A step backwards in wheelchair transportation?

When I saw this I cringed: Drive away car invented

It’s basically a single person electric bubble car where wheelchair users can enter in their wheelchairs through the automatic ramp at the back, and then just drive away. How amazing is that – the inventor gave up her job to set up a company to make these cars which are steered by a motorbike-style handlebar and costing only $25.000.

WHOAAA ….. hang on a moment, I can do better than that!

I have a car, where I also stay in my wheelchair!

I also wheel straight in the back up a ramp (which could automatically fold up and the doors close if I needed it to)!

If I were medically able, I could also drive off. (I can’t drive so others drive for me).

Not only does my car pootle around the town locally – I can drive on main roads and motorways! It doesn’t end there – even more amazing is that rather than drive round as a lonely single wheelchair user – I can be in the car with friends, family – and even carry luggage to go on holiday or put my shopping in the back. All for around £7-8 thousand pounds. Match that then bubble car.

Thinking about it – handlebar steering, electric vehicle….. isn’t that called a mobility scooter?

I think I have the better deal, socially and financially with my car and power wheelchair combo. Good luck America with your new invalid carriage for single people with no friends!

Marlowe Theatre in Kent fails wheelchair users

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A few weeks ago I tried to get tickets for a show at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury (I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue) with my husband. It was going to be a quick sell out so my Personal Assistant called on the advertised booking line as soon as they went on sale at 9 am.

After 20 minute she got through to an answer machine message saying due to expected high demand people must book using the online booking system.

However, here is the problem – wheelchair users can not book a space on-line which the theatre later confirmed. Also, it appears that the ‘carer and family seats’ next to the wheelchair spaces can be booked by anyone on-line – even if that person could have sat in another available seat.

We were both really angry that this show (rarely visiting Kent) was not open to wheelchair users on the advertised booking number.

It is  unlawful discrimination to offer such an unfair ticket booking system. Whilst they offer an ‘access mailing list service’ for priority booking, nowhere do they say you have to sign up to this just to be able to book a seat (and that this was the only way to get them at sell out shows). Also, how would this be handled – would all wheelchair users get a fair chance?

Anyone else with an impairment such as vision loss may also have found it impossible to use the online method of ‘picking a seat’ from a visual theatre seat plan. If the box office can’t handle sellout shows and opens them only to non-disabled internet users – then this is incredibly unfair.

I tried to use their web site to contact them about this … but it actually took me about 15 attempts because the form didn’t work – clicking in the next box deleted he previous box!! They really are useless.

Note to self – spend your money where your custome is appreciated.

We have been to other venues who have wonderful access and a separate booking line for wheelchair users or people who might be unable to use on-line systems  – so these spaces can be booked fairly, at the same time, on a first come first served basis. I am disappointed and frustrated that the Marlowe Theatre makes it so difficult to book tickets without being on a ‘special’ list and then having to unsubscribe from future mailings if you only go there once in a blue moon.

Well Marlowe – I’m Sorry YOU didn’t Have a Clue.

Dungeness RSPB reserve and lighthouse

Saturday was a scorcher – just right to visit Dungeness as it’s probably freezing any other time of the year.

First stop was the RSPB reserve.

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The entrance drive/path is horrifically bumpy if you have low muscle tone – and very long. We paid a grand total of £2 to get in (the soon to disappear concession rate) plus assistants go free. The visitor centre was rather nice with a gift shop and glass front overlooking the main water of the reserve. You could sit and use the telescope/binocular view finders to watch the comings and goings. Many different birds if you know what you are looking at.

I tried out my iPhone zoom lens to look over to the nuclear power station.

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We then had a wander around.

Paths are small shingle bumpy and hides are accessible (you can drive to them if you ask). Hides are great but not for arachnophobes like me. I managed to go inside a few. They did get stuffy in the heat and a bit dusty. This us the view from one.

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For me the best attraction was watching butterflies i’d never seen before.

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Next we drove down the road to Dungeness lighthouse.

What a weird place. Shingle, succulent cabbage type plants and the bumpiest board walk I’ve ever rolled across. I can quite honestly say I won’t ever be going back there. There are also these cabins / houses that are a cross between a dreary beach hut and a large garden shed, dotted around the grass shrub. The sort serial killers or zombies live in. A ‘shop’ was selling mystical gifts and there were a few boats.

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Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve

A lovely afternoon here and it’s right off the main road – so easy to get to.

