The former doesn’t sound very exciting, and it isn’t, but as anyone with a disability or chronic illness knows, there are many ongoing battles to be fought.
I met with various doctors, occupational therapists, and mobility equipment reps. I even managed to recruit a new carer, not easy in the current climate, to drive me from place to place in my Motability WAV (wheelchair accessible vehicle).
My powered wheelchair, partly held together with gaffer tape, continues to fall to pieces, and is now in need of new batteries.
Why do they suddenly decide to fail, without warning??
This is all the more challenging since it isn’t a NHS chair, and so I am responsible for sourcing and funding repairs.
Despite actively bidding online and pursuing a move for over a decade, I still live with my parents in their home – far from ideal for any 33 year-old!
Finally, after a consistent bombardment of calls and emails, community housing managers agreed to meet with me in person.
Though empathetic, they openly admitted it is very much a postcode lottery issue, (I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that excuse). Consequently, it could take years to rehouse me!
I will persevere and hope for the best, while maintaining realistic expectations.
On a happier note, May provided some space for myself, as my folks took a little staycation.
People often misunderstand my need for solitude. Then again, these people have their own homes and the freedom to do as they please, when they please. It’s about freedom of choice and being able to live life on my terms.
As tiresome and frustrating as it is, this is the reason I battle with medical professionals, OT’s, community housing, social services, and so on – for a better quality of life!
“Normal” life came to an abrupt halt and, 5 weeks later, I’m still struggling with breathlessness, pain and exacerbated chronic fatigue.
For those of you who don’t know, I was born with a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy – a progressive condition. Consequently, my lung function is total crap, immunity impaired, and a significant scoliosis causes my internal organs to fight for space.
I’m a seasoned pro when it comes to extended periods of enforced isolation and inactivity, resulting from a lifetime of ill health. Fortunately, I’m more than comfortable with my own company!
In all seriousness, spending your days sat in the same chair, in the same room, attached to a ventilator 24/7, unable to make it as far as the kitchen, let alone leave the house – it’s…really not good!
This latest period of downtime allowed me to reflect on my 33 years – what I’ve learned, and what I want to focus on going forward.
My Life Lessons
Stop caring what others think of me
(because, actually, they’re probably not thinking anything)
I can trace this back to a comment made by a fellow pupil at primary school who told me, “you look normal when you sit down but really weird when you walk”.
I remember it vividly and, ever since, I’ve been painfully self-conscious, particularly about my appearance. But, now I’m ‘old’, I’m trying not to care about the opinions of others, especially total strangers.
Take me as I am or not at all.
Be my true, authentic self
I once had a (sort of) date which ended up in the guy’s completely bare bedroom. In this room was only a bed, some strewn clothes and a copy of, Alice in Wonderland. Rather than attempt to flirt and seduce (yeah, I’m cool), I turned my attention to the book and asked what it meant to him.
His answer made an impression on me:
“I like it because it’s about being open-minded, being yourself, holding onto your identity, and being comfortable with who you are. I’m weird, you’re weird, everyone’s weird! And that’s a good thing, in my view.”
Man, he was…DEEP!
Don’t waste my time, effort or tears on those who don’t care
I think, for most of us, our social circle becomes smaller as we age. And this isn’t a bad thing! On the contrary, you learn who you can be your unfiltered self with, who is willing to tell it as it is, who has your back, and who you can count on when times are hard – the ‘no matter what’ friends and family.
I am guilty of investing too much energy into the wrong people. But, from here on, I will realise my worth and focus only on those who bring joy to my life.
Well, I must now bring this lengthy blog post to a close and get back to my milky tea and digestive biscuits.
For the past three weeks, I’ve been battling Covid, having tested positive on 27th October. I was, in fact, due to receive my booster jab the following day. Bloody typical! Despite being double vaccinated, the virus hit me hard, really hard.
Physically disabled from birth, I’m one of the many considered ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’.
My condition, Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy, is rare, progressive and affects lung function. This is made worse by a spine that’s as crooked as a question mark and a squashed torso.
