Monthly Archives: November 2014

Own Your Disability

The Equality Act (2010) lists disability as a ‘protected characteristic’. This is a statement that makes disabled people sound like an endangered species. However, with almost 12 million registered disabled in the UK and with roughly 7 million disabled people being of working age; this is simply not the case.  When you also consider that, since October 1999, service providers have had to take reasonable steps to change practices, policies and procedures which make it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled people to use a service and in addition also have to provide auxiliary aids which would make it easier for disabled people to use a service; the BBC’s Inside Out London report into accessibility is therefore, truly baffling and incredibly disturbing.  The episode can be found here:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b04nvj65/inside-out-london-10112014

 

The following extract further demonstrates the evolution of disability law and the responsibility placed on service providers in regard to accessibility.

“From October 2004, service providers may (have) to alter the physical features of premises if the service continues to be impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled people to use.

These requirements apply to facilities and services in the pedestrian environment and in transport related infrastructure: bus stations and stops, airports and rail stations.” The full government report can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/3695/inclusive-mobility.pdf. Reading just a few pages of this report leaves me feeling bewildered as to why sterner punishments are not be sanctioned for those who fail to follow these laws.

What all of the content written above tells us is that it is unlawful to discriminate against those with disabilities. It also tells us that it is a legal requirement to make reasonable adjustments to public services and business premises in order to allow access for those with disabilities as outlined by part III of the DDA.

 

However, whilst the fact that Reshi  Ramlakhan  who has Retinitis Pigmentosa, meaning he is going progressively blind, was told he would be charged extra for traveling in a taxi with his guide dog is disgraceful and; the fact that Christiane Link, a wheelchair user, was asked to carry out a monetary transaction on the street- given that was no ramp into here local post office is disgusting, there are bigger issues here.

 

Disabled people are fiercely independent – fact! The reason for this is because, in reality there will always be limitations enforced by a disability. However, the stubborn and determined streak that exists within disabled people, should naturally lead to the following question being asked:

 

Is it not the responsibility of the disabled person (where possible) to make themselves as independent as possible and should the government be doing more to help with this? Firstly, it is fair to say that these sound like contradictory questions and secondly; these questions need to be placed within the context of the article being written.

 

So, I want to ask the question; should Christiane Link, in a wheelchair since she was a baby, be doing more to ensure that she has the wheelchair skills to access a shop or a form of public transport? Shouldn’t all those with the physical capabilities to learn such skills be doing so? Finally shouldn’t the government be doing more to ensure that this is the case?

 

For example, Whizz Kidz, run wheelchair skills classes and I believe it should be compulsory for every wheelchair user, with the required physical capabilities, to undertake these courses. I also believe that the government should enforce this and employ experience wheelchair users to run them. Let me put it this way, you wouldn’t be allowed or fully able to drive a car without a licence, so why should a wheelchair be any different?

 

Now, I accept that even with the best wheelchair skills in the world, some places and forms of transport are simply inaccessible. I also accept that you need to be incredibly skilled and brave to bunny-hop from a train. I can also tell you from personal experience that if it goes wrong, it’s incredibly painful and finally, I want to say that I understand that people with disabilities shouldn’t have to go to extremes in order to access every day public facilities and services. However, I also worry that being so outwardly and vocally negative about a situation, like high tables in Café Nero or a step into a local Post Office branch could alter the public’s perception of those with disabilities. I for one would like to access public facilities with the minimum of fuss and if I need to improve my wheelchair skills to do so, then so be it because; ultimately the vast majority of staff and members of the public are incredibly helpful. A lack of accessibility is not the fault of staff within an establishment and I feel that this report, albeit unintentionally paints people with disabilities in a negative light.

 

My comments do not however, excuse companies that fail to allow accessible facilities due to a lack of commitment to equality and fairness.  However, it is the responsibly of everybody to ensure that accessibility improves. After all, it costs nothing to treat someone fairly and with dignity.

 

 

Depression, an Addiction?

Depression, an Addiction?

