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Make a change

Back when I was able to hobble about with a walking stick, my son’s (primary) school banned me from using an electric bike on grounds of health and safety. I’d explained its only purpose is as a mobility aid and saying I’d planned to put a public tweet out to some lawyer friends for advice on Disability Discrimination. I’d even offered to sit on it, leaning towards my ‘good leg’, and have the electrics switched off. Only after all this was it escalated it passed the Headmistress. The council allowed it, but only if the electrics were off.

A few years on, and I can’t get away with just the walking stick, I’m now in a wheelchair if I want to go anywhere, but I need someone with me because my shoulder has very regularly dislocated since I was 16 and I suffer from asthma. Both before and after getting the chair I approached the Head saying I’d be happy to talk to, and answer questions from the kids about my disabilities (right ear hears noises but not clear sound – think about being 12 foot under water and you’ll get a good idea, and my knee which I cannot bear any weight following an RTC). Every year I offer the Head the chance to raise Disability Awareness in the school. I’m still waiting.

The local bus company have refuse me access when passengers refuse to fold pushchairs. Mothers and Grandmothers have said I “should budge up” in an already confined dedicated wheelchair space so they don’t have to fold a pushchair. When you face all the other passengers you’re immediately made uncomfortable, but people seem to have the right to question you about everything. I don’t mind most of the questions, it’s good that people are curious. Some questions, though are triggers for my wife and on one occasion she told the man he doesn’t have an automatic right to those answers.

Cars are parked blocking the path, then others blast their horns at you if you go on the road to get passed. (sub-urban housing estate)

I read about disabled people being mugged as they’re “an easy target”, about people being trapped on planes while needing the toilet, being trapped on a train station overnight because they weren’t informed the lifts were out of order before alighting from the last train.
To me, the problem is an almost complete lack of empathy and an obscene level of apathy.

Councils, companies and government ministers should be made to use the services they provide in wheelchairs, while blindfolded or with ear plugs. Mystery shoppers should be employed on a regular basis to test anything and everything that’s been rolled out or updated [Something I’m more than happy to do]. We should have Disability Awareness everywhere, starting with schools. Steps are being made, progress is happening, but it’s far too slow and largely happens when someone has first hand experience of a friend or family member with a disability or an organisation has their hand forced. It shouldn’t be like this. Countries should compete for the best, and by this I mean lowest, levels of disability discrimination. Make it a contest. We need a DARPA type prize, a Nobel type prize for the best progress and/or achievements.

Let’s make a change.

Amazon

Most of us have an Amazon account. If not for ebooks, then for general online shopping. The wish lists accommodate other web sites, for £80 a year you get free next day delivery on a large number of items, and media streaming thrown in. On the surface, shopping with Amazon appears to be a no brainer.

We’re all aware that they use loopholes to avoid paying tax, that’s not what this is about. It’s other little things that on closer inspection, make you question things. Whether or not keeping an Amazon account is worth it?

Recently Amazon faced criticism for stopping competitive streaming devices like the Chromecast and AppleTV. On paper Amazon’s Fire TV stick beats the Chromecast hands down, but once again, reality doesn’t quite gel with what’s on paper.
The Chromecast offers much more variety. It’s also much easier to set up. What I can’t get past is that Amazon Prime doesn’t work on the Chromecast. Initially I thought it was unlike Google to be so uncharacteristically childish, not approving Amazon so they could push the Play Store. After all, Google gave us Earth, Street View and so much more. For a high profile company they’re altruistic not childish.  Then logic kicked in and you realise almost everything works on it, Google make the developers kit available to everybody for free! The only reason why Amazon Prime wouldn’t work on the Chromecast is if Amazon never bothered to… ah. Could it be that they wanted Prime to only work natively with their newly released Fire TV? Surely not.

Amazon recently switched their courier, from the very favourable DPD to Amazon Logistics.
DPD have delivered here for a few years. Amazon Logistics, a few months.
DPD email me to say they’re in possession of a package. This is in addition to Amazon’s email saying something’s been dispatched which now includes a tracking number that only works after logging in to Amazon.
DPD email me saying they’re delivering that day, delivery should be expected between very precise times like 12:37 and 13:37, the driver’s name and a link to track the van the package is on using GPS. Amazon Logistics are happy with the email Amazon sent earlier to track your parcel, but after logging in you find the details are limited to ‘on the van’.
If DPD cannot deliver, they photograph your front door to show they’ve actually been there, and email you while the driver walks back to the van. Amazon sends you an email saying ‘We tried but failed to deliver your package today’ without even a card through the letterbox!
What annoys me is that there has been no knock on the front door. I have CCTV footage of Parcelforce passing the door and knocking on the front window because there’s been a light on [their delivery driver said he wastes far less time returning to properties after knocking on a window instead of a door – clever guy].
Amazon also has my mobile number for SMS updates about deliveries. No text message has been received. Nothing saying anything is to be delivered today, nothing from their driver saying he’s approaching or at the door, no calls, nothing.
This isn’t the first time Amazon Logistics have claimed to have knocked. With such little communication, and no evidence at all to say they’ve bothered at all, it’s difficult to say whether they don’t know what they’re doing, don’t care, or the driver finished his shift before finishing his deliveries.

I really hope Amazon Logistics is nothing more than a trial. If not, they need to get their act together or leave it to a company that knows what they’re doing.

But to anyone who delivers anything at all, and I cannot stress this enough, don’t try to blag. Following an RTC, I’m unable to go anywhere without assistance. I need help to get out of the street. Our son gets excited following a favourable school report / parents evening because he’s always rewarded with a little something; to us it’s just a Hexbug Nano but to him it means so much more. We even take in things for neighbours because they know there’ll be someone in.