I’ve always been a “sickly kid”, susceptible to respiratory viruses, which become more and more difficult to overcome, the older I get.
Throughout my 32 years, a considerable amount of time has been spent in hospital. I’ve endured several bouts of pneumonia, pleurisy and a collapsed lung. Furthermore, my immune system is very much suppressed and affected by at least 15 surgeries under general anaesthetic – I stopped counting after a while.
It’s fair to say, my fragile, little body has taken a battering. And I am tired.
These days, it takes at least a month before I even begin to improve. Life quite literally comes to a stop. Once symptomatic, I become dependent on my BiPap ventilator 24/7. I go from bed, to chair, to bathroom. And that is how I exist. Time becomes meaningless and the days merge into one.
~ I’m not including photos of myself whilst ill because, well, I don’t want to. I don’t have the energy or interest for selfies, and, I don’t want pity. I don’t allow anyone other than my parents to see me in this state, it’s simply personal choice. ~
Few people really empathise and grasp the seriousness of the situation, which I totally appreciate. It’s difficult to comprehend something you haven’t seen or experienced for yourself. Admittedly, 20 year-old me wouldn’t understand either.
Life back then was very different. I was a night owl, regularly staying up until 4am and feeling fine the next day. I completed a coursework focused university degree, spending some days on campus from 9am – 9pm, followed by a 40 minute drive home. Though never a party girl, I did my fair share of drinking and socialising. Trips away with friends involving going out all day and every night, then clambering back to the hotel in the early hours just didn’t affect me. I had the energy and ability to do the things I wanted to do, and it was fun.
These days, it takes everything I have to get out of bed (assisted by carers) and shower.
It’s not the life I wanted or hoped for. But it’s all I have to work with. And yes, it does affect my mood, attitude, point of view and relationships.
A LOT of my time is spent resting. Of course, I would much rather be out, exploring, experiencing, making memories, living it up, and doing fun, daring, exciting activities. But I simply can’t.
Though I try to hide the severity of my condition, a select few people, whom I trust and am closest to, know how much I struggle.
I only told four people about my Covid diagnosis. Mainly because, well, it isn’t the happiest subject, is it! And right now, all of my resources are focused on recovery.
Inevitably, word gets around, and neighbours as well as family friends are also now aware. And they’ve been absolutely incredible.
To the people who expressed genuine concern, care and support – thank you so very much! You know who you are, and I value each and every one of you.
The generous gifts, cards and daily messages have been a huge comfort. I’ve even received medical supplies, vitamins and immune boosting supplements from friends! Real friends who step-up when life is pretty shitty.
Knowing that people care is worth more than anything in life.
To close this rather rambly and inarticulate post, I want to pay the biggest tribute to my parents, particularly my mum, who has patiently cared for me throughout, and not left my side. It’s not only my life that’s been put on hold by Covid, but theirs too.
For those who don’t know, I still live with my parents, in their home. It’s far from ideal and we do butt heads from time to time. But the love and loyalty is unconditional.
My mum is 67, suffers from arthritis, and, four years ago, underwent knee replacement surgery. She’s lead an incredibly challenging life, which I won’t go into. She is an UNPAID carer. She does not receive a single penny to care for me, and yet, she does it without question or complaint.
To whoever is reading this, please acknowledge the country’s thousands of unseen, undervalued, unpaid carers. Let’s raise awareness of the situation and show them some care, support and gratitude!
Those who work regular 9-5 jobs get to come home at the end of the day and relax. For family carers, the work never ends. It is relentless, grueling, and it impacts their lives as well as their mental and physical health.
I withdraw, avoid social interaction, lose interest, lack motivation, procrastinate, overthink, overreact, become defensive, eat less, lose weight, neglect myself, don’t care what I wear or how I look, mood swings, sleep more, insomnia, chronic fatigue.
*DISCLAIMER: The information here is based solely on my personal experiences and circumstances. I am NOT in any way seeking to provide medical advice or instruction.