I believe habits should be called assistants- that is until they become addictions and even then, where is the boundary? I mean is there clear enough guidance?  For those that are reading this, answer the following questions and in your mind place the answers in the following categories: Habit, Assistant or Addiction.

How would you categorise somebody who drinks two glass of wine a night and no more?

How would you categorise a person who eats two bars of chocolate a day and no more?

If these numbers increase to three, does this cause more concern, does this cross a boundary between habit and addiction? Are higher quantities required for each individual to simply relax? Where are the boundaries?

There are a number of example addictions I could use to bring this article back to its defined purpose: Gambling, Alcohol, Pornography, food, medication and even antidepressants themselves as remember there are two main categories of addiction, behavioural (environmental) and dependency.

What follows however, is a relatively personal account of my own troubles (I’m being as open as I feel comfortable) with depression and alcohol and I hope it helps somebody battling similar issues. What I write isn’t intended to be some miracle cure and nor is anything I’m saying new. I writing this for three reasons, those being: it feels pretty good to write things down, in preparing to write this article, I really did have a ‘eureka moment’ and as previously mentioned it may indeed help somebody.

Let me take you back to my days a university, are you excited? Well don’t be (they sucked), it is a common misconception that it’s all parties, woman and booze, particularly when you are topping up to a degree and going to University in your final year. The only woman I saw were my friend and housemate’s girlfriend and a ‘unique’ female housemate who once served me peanut flavour rice balls with kidney beans as a desert. As for my use of alcohol, well that was more medicinal.

Whilst at University I was having physiotherapy and let me tell you, it is quite uncomfortable, particularly when you’re not used to having any. There are certain activities where a return from abstinence is as easy as riding a bike, physiotherapy however, isn’t one of them. As a result of the physiotherapy and the strain of having to manage those mundane house chores on top of my course- I drank. Now do not be fooled, I had a fondness for alcohol long before University and I also understood its impact on my body. However, I feel, this section of my life enables me to be objective in my writing and avoids a tone dictation. By this I mean that I’m not an authority or an expert on the use of alcohol, I only know why I use it and may therefore understand why others choose to do so. I would also therefore never judge anyone.

I use alcohol because it’s amazing, it’s a muscle relaxant, meaning that the tightness and subsequent muscle spasms that constrict my body, simply fade away. The next morning, my body feels weightless; I can stand straighter, whilst being in absolutely no pain. I can look toward my destination when I walk as opposed to down at my feet, through fear of failing over, best of all, I don’t get a crippling fatigue from undertaking the simplest of tasks.

So as I put the fourth shot of vodka to my lips, when two would probably have met the intended purpose of elevating my discomfort, would you say I had an addiction? Or was my habit assisting me to lessen my discomfort? Feeling the need to buy Vodkat because my much more reputable brand had run out, addiction or habit? Putting up with the side effects that alcohol bestows upon my body, for those few hours of pain relief, habit or addiction? By the way those side effects include an equal dose of discomfort as that caused by the physiotherapy as the muscles tighten back to a length which my body perceives acceptable, in order to keep me upright.

Perhaps to a reader of this article, the boundaries between habit and addiction, in this example, are becoming clearer. However, what if I were to tell you that my ‘addiction ‘ didn’t become apparent to me until I was queuing for a bottle of Vodka at 10am on a Sunday morning, (it wasn’t easy like a Sunday morning on that day!) and that this didn’t happen until way after University had finished? Does this prove that I had a problem, should I have noticed it sooner, would you have noticed sooner? What are the boundaries?

Well, if I may, I would like to answer some of these questions now as I guess that’s kind of the point.

A habit is defined as “an acquired behaviour pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary”, um surely that’s addiction? However, clearly the difference between addiction and habit is that a habit can be stopped in an instant, with no withdrawal symptoms. An addiction however, is defined as Habitual psychological dependence on a substance or practice that is beyond voluntary control.