Clocked up 2 miles following a straight path walk by some of the lakes. We got close to some bunnies, saw some busy bees nesting at the side of a bird hide and quite a few butterflies, dragonflies and damsel flies.

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A short video of the reserve.

 

 

 

 

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The paths were pretty good but you do need binoculars to see the water birds.  There are accessible toilets and smooth car park spaces. The Grebe Hide has a ramp to one of the windows but you can’t see the bird feeders or anything through the side windows. Kevin did the bee video for me to see what they were doing.

 

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Lego – can it get any better…. oh yes it wheely can!

Accessibility SetSource of Title picture: http://lego.cuusoo.com/ideas/view/19418 ]

Who hasn’t played with Lego and loved every minute of it? Whether your memories are rummaging through bags of bricks until your hands bled, stepping on a ‘1’ in your bare feet or watching mum or dad try and follow the instructions to build a castle or space ship. At some point we got the hang of it and began role playing some amazing adventures. In our minds, just a few bits put together was an amazing model – house, castle, car, dinosaur, spaceship – whatever you wanted.

Then of course the hundreds of sets to build, the introduction of motors and electric parts, Lego Technic, gears and computer controllers…. oh how it brings out the inner Geek in every child and adult!

It’s amazing stuff. I loved it, had loads of it and played with it for days on end. I built houses with secret passages using my favourite hinge piece, pirate coves, futuristic bubble houses from the space sets with the transparent blue shell panels connected by the fabulous monorail….. ahhh . Not a lot has changed – I still build these things in Sims3 worlds and still love designing and creating.

Across the internet, many adults are still building amazing things with Lego.

Lego used to be a universal thing. Recently, of course it has feminists spitting because of the (quite frankly) ridiculous introduction of sets for boys and sets for girls.  The whole point of Lego was that is was genderless and appealing to everyone – you made it into whatever took your fancy in whatever colour you wanted. It was for everyone, equally – or was it?

Playing differently

I was still playing Lego when I couldn’t walk very well and used a wheelchair, back in the 1980-90’s. Becoming more impaired changed the way I played and related to the bricks and parts.  I could still use my hands and put the bricks together… but what I made was quite different in many ways.

I liked to build Lego towns. Some houses had stairs – but the one my Lego girl lived in had a through floor lift – just like my real house. I made a lift with a lift shaft and attached the castle drawbridge ‘winder’ piece at the top so I could winch my person up to the upper floors. My lift often got stuck so I kept a can of WD40 on my lego table to oil it up all the time. It made for messy play.

My poor Lego girl had to walk everywhere – like me she got tired but there were no Lego wheelchairs. I could build accessible houses and things but I never made a good wheelchair. My girl kind of hopped everywhere or floated. The nearest thing they had to an accessible car was the Lego ambulance and stretcher.  I wondered, now, with the advancement of wheelchair technology and accessible design (and of course with disabled people being cool since we showed considerable talent at the Paralympics) – whether disabled people had made it in Lego towns today?

What would I build if I was a disabled child now? What would I build as a wheelchair using adult?  For sure, I would love to build things that I have in real life – ramps, mobility equipment, accessible transport – I’d love to roll play as ‘me’ complete with wheelchair and have the same exciting adventures. I know that none disabled children have asked to have disabled lego people to represent their friends.  I think that is wonderful.

Hurrah for the Internet.

Well, it turns out that Lego hasn’t quite caught on … but hope is on the horizon. They do have a way where the public can design new sets and they will be considered if enough people are interested (and would buy them of course).

I love the fact that this person (inspired by having a friend with MD 🙂  ) is asking people to vote for their accessible set which included a ramp, ‘electronic’  doors, a power chair and a disabled parking sign. Whoop. I would have liked this set a lot.

You can see it here and vote for it (please do).

http://lego.cuusoo.com/ideas/view/19418

Other great Lego wheelchairs.

You can surf the net and go on YouTube and find lots of instruction on how to build lego wheelchairs – Louise Dade being a great designer … this is one of her chair designs – based on racing chairs.

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[Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bladewood/7893937332/ %5D

Some of these Lego chairs would be great if brought to life !!

Back in 2009 she started this competition ‘Pimp my wheelchair’ and you can see some of the great designs people sent in from the source below. Now I wish these lego chairs were real – they are brilliant.

Pimpmychair

[Source:  http://www.reasonablyclever.com/lego/contest/chair/index.html ]

of course, you may have seen this … a real ‘wheel’ chair made from Lego.