What I Do Find Helpful:
Saying no: As hard as this can be, it is sometimes essential for both my physical and mental health. It’s also important for me to acknowledge that I am not responsible for how others react. If I’m unable to attend an event or social gathering and others take this personally, that’s ultimately their issue, not mine.
Being selective about who I spend my time with: Age and life experience has made me review and evaluate the people in my life – who adds value and who doesn’t. Who are the “no matter what” friends? It may sound harsh, but I’ve learned it’s not only okay, but necessary to distance myself from certain people. It’s easy to find friends when you’re young, fit, healthy and carefree. But when times are REALLY tough, that is when you realise who and what matters most.
Listening to music (through earphones): A form of escapism, allowing me to block out the rest of the world and any unwanted distractions.
Getting out of the house: It can be anywhere, doing anything or nothing. Sometimes I just sit by the river and stare. Other times I like to venture out in the car, though for me, this means relying on someone to drive me around.
Express: Sometimes I lock myself away and cry, other times I sit all day in total silence. I would say, do what you need to; scream, shout, talk it through. Whatever works for you.
Do what you love: However small or insignificant it may seem, I try to do something, every day, just for me. It could be as simple as listening to my favourite song on repeat, writing, sketching, reading, watching TV or YouTube.
Self care: When I’m feeling low and I can’t be arsed with skin care, presentable attire or brushing my hair, I just spray myself, liberally, with my most expensive perfume. Granted, I’ll still feel like crap, but at least I smell great. It’s a small comfort requiring no effort.
What I Don’t Find Helpful:
Unsolicited advice: Superficial comments such as, “stay positive”, “get better soon”, “it could be worse”, and, “take some multivitamins” – This is neither helpful nor constructive.
Talking when not ready: We are often encouraged to talk and share our troubles. And, while I totally agree that it is ‘good to talk’, and we shouldn’t feel like we have to keep our thoughts, feelings and concerns to ourselves, I also think it should be on our terms. We are all different. Some people find great comfort in talking, while others don’t. I, personally, am the latter.
Living with a physical disability, as I do, often means dealing with carers. Believe me, this is not a lifestyle choice! It is a necessity.
I’m a very private person who enjoys their own company, hates relying on others, and I cannot do small talk to save my life!
The last thing I want is to do each morning is slap on a happy face and engage in polite conversation with carers, as I’m still half asleep and reluctant to leave my comfy bed.
Some days, it takes everything I have to not call out, “would you kindly buggar off and let me be!”.
Not that I’m ungrateful for the support they provide (no, really). Without them, I would quite literally be stuck – unable to get in or out of bed. They enable me to live my life.
Of course, this isn’t without issue.
I employ my own part-time carers, funded by Direct Payments. Consequently, I am responsible for hiring, firing, training, insuring, managing and paying my employees. This can, at times, be somewhat testing.
I never wanted to be an employer, in any capacity. But as previously stated, this isn’t a lifestyle choice. I NEED carers. Agencies are, well, far from ideal. And so, this is my only option.
As with most things in life, carers come and go. Some leave after a few months, while others stick around for years. Either way, the process of finding new employees, who are both capable and reliable, is always stressful.
Imagine, if you will, routinely inviting strangers into your home, to observe you in your most vulnerable state – first thing in the morning; naked, dribbly, grouchy, with whiffy armpits, stubbly legs and a head of hair like Tina Turner’s!
Sadly, I don’t look quite as graceful as Cinderella on waking!
You then have to instruct, explain and demonstrate your personal care routine, entrusting your safety to this stranger.
Embraced fluffy socks to hide my corpse feet (even when leaving the house!)
Accidently drove my wheelchair into the bathroom sink, bashing my knee – ouch!
Redecorated my bedroom and deliberated for too long over duvet covers
Failed at knitting so took up crochet
Started learning French through Duolingo. In my opinion, so much easier than lessons at school! Although, to be fair, I did spend most of my time staring out of the window
Learned to play pool…online…sorta…
Went to my first ever supercar fest – Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb. I’ll be honest, I haven’t a clue about cars but it was a fun day and something different
A particular highlight was our accessible canal boat ride through the prehistoric Dudley tunnels, mined during the Industrial Revolution. We got soaked (from the rain; we didn’t fall in the canal), and I ended up looking like Alice Cooper with mascara running down my face. But it was memorable!