Well for me, alcohol was always an assistant. It helped me to feel more comfortable in my body. At this time I can tell you that there was nothing ‘almost involuntary’ about my drinking, it felt necessary. At the time of my fourth shot of Vodka (they were usually in one glass), it felt as if the alcohol was assisting me, the reasoning may have become more blurred but the reasoning was present.

I think the definition of habit becomes a factor when you stop trying to exhaust other options and divert straight to the most loyal of assistance’s- alcohol! In my case, when you stop doing the warm down exercises, when you stop taking the Baclofen (prescribed muscle relaxant drug) and you stop allowing your body to handle the discomfort, then you have a habit.

A habit becomes an addiction when you lose all reasoning. What possible reason could I have for needing Vodka a 10am, other than dependency?

Why have I told you all of this and what has any of this got to do with depression? Well put simply I believe depression is an addiction. It manifests itself as an assistant, (in the low mood stage) ‘oh, I’m going to help you to regain yourself, rest for an extra five minutes, stay in bed.’ It becomes a habit, although you believe that those extra five minutes are necessary and then an addiction is born. Remember, the term, ‘dependence on a practice’. You have reached the stage where your mind believes the best and safest thing you can do is stay in bed. Now where’s the reasoning in the previous statement? For years, you have had a positive impact on those around you, those that love you, on those you work with and you will have a positive impact on those that you are yet to meet.

With this in mind, why would you stay in bed? And why are these questions so much more difficult to answer than those previously posed?

I think the answers to the questions above are more difficult to answer because there is so much yet to be defined about depression. With alcohol, if I’m queuing at 10am in the morning for vodka, then alarm bells should be ringing. With depression I always felt that lying in bed was the right thing to do. Why, because my mind was telling me to. When you drink regularly, not only do you get more social understanding but your body gives you warnings that your habit is becoming an addiction. You start to shake and sweat as your body yearns for replenishment. Furthermore, your body builds a tolerance to alcohol and if you need to drink more to receive a decent ‘hit’, by then you have received another warning.  With depression you simply fell more tired, more run down, thus reinforcing the held belief that bed or isolation is indeed best for you.

In the case of depression, the mind rules the body and it’s so much more powerful. Did you know that people can actually recover from things simply by believing that they have been treated; seriously it’s called the placebo effect.

However, depression is very real, you don’t  simply get over it, snap out of it or sort it out, numerous NHS websites have told me that as well as about three months of not leaving the house, most  of which was spent in bed. There are also no defined reasons’ for becoming depressed, as is the case for most addictions. The reason is because everyone reacts to hurdles differently and any or a number of events can cause depression.

What I can tell you for certain is that depression is the scariest thing I have ever faced.  As I have previously stated ‘I manage everything in my life, including my disability, I never let it dictate what I can and can’t do. Depression however, is an entirely different beast it controls you, no more than that it takes your goals and your ambitions and it owns you, dramatic? Maybe-but true nonetheless!

In my experience you cannot beat depression, you can only repress it. It loiters like a bully hiding behind the corner of a brick wall. In order to repress it and stop it from jumping from behind that wall, you need a plan.  You will get a period of low mood or self –doubt before the depression hits with its unrelenting force. It is in these first moments of self- doubt a change needs to be made. Change your perception of your state of mind, before that state becomes etched within. Do something completely different!

It doesn’t have to be something as dramatic as, spending thousands to start your own business, oops, haha! The vital thing is that you change the norm and that you do it quickly. NHS websites advise that you see a doctor within three days if you are feeling depressed. The reason is simple, assistance can turn to habit and habit can metamorphose itself into addiction very quickly. Depression strikes fast so fast, you may not see it coming.

 

Remploy, still showing our government the way forward

Remploy, still showing the government the way forward

This article was born out of a research mission and the fact that I was told by a friend to stop being lazy and making excuses in regard to my lack of blog updates, for which I apologise. I should instead live by the mantra that there is always something to write about.