If you’re going to claim you’ve been to the a house and had no reply, make sure the package isn’t valuable to its recipient, make sure you have no phone numbers, make sure the customer isn’t disabled, and above all, make sure you’re not delivering something to a hyperactive child who’s on tenterhooks about a knock at the door!

Police Station

Lost balance.
Crutch went out to regain balance.
Crutch hit son’s Lego Police Station at full force.
20 minutes trying to work out which piece belongs to the Police Station and which bricks are standard (non kit) Lego, where they go and if it will all fit afterwards.
All this so an eight year old won’t come downstairs in the morning, see his work in pieces and have a bad day at school.

In hindsight I should’ve told him the Lego criminals broke out and blew the place up.
That would’ve been much cooler!

Pain Diary

I recently had the opportunity to answer questions about pain management and wearables.  Even if you’re unfamiliar with the phrase, I suspect most people are aware of the products.

Wearables are smart devices that are worn; fitness trackers, smart watches, health trackers etc. I’m not sure if those Bluetooth pills that are swallowed and feed back to a smartphone are strictly classified as wearable, but their benefits are definitely there.  Real time data is big business, and there are companies all over the world looking to cash in.  While many of those companies are profit based, some are more altruistic.  I certainly don’t have their budget but I wonder if the limited consumer gadgets I own could be put to use?

I’ve suffered with pain in my left knee after a road accident in 2007, pain in my lower back since around ’96 and my shoulder has dislocated at least since ’91.  I’d love to be able to walk, but the consultant at the Pain Clinic has told me it will never happen.  I’m taking it with a pinch of salt.  In 1974 my parents were told I wouldn’t survive the week.  I may be completely in denial, but I’d like to think that when it comes to medicine we can’t say never.  Putting aside the progress that’s being made in exoskeletons, I think the odds are against me but if I can help the medical profession find a trend then I’m going to do all I can.

Tasker already manages my medicines for me, announcing when they should be taken and nagging me if I’ve been unable to take them at a given time.  Tasker also allows me to manually record entries to my Pain Diary.  The entries update a text file (chosen for universal compatibility) via Dropbox, and also a privately shared Google calendar (accessible only via a private link). When combined with AutoPebble, medication notices can be pushed to the watch and actions taken.  I can notify Tasker that I’ve taken my meds, or to dismiss the alert and remind me later.  It also allows me to update my Pain Diary, all without taking my phone from my pocket.

Although the Pebble smart watch is renowned for its battery life, usually lasting 6 – 8 days, I’m not relying exclusively on it.  Using Tasker’s Scene functionality I can also have buttons pop up and update the Pain Diary straight from the phone’s home screen.  Because of the way Tasker works, that screen and all associated settings can be taken to a tablet or an upgraded phone in a couple of minutes.

Because of the way it’s set up I can add or remove items in the list very quickly. I can also type in rarer entries manually.  It has only really benefited me properly a couple of times, but those times have been worth it.  When a nurse asked how often I experience chest pains I was able to provide exact times and dates in a couple of minutes.

Obviously, this doesn’t have anywhere near the sophistication of what is achievable or even what’s currently in development. It has to be manually selected and doesn’t include heart rate, blood pressure, etc. but that’s not what I’ve set out to do. This started as a means for me to keep a personal record of when I’m in the most pain.  Providing the Pain Clinic with the entries is just an added bonus.

Arriva Driver 110714

So rarely these days does someone go above and beyond the exclusivity of their duties and responsibilities within their job description. On Friday a bus driver from Arriva did exactly that. A bus (4045) lacking even the meagrest concept of disabled access needed to be boarded. Thankfully the driver (26182) showed understanding and empathy. While other drivers responses have been curt, explaining that a pushchair or pram occupyied the disabled bay and the drivers were unwilling to ask to have them folded, driver 26182 took a different approach. He waited. He allowed me to accept the bus couldn’t be lowered, there was no ramp and boarding the bus was unlikely.

Thankfully I have one worn out but working leg which helped me to board the bus. It took a few minutes but we weren’t rushed or pressured in any way. He asked if I was ready before disembarking. At our destination we were offered assistance to alight from the bus. From his approach I inferred he cared more about the safety and wellbeing of his passengers than strictly keeping to a timetable.

What stood out for me was he later looked in to the Disability Access laws, timetables and guidelines, found us and advised us of them. He wasn’t aggressive or condascending, but polite and understanding.
He explained what he’d found without sounding like he was looking for excuses.

We’ve been unaccustomed to Arriva North East’s drivers having people skills or their staff to show such kindness. Whoever you are, you have my thanks.

Ticket from 11-07-14

Ticket from 11-07-14

Bolam Lake

Yesterday we found ourselves at Bolam Lake. A pleasant place in rural Northumberland where in the past I’ve found stress goes down and relaxation is easily found.

While online information states that it’s wheelchair accessible we found ourselves leaving quite quickly. Bolam Lake does have areas which a wheelchair can go but the ground is uneven. It looks as though horses have walked through leaving horseshoe prints everywhere, stones are everywhere and I found the chair being jostled about which caused no end of pain. The only solution was to turn back and return to the car park, very slowly.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t go, not at all. It’s peaceful, beautiful and you can easily get respite from modern day irritations. If you’re in a wheelchair because you suffer from extreme amounts of pain, however, I’d give it a miss and look elsewhere.  It’s wheelchair accessible but certainly not wheelchair friendly.