Despite restrictions, I’ve managed to get out and about a fair bit – Roaming around aimlessly in the car, wandering along accessible forest trails, casually entering a local arboretum without paying, and even attempting the Malvern Hills!
Taking on the great outdoors is definitely challenging in a powered wheelchair, and it’s been met with limited success. But, for me, it’s not what you do but who you do it with.
Grabbing a Tesco meal deal with someone you love ♥ is (to me) far more precious than partying with a room full of semi-drunk acquaintances.
This week, the UK government issued new measures to suppress the spread of Covid-19. From Monday 14th September, social gatherings will be limited to 6 people.
In all honesty, I can’t say I’m surprised at these restrictions. From my perspective, as a physically disabled shielder, it seemed inevitable.
Our government has actively encouraged people to return to work, to school, the High Street, the salon, the gym, to pubs and restaurants.
Of course, we all want a return to some sort of normality. And while it is essential we sustain our economy through supporting businesses and minimising unemployment, it would appear BoJo favours wealth over health.
Those at greater risk have been largely neglected; the elderly, disabled and those with underlying health issues.
Many, like myself, have been shielding since March. We have been isolated in our homes, watching the world go by from behind closed windows.
Some have endured months without medical support. Personal carers, though essential, pose a risk to the most vulnerable. And others are forced to leave work, since there is little to no support for disabled employees.
I am very fortunate to have been able to continue accessing my routine hospital appointments throughout lockdown.
Despite initial anxiety and fears from friends, I felt safe and protected during every one of my 6 hospital visits and 2 GP appointments since March – all thanks to our invaluable NHS.
However, after waiting almost a year for a much-needed respiratory referral, I fear my upcoming appointment may now be cancelled, due to the latest guidelines.
My discussions with various medical professionals over the past few months reveal concerns for a second lockdown around October.
With Flu season approaching, this warning poses an even greater strain and impact on the elderly, disabled and NHS.
This stylish food preparation board, made from sustainable Rubberwood, is a multi-purpose, top quality kitchen aid.
I was so impressed with this piece! It is really attractive and doesn’t look at all like a standard disability aid.
It is designed for those with weak hand function, including impaired grip, poor hand control and tremors.
Using only one hand, the Easi-Grip board allows you to grate and slice food effortlessly. The spiked area ensures food is kept in place for peeling and cutting.
Several essential items all-in-one: Stainless steelfine/coarse graters, slicers, collecting bowl, spiked area, and long-lasting wooden board.
I have muscular dystrophy ~ contractures, poor grip, and very little strength. Despite this, I found the Easi-Grip food prep board really easy to work with, and a huge asset. I no longer need to ask for any help, which is a big deal for me!
My mum, who has osteoarthritis, loves this equally as much as me! Suffering with joint pain and stiffness, she found it significantly easier to use than regular kitchen tools.
This popular trio of knives has undergone a recent design revamp – the ergonomic handles are now thicker, making them easier and more comfortable to use.
The bright lime green areas indicate the “soft-feel” non-slip areas, as well as making them a bit more modern and aesthetically appealing compared to standard kitchen knives!
I would highly recommend all of these products to anyone, regardless of (dis)ability. They are top quality items and I am so thankful to Manage At Home and PETA [UK] LTD for sending them to me. I love to cook, and these kitchen aids have made life a little easier for me.
This post is in collaboration with Manage At Home and PETA [UK] LTD. The products were gifted to me in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed are entirely my own.
He attended university, completed a placement year, works full-time, started his own business, and is now on the Great Britain Air Rifle Talent and Development Squad. Josh is able to drive a wheelchair accessible vehicle (WAV) and has lived independently since leaving his parental home at 18.
1. University ~ Can you tell us about the process of putting a care package in place and living independently as a disabled student?