The research mission was to find out more about Nikki Fox, the BBC’s not so newly appointed disability correspondent. Not you understand, in a creepy ‘oh she’s blonde and in a wheelchair’ or in a ‘tell me everything about your disability kind of way-’ as that’s equally weird.  In truth I still don’t know what Nikki’s disability is and it would appear that I like most don’t care, preferring instead to focus on her journalistic ability.

To that end I have found Nikki’s presenting a journalistic style to be energetic, much like I imagine her to be in reality. I think Nikki, through her enthusiasm and humour is trying to show characteristics which most disabled people want to be known for. I have said many times that you will not meet a disabled person without a sense of humour. We may well have to find it on occasion but it is always there.

Whilst at times I have found Nikki’s humour to be slightly misplaced and slightly over used, thus on occasion deflecting the seriousness of the subject she is covering, I wish her the best of luck. I would much rather have someone of Nikki’s personality beaming the characteristics to the nation from which I’d like to be known as opposed to a Miss Trunchbull type of correspondent. Kudos must also be given to the BBC, for starting to address the void in diversity and subsequently bringing in a correspondent to whom disabled people can relate.

There was however, one particular article of Nikki’s which captured my attention. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-29843567 an article entitled “What are Remploy workers doing now? For those of you who don’t know and I didn’t, Remploy have employed people with disabilities since November 1946 when its first factory opened.

Formed on 7th April 1945 to support injured WW2 veterans and injured miners at its height Remploy employed 10,000 people, the vast majority of whom had a disability. http://www.itv.com/news/2013-10-31/final-remploy-factory-closes/. As of 31st October 2013 all factories have ceased production.

So factories and in particular their workers, producing products good enough for the queen to wear are now surplus to requirements. The reasons for the closures are logical, if slightly unjust to those less fortunate workers. For despite the fact that Remploy operated as a social enterprise it was making loses. Part of the reason for this is because, like most UK businesses Remploy struggled to compete with imports from Asian factories. Another factor is the governments wish to privatise Remploy and then of course there’s the huge swell of public positivity regarding the transition of disabled people into mainstream employment.

CEO of Remploy Bob Warner makes the following statement:

“There is now an acceptance that disabled people would prefer to work in mainstream employment alongside non-disabled people rather than in sheltered workshops from which they do not progress and develop.”

A statement which I whole heartedly agree with and indeed Remploy has now transformed itself into a specialist recruitment agency. An agency the works in partnership with equalapproach.com recruitment, which in the past 5 years has helped 100,000 people, find employment. This is an approach the government supports despite Remploy’s impending privatisation in March of next year. Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-29843567.

I worked for a company similar to Remploy here in the Southwest which also had a factory. It was always the intention of this company that the factory be used as a springboard into mainstream employment and it worked.

So two questions need to be asked here, the first is has the government been too hasty in closing all of Remploy’s factories and what happens to the disabled people who aren’t fortunate enough to find employment? The answer to the first is yes, in my opinion as everyone wants to work, everyone wants to feel a worth, despite what Lord Freud may believe. To hear Lord Freud’s comments and his apology visit: http://news.sky.com/story/1353507/minister-sorry-for-disabled-wage-comments

The answer to the second question is simply that the feeling of worth which we all desire fades away.  So why are the government not doing more? I have read multiple statements saying that around 50% of the 6.9million disabled people of working age in the UK are unemployed. Good enough to make garments for the queen but not good enough to be employed….

Charity Leonard Cheshire performed research in Scotland whereby they sent CV’s to employers, declaring a disability in one set and omitting it in others. Incredibly, in our multicultural, diversity accepting land, it was proven that omitting disclosure of a disability enabled the candidates to sit twice as many interviews. This only strengthens my view that the right to place the statement ‘we are an equal opportunities employer’ should be removed from all job advertisements. Source: http://www.nikkifoxtv.co.uk/ – disabled and desperate to work part one.

It is wonderful to have Remploy and other such companies paving the way for disabled people to succeed in mainstream employment but surely our elected government should be doing more to help? Perhaps rather the cutting benefits including the independent living fund source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-ouch-28463459, our coalition government should be helping those with disabilities.