Well I have just taken delivery of a wheelchair on a temporary basis as I have had an ankle ligament repair and arthroscopy to my ankle, so no weight bearing for 2 months. I have just spent 20 minutes in the garden in said wheelchair that has just been delivered, and wow what an experience. I am a 50 year old man who generally is of above average fitness. I have seen the Paralympics, as most have on the TV, but of course those supremely fit athletes make it look oh so easy. It really is hard work!
Quite how those afflicted have remained so relatively quiet for so long is beyond me. I swear, that before you are allowed to take office as an MP you should do three things. One, spend 24hrs wearing a blindfold. Two, spend 24hrs with a headset that ensures at least 90% hearing loss, and finally 24hrs in a wheelchair. This would certainly go some way to opening the eyes of those who hold the purse strings that the disabled should be treated with the respect and dignity they are entitled to. We hear many times through the media about how different groups need to be shown respect, whether it is the LGB community, or whichever ethnic group is flavour of the day, or even those with ADHD we seem to hear more about them than we do the 750,000 wheelchair users in the UK which is over 1% of the population.
There are around two million blind or partially sighted people in the UK of which 360,000 are registered as blind with their local authority.
Approximately 9 million people in the UK have a hearing loss. This is approximately 19% of the total population or 1 in every 7. 1 in every 1000 children is born with profound hearing loss.
Then of course you have deaf-blind statistics and numerous other disabilities. So we are no longer talking about a small percentage but now a quite substantial one. I am not writing this article on the behalf of those with these disabilities, as how pretentious and arrogant would that be having just reached fifty, and only now realising there was in fact a problem. I have no idea what would help the majority of these people, although having quite substantial hearing loss I can certainly empathise with many in this area.
Having said all of that, one simple thing that would help, change the building regulations. Any new build, be it an office or a private home. All doors whether internal or external should be no narrower than 36". Six inches wider than most internal doors. I am not convinced there would even be any additional costs involved as what the door company will charge for additional materials would be offset by a reduction in block work, and we would in fact be talking of pence in terms of additional materials. The difference this would make to those in wheelchairs, I now know from experience would be huge. Forget those with disabilities for a moment, which quite frankly they have become used to! Getting furniture through a standard 30" internal door is at best very difficult. This simple change could be made with the stroke of a pen under building regulations. Without even the need for new legislation in parliament.
I would genuinely suggest that if any of you has the opportunity to borrow a wheelchair for 24 hrs then do it. Deny yourself the use of your legs even for things like getting in the bath or going to the loo. Although I have friends who are in fact wheelchair bound, I have never lived with it on a daily basis. I'm ashamed to say that I have lived with blinkers on for most of my life. Although it appears that I have had an epiphany it really doesn't change anything for those who really do need the help of those of us who are fully abled. The difference being that they are way too dignified to be asking for something that frankly should be theirs by right. Next week I'll address where the money would come from if required, but for now I'll leave you with a couple of quotes, firstly from a disabled man known to a friend of mine, and then a personal friend of mine who acts as a carer for her daughter.
As an expert on this situation, we have two choices cope or be bed bound. So poor design carries on because without having to live with the day to day issues no one knows how hard things are other than other chair users. And wheelchair companies really don't care about what users have to face so long as the money goes in to the bank. A good power chair will set you back the same as a decent second hand car and yet we struggle to improve comfort and functionality and when we do improve is adds to the price. A stylish chair costs over £5k for a motor, 2 batteries and some padding on the seat. The world is f***ed up
It took me over a year to fight and get a basic motorised chair for Maddie. They said she wasn't able to drive it herself and heavy enough to warrant one for a carer to use the controls as she is at the tiny height of 5'2" and only weighing in at 6 ish stone. I eventually got one, (crap design I keep calling out the repairers or I repair!) by wearing them down on the argument of carers and their backs with pushing. I have had back problems for over 25 years because of lifting etc. as you can imagine.