would be awesome for helping them maintain the high standard of disability acceptance I have found at my local store.

But I'll get over that disappointment eventually.

After all, how many people can say they got to play roller-coasters in the House of Commons?