During my last year of college, I expressed an interest in going to university. After research with my social worker and factoring my needs and desires, we identified appropriate universities that fit my criteria. I then had to decide on a live-in carer or a care agency. I opted for the agency route in order to be as independent as possible.
Once accepted by the university, I sorted accommodation and started looking for care agencies. My social worker provided me with a list of care agencies registered with the CQC, but it was down to me to make arrangements. The first care agency turned out to be unpleasant! So, after 4 months, I switched to another agency who I remained with for the duration of my university experience.
2. How was your overall university experience?
My overall uni experience was, let’s say, fruitful! From falling asleep in my wheelchair in front of the mirror to having university staff put me to bed within the first week because I was so drunk. It was clear that I was going to make the most of my 3 years at uni!
I got involved with numerous societies and activities to keep myself active and included with the student culture. I had a fantastic time and never experienced any discrimination or abuse. The staff made me feel at ease, allowed me to be as independent as possible, and provided access to necessary resources.
I graduated with a first class honours in IT Management and Business and, 4 years after graduating, I was invited back to receive an Honorary Masters in Technology.
3. You carried out an internship with Hewlett Packard during your studies, and then worked as a cyber security manager. What, if any, challenges did you encounter in finding employment and how does your disability affect your working life?
The general employment process with assessment days, face-to-face interviews and telephones interviews were fairly seamless. Most employers are extremely accommodating if you give them notice and make them aware of your access needs.
I do remember one assessment day with a popular car manufacturer where the activities impacted my ability to take part due to my physical requirements. This may have affected their decision to not employ me, even though I was just as capable, if not more so, than the other candidates. But apart from that, I have not had any issues finding employment.
Obviously, my disability limits me physically. However, as I work in technology it does not affect my ability to do my job. Yes, working full-time is not easy for me, but it’s also important to remember it’s not easy for able-bodied people either.
I have always been the sort of person who just gets on with it. I also believe that with technology making everything more accessible for disabled people, in most cases, our disability should not affect our ability to work. If you have any employer with an inclusive work culture, who is willing to support, understand and give you flexibility within the work place, then for sure you can work!
4. You returned to university to speak to students about entrepreneurship, and inspire them to start their own businesses. How did this make you feel and why do you think it is so important to encourage other disabled people to pursue any entrepreneurial aspirations they may have?
This gave me a sense of achievement and fulfilment. I believe that sharing experiences, whether positive or negative, helps others to follow their own passions and aspirations.
There is a general consensus that employment for disabled people is difficult to find, and arguably this could be due to the lack of inclusive employers. This is what makes the entrepreneurial world an attractive proposition for disabled people – it is flexible, offers them ability to work around their needs, and also avoids the hardship of being in a culture that is not disability confident.
5. You ventured into self-employment and founded AbleMove. Why was this so important to you?
I have always wanted to start my own business. When I realised I could create a product to make travel more assessible for disabled people, it was a no-brainer decision for me.
When you’re working on something you’ve created and can see the life-changing benefits, there is a real feeling of fulfilment.
Winning the award gave me a sense of personal achievement and recognition. It gave me a fresh perspective on developing my own business and the benefits it can provide versus working for a large company.
The prize money and a business deal with easyGroup Ltd enabled me to give up my full-time job in order to pursue my own business. This allowed me greater flexibility regarding how I manage my disability.
7. Prior to winning the award, you had to move home and rent within the private sector. What challenges did this present?
The challenges with the private rent sector (PRS) are vast, especially given almost 85-90% of PRS homes are inaccessible for wheelchairs.
After applying for the Stelios Awards, I was told I had to move out of a good sized two bed apartment due to the landlords requiring their property back. Having lived there for 3 and a half years, it was time to start the dreaded challenge of finding a needle in a haystack.
It’s purely pot luck if you can find an accessible house to move into straight away that doesn’t need any adapations.
