Wealden Rehab Equipment Specialists share the benefits
of having an Occupational Therapist in the team
Care equipment specialist Wealden Rehab works alongside in-house and external qualified occupational therapists (OTs).
Our in-house OT, Gayle Cardwell has 20 years experience, benefiting the team with clinical skills that can
be transferred into private practice. The collaboration between care equipment
providers and clinical experts results in a truly personal service.
Gayle offers her knowledge and understanding of both mental and physical health and wellbeing to the product advisors at Wealden Rehab, emphasising the importance of a personal approach being necessary to achieve the best
Assessing each client holistically encompasses the environmental considerations, which improve solutions for installation of ceiling hoists and
more detailed clinical considerations for seating.
Upon prescribing a piece of equipment, the occupational therapist must clearly show their clinical consideration. Gayle has devised and shared documents to encourage clinical reasoning when prescribing Wealden Rehab’s most popular
products. The documents are aimed at prescribing OT’s to consider the individual, environment, the task and to help justify the most appropriate outcome for the end user.
Gayle has provided a rigorous training program for all of Wealden Rehab’s product advisors, through individual and group training sessions. Her ongoing program is designed to enhance the assessments and the training they offer to their customers, which brings extra value.
Wealden Rehab recognise the
significance of having an OT in the team and a clinical approach in devising and delivering training for OT customers when prescribing Wealden Rehab products. We have observed increased confidence, greater understanding from OT’s in the
set-up and recommendation of our products, resulting in improving the end users
In the future, Wealden Rehab will be adding to the range
of products and, with specialist input, Gayle will be able to critique and share her clinical knowledge regarding new products. This will surely have an impact on the quality of life of many users, which is, Gayle says, ‘At the heart of
everything we do.’
But there are also times when my patience is wearing thin. Some days, I’m just not in the mood!
Today is one of those days.
I attended a routine hospital appointment and parked my Motability WAV in a disabled bay, with my blue badge clearly displayed, as usual.
As I reversed out of the WAV, I heard a woman stood directly behind me shouting, “I’m just having a nosey inside!”
*Cue eye-roll* Oh, feck off, lady!
I then waited in a small room crammed full of virally infested patients for well over an hour, only to be told the nurse I was due to see went home sick hours before. Which begs the question – why not inform me of this on arrival?!
I waited a further half an hour to be seen by another nurse. At least it wasn’t a wasted journey, I guess.
Having returned to my car, I was ever-so-slightly pissed off to find a parking ticket!
As soon as I got home, I logged-on to check out the meaning of this fuckery. As I suspected – no reason for issue, no explanation and no photo evidence.
Needless to say, I wrote a strongly worded appeal. Under no circumstances will I be paying this unjustified “parking charge”. No, just no!
I have just turned 31 (sooo old!) and, in order to live my life, I require support from personal carers.
Today, I (well, actually my mother) received the following letter…
Now, don’t you just love it when so-called “professionals” invite themselves to your home to drink your tea and eat your biscuits at a time and date to suit them?
It seems the assumption is that disabled folk just sit at home all day, idly twiddling their thumbs ~ Nah, mate.
Not only that, they failed to inform me and instead wrote to my mother! WTF?!
I know I’m child-sized but I am in fact a fully-functioning adult who manages all aspects of her own care needs.
~ My disability!
~ My carers!
~ My business!
~ My life!!
I wouldn’t mind so much, only I’ve spent months jumping through hoops (not literally, obviously) and answering the most inane questions in order to qualify for NHS CHC (a continuing healthcare package – to pay personal care assistants).
*FYI ~ I am currently in receipt of Direct Payments, enabling me to employ and pay my own carers*
As yet, I haven’t received a penny via CHC, though I did get a call to say an initial payment was made during the summer. Nope, sorry, no it has not!
(Little tip for you ~ when it comes to NHS/council funded care, QUESTION EVERYTHING!)
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.
I think most people living with a chronic illness, disability or mental health issue can relate to this quote, at least to some extent. I know I do.
I am limited by my physical disability (congenital muscular dystrophy), despite the claims by some that you can do anything if you just try hard enough. As a non-ambulatory wheelchair-user with a muscle-wasting condition, I’m afraid there are certain things I cannot do.
I am heavily reliant on others to carry out daily activities such as cooking, cleaning, locking doors, opening and closing windows and so on. I also need help with personal care tasks like getting in and out of bed, dressing and bathing. This can be undignified, thus affecting my confidence and making me feel incredibly self-conscious and utterly undesirable. After all, who wants their boyfriend to shower them?!
I HATE asking people to do things for me, as I then feel a burden, a nuisance, an annoyance. Having to ask people to simply open a bottle or a can at the grand old age of 30 is frankly embarrassing (for me).
Sometimes I refuse to speak up and request help. Call it pride or sheer stubbornness. But there are other times I have no choice. Like it or not, I have to ask, to instruct, to explain.
For the most part, I’ve managed to conceal the extent of my disability from those around me. Many people, friends included, think I am much more able and independent than I actually am. Again, put it down to pride. But there are some people I can’t hide this from. Family members, of course, but also anyone I am romantically involved with.
Due to the nature of my disability and all the added extras – care requirements, dependency, restrictions, the inability to