 

and who could forget the 2007 Lego model of Stephen Hawking that went viral across the net and was even sold as an unofficial kit on Amazon for while.

SO… 

It would seem that wheelchair users are alive and kicking (or not I guess if you have lower limb paralysis) and living in Lego towns the world over.

Playing The London Board Game

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Today we played this board game which was a birthday present from Kevin. The London Board Game is for 2-6 players and being suitable for people age 7 +  we thought we might be in with a chance of getting to grips with it!

The concept is based on similar games usually involving maps and destinations. You have 5 places to travel to (randomly drawn from a pack). Players move along routes by the throw of a dice and the winner is the first to visit each of their destinations and back to their starting point (which you also choose).

This game uses a map of the London Underground and your destinations are 5 of the stations.

Unlike the real thing, this one has stations easily accessible to wheelchair users and their train playing piece. It would be a totally different and much shorter game if we were using a map showing only step free stations – only 66 of the 270 are accessible.

I’ve never been on the Tube because there is no access to places I’ve wanted to visit. The Olympics and Paralympics brought temporary ramps to 16 stations and an extra 19 ramps were placed at stations this month to bridge the gap between platform and train so a few improvements are being made.  These are now permanent but, like the board game, if you travel you will find hazards along the way….

In the game you pick up Hazard cards if you change lines – the first one I picked up, amusingly, was a Birthday card – which sends other players to pick up presents for you at Aldgate.  Hazard cards generally send you or other players to different places and mess up your route strategy. If this was the accessible version there would be flights of steps, no lifts, broken lifts and escalators, rerouting you all the way up a line and back down to the other side of the platform where access is only in one direction, huge gaps between the train and platform, no staff to ask for help or having to get out of your chair and crawl your way up a flight of stairs whilst someone carries your chair…. .

If you are interested in access to public transport around London – Transport for All and Transport For London have full information for people with a range of impairments (and different formats).

The board game is really good for getting to know  places around London and brief facts about attractions or famous buildings near to those stations… and best of all – I won our first game lol.

Deserts, rain forests and a broken wheelchair

Tropical plants

Last Saturday it was a hot and sunny day in Richmond, Surrey – and perfect weather for visiting the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew.

Ignoring the terrible M25 queue (trying hard not to turn this whole blog into a pun), we had a brilliant afternoon. Kew is super accessible and quite straight forward to get to. We had planned to park in the car park but couldn’t access it because of road diversions. Eventually we decided on to park on a quiet side street on Kew Road (which is also the coach drop of point). There are lots of ‘parking permit only’ signs but these seem to be odd times and not applicable when we were there so we chanced it. Incidentally, if you are lucky to get one of the 300 parking spaces in their carpark it will cost you £6.50! Kew has a vast array of transport and parking information on their web-site which is worth a look.

So, parking done, time to head towards the gate. Oh my goodness. You know those drills they dig up roads with that vibrate the brains out of the operators …. that is how my head felt after driving along the most bumpiest pavement I’ve ever been on. If you use a chair – DO NOT use the pavement alongside the wall of Kew on Kew Road. It is horrific (take a look at it on street view to see how bad it is).

My brain now feeling like a blancmange that has gone through a tea strainer and my contact lenses still whirling round my eyeballs, we were in. We don’t know why but we were both given free entry (normally, carers/assistants go free and disabled people get a concession).

Really, I should have been paying full price because my experience was no different to people who walked in. The 300 acre grounds are all very accessible, smooth paths and gentle slopes. I could see nearly everything and they get a pat on the back for having a CP toilet.

Here is a sample of some of the different paths/terrain.

Paths at kew gardens

Kew is huge and you can easily spend an afternoon in one glass house. Currently the Evolution and Temperate House are closed for major works that will last many years. However, give me a tropical house and a huge conservatory with ten climatic zones any day. One minute you are amongst the plants of Madagascar and then next you are sitting with Cacti of central America. Did I mention I like succulents…. and rain-forests of orchids…. and bananas and mangos…. lets just say I was dragged out of there.

Kew plants

Tropical plants require tropical climates – just perfect for me. So with my husband and mother-in-law, Molly, wilting, I reluctantly came out the other end. I guess I’ll have to save the other side of the Prince of Wales Conservatory for next time.

We were rather out of season for the grass gardens and some of the floral displays but had a gentle meander through the rock garden and pools.

Next stop was a wander towards the Palm House. Within seconds of entering Kevin and Molly shot straight back out the opposite door! If you think the desert is hot – try this on a scorching summer day. Kevin did the gallant thing and came back in just in case I passed out or something. This glass building has 16,00 window panes to channel that summer sun like a death laser onto your hot and sticky body. Hard to believe the whole thing was dismantled and replanted in 1988. The glass is now toughened safety glass and the frame is stainless steel.

Here is a fact, inside this building is the Mexican Yam – used to develop the contraceptive pill! You can find plant facts and touchy feely boxes all around kew – it can be a very tactile experience! All the main tropical fruit trees and huge palms can be seen.

With the humidity in the extremities of the building it must have been over 100 degrees. After ten minutes I melted and went out. If you can walk down steps into the basement there is a modern aquarium display of 4 marine environments so I just read about it on the Net.

Pineapple

Bit of a breakdown….

There is only one ramped entrance but a few stepped exits – and it was on my way around the outside building that my chair started making a loud whirring noise… then it went putt-putt, jumped around … and stopped. My right motor failed and got extremely hot. Eventually it cooled down and I could move on snail speed. I don’t think it was the heat directly but the tropical house probably hastened its death.

I limped around the water-lilly house and we wandered through the wood area towards the lake. It was late afternoon and the treetop walk had closed. Kevin was quite up for it … until he saw how high it was (18 Metres high) and that you walk on mesh looking straight through to the ground! The walkway has a lift but does not permit mobility scooters (I guess electric chairs are ok?). Either way, some people were still going up despite signs that it was closed. We gave it a miss.

We also missed the Stag Beetle habitat, the Bonsai House, bee garden, aquatic garden and Lily Pond, museum, Kew Palace … so many areas that you really need a 2-3 days (and of course different seasons if you want spring bulbs or cherry blossom).

and for the tech geeks….

I had the Kew App (which you can download at the gate on free wifi) and with that you get a whole encyclopaedia of plant information. You can scan QR codes or hold up your phone to scan the area. As you hold up your phone on camera mode, it highlights the names of trees and plants you are looking at, which are clickable. You can then find out about the tree, what the wood is used for, where it comes from and all the technical information a hardy botanist might need.

Imperial War Museum, Duxford

Yesterday we spent the afternoon at the Imperial War Museum (Duxford) (on our way to pick up an E-bay item that Kevin bought). It was just at the side of the M11 and the motorway was clear so it was a good journey.  The plan had been that if the weather was good we would go to Butterfly World in Hertfordshire. If the forecast was for rain we would go to Duxford.  The forecast was for torrential rain, hail, thunder and floods, so armed in cold weather clothes and waterproofs, we arrived for lunch. It was blistering hot, open airfield space with the sahara sun.  Parking was plentiful and hassle free. Lunch for me was a sausage roll (not your average tasteless meat in a soggy wrapping) – really good and the equivalent of at least 3 sausages. After a week’s holiday of every meal coming with chips I settled for a giant plate of baked beans instead.  So we started in hanger 1 and worked our way round the mile long road of hangers.

American Plane

Super accessible

It was immediately apparent that accessibility had been built into the design of hanger one ‘Air space’ and not as an after thought. Hanger 1  told the history of flight, how aircraft fly, what they are made from and the jobs they do (with lots of planes of varying types in the hanger). There was braille descriptions, signed videos, lots of hands on and models of planes to touch. I could see and get around everything at wheelchair height, doors were electric opening, modern toilets including mirror image layout (and toilets in virtually every hanger or building) and lovely smooth floors to glide along.

Nothing beats whizzing down a really long ramp made with a smooth finish – and the American hanger (above) had a delightful curvy ramp all the way down to the lower level with a glass rail panel. I don’t think the ramp is the star attraction… but hey ho, it pressed my buttons.

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I’m quite partial to helicopters that are painted to look like Tigers :-). My head was about floor level of this Sea King -it’s huge!

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After Duxford

We left Duxford and headed off to pick up Kevin’s new purchase which was about another hours drive away. Just as we picked it up the heavens opened and thunder banged. At about 6.45 we set of back home to Kent. We stopped for about an hour at the Cambridge Services and ate Mexican listening to Edge of Glory.  Thanks to the M25 cut down to one lane and traffic at a standstill for Dartford Crossing bridge repairs. Some lunatic thought it was a good idea to get traffic from 5 lanes to merge into 1 – resulting in us not going anywhere for about an hour. We had also forgot the mains lead to plug my vent into the car so I was on battery power wondering if it was going to run out. That was a bit worrying. We got home at midnight – strange night in all!

Isle of Wight – day 3, Seaview Wildlife Encounter

This was a great day for duck lovers like me. Seaview Wildlife Encounter is an award winning park is not far from Puckpool (I kid yee not rofl) and is situated on a hill at Sea View. The park has a modern feel and makes a feature out of getting as close as possible to the animals. The most memorable are the thousands of ducks (free roaming and in pens) from all over the world, walking through the wallaby enclosure. It was prime time for baby ducks – and the level of cuteness blows your mind. You can see those that have just popped out of their eggs in the baby care building.

Two Baby Ducks

Getting around was quite easy with wide paths, lightly stoned and not so many people. I made good use of my new chair feature being able to tilt in space going up and down the slopes. I can imagine it’s not so easy if you have to push yourself or someone else.

Everything apart from the meerkats were viewable from my height.  The fact you can walk through the tropical house with free flying birds and wander through pens with the wallaby and farm/pet area means you have uninterrupted views.

Map view

There were lots of birds (owls, parrots, flamingos,pelicans and penguins) and a few standard park issue (otters and petting areas for rabbits and goats etc).

Having the wallaby group virtually sitting on your feet is a nice experience 🙂

wallabyWe had lunch in their modern cafe/restaurant – today was more chips and a sausage in a burger bun. I’m not a great fan of chips and could already feel the grease oozing out of my pores.

Much time was spent with the ducks by the lake and I  easily managed to fill up my phone with a hundred and one duck photos.

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The tropical house is new and planting wasn’t well established – it was about 80 degrees outside and about 90 in here (my husband left within seconds). I really liked it though and sat with the finches and other birds as they busied themselves munching.

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We were the last people to leave and it was a good day. The only down side was the terrible ‘disabled’ toilet where they had a large space but failed to leave enough space both left and right of the loo (so you could not transfer from a wheelchair). It was another man handling job and sitting slightly sideways whilst praying I wouldn’t fall off. They were also not unisex so my husband had to bee seen walking into a lady’s ‘accessible’ loo. I had to choose to cross my legs for the rest of the day as it was too difficult to go twice.

Isle of Wight Day 2 – Calbourne Water Mill

Day two was a hang onto your head day.  We drove along military road which is enough to give you a concussion, and then miles around country lanes which fortunately had very little traffic. It would seem that not many people take these roads – understandable given their condition! My neck was cracking and paining and the sun was throwing everything she had at us.

So we went here for the day – Calbourne Water Mill

Calbourne Mill

My heart was whooping with delight at the entrance sign advertising scrummy looking sweet and savoury pancakes and all day breakfasts in their cafe. Starved and shaken up, we headed in.

Pancake sign

We got the carer’s discount (always nice) and dived into the modern restaurant/cafe in the grounds.

“I’ll have an all day breakfast pancake please.”

“We aren’t cooking pancakes today.”

“Oh, what about the all day breakfast…”

“Were not doing them either today.”

We were gutted to say the least. I had a run of the mill cornish pasty and chips and Kevin had a pricey sandwich. Not the best of starts.

What a strange place.

The whole place is rather odd. An eclectic mix of dusty farm machinery, rotten wood harvesters and wagons, with a few shed/workshops being used for pottery making and the like.

As you walk through the sheds, you look up and pray nothing falls on your head as the roof underside is covered in saws and other agricultural blades held on by rickety metal studs.

Scary sheds

The main attraction are the peacocks – I spent the afternoon stalking them for a photo whilst Kevin wandered around. I couldn’t really get around the mill so this kept me amused. I stalked one around the small war museum building complete with a resin cast of Churchill (as in PM not the dog – although both are quite jowly and the resin cast didn’t show him in the best of health).  One came up to check out my knees – so he made it into my photo montage.

Peacock

As we got back into the car, Kevin found his camera he couldn’t find before we went in. So he went back in to take some photos before we did the wobbly journey back home to our holiday cottage. It was a relief to be able to speak to the cottage owner and get the wifi password to connect to the world. Usually you get a folder with all the details in like nearest shops, petrol stations, manuals for the house equipment etc. This one was disappointing as the only thing we had was a notice board where the prominent sign was to make sure that if you are pregnant you don’t sit in the hot tub for more than 10minutes unless you are aiming to induce your baby… not the most helpful of info really for the average holiday maker.