After fighting with the council and various estate agents, we eventually managed to find a property on rightmove. Now, when moving home I need to consider carers since I rely on them throughout the day. My main PA (personal assistant) was unable to continue working for me, and so I had to re-jig and was then only able to maintain one PA.
Finding an accessible property and then having to manage your care situation around it is extremely stressful, tiring and irritating. On top of this, I was working full-time, getting the business of the ground, doing weekly exercises and training for the Great Britain Shooting Talent and Development Squad.
8. Can you tell us about your invention, the easyTravelseat. What is it and how does it benefit disabled people?
My travelling experiences involve being manhandled from wheelchair to aisle chair and then manhandled again onto the aircraft, which is highly undignified and uncomfortable. I therefore sought to create something that would help me travel in a more comfortable and dignified manner.
The easyTravelseat is a sling/seat combination that is designed to work as an in-situ piece of equipment. It is placed in your wheelchair, and you then remain seated in the easyTravelseat until you reach your destination.
For instance, when flying, you would remain comfortably and securely seated within the easyTravelseat for your entire journey through the airport, onto and during your time on the aircraft and off again.
Once I created it, I realised the many benefits it offers disabled people. It allows users to travel in a more safe, dignified and comfortable way, on all modes of transport. Furthermore, it opens up leisure opportunities such as canoeing, kayaking, skiing and so on. The easyTravelseat enables users to be transferred quickly and easily without having to be manhandled. The user is comfortably seated with their own cushion, a gel pad or foam.
9. Where did the idea for the easyTravelseat stem from, and what did the development process involve?
The development process involved researching the types of equipment already available, and the demand for such a product. I conducted market research to determine whether wheelchair-users would find the product useful. Then we identified a concept and progressed to prototyping in order to test how the seat would work. We then moved on to the point of manufacturing the seat and getting the required medical marking and approvals in place. During this process we had been working initially with airports around the lifting side of the device, including our sling manufacturer and then an airline. We started production in February 2019.
10. Does the easyTravelseat cater for disabled people of all shapes and sizes?
The easyTravelseat will cater for the majority of disabled users with the exception of very young children, bariatric passengers or people with extreme contoured seating.
11. How does the easyTravelseat compare with similar products on the market, such as the ProMove sling or the NEPPT Transfer Evacuation Sling Seat?
The difference with the easyTravelseat is the specific design and application of use for aircraft, whilst ensuring passenger comfort. It allows users to be moved around the aircraft, including during an emergency, and to then disembark the aircraft in a much safer, dignified and comfortable manner. All other slings are designed to be removed and offer no protection or comfort when in-situ.
12. What other assistance do you think airlines could and should be offering to disabled passengers?
I think the most important area airlines should be focusing on in the immediate is the loading of wheelchairs, both electric and manual, to prevent damage. It also concerns me the people on the ground lifting these wheelchairs are at risk of causing serious damage to themselves. There is industry equipment to load wheelchairs onto an aircraft without having to manually lift a wheelchair. This would help the loaders and reduce the amount of damage to both the chairs and the airport staff. Also, a secure area in the hold may also be advantageous to prevent luggage damaging wheelchairs during turbulence.
I also think the UK should be pushing (as Canada has done successfully) the airlines to provide free tickets for a carer when flying with a disabled person. After all, the airlines make it a necessary requirement for WCHC passengers who cannot move without any support to fly with a personal assistant/carer.
Airlines should also be addressing the toileting situation inside the cabin too. It is currently impossible for the majority of disabled passengers to access the toilet whilst flying.
Regarding hidden disabilities, there are those who are much more calm when they are surrounded by objects which are all different colours.
Long term, all airlines should be looking to allow wheelchair-users to remain seated in their wheelchair, inside the cabin, during the flight.
13. What does the future hold for you and your business?
The future is bright for easyTravelseat! We are off to a steady start with interest across the globe. We believe in an accessible aviation world and are able to provide an immediate solution to help reduce some of the significant problems with maintaining safety, dignity and comfort when flying with a wheelchair.
We will now look to ensure easyTravelseat is easily accessible in as many countries across the globe as possible in the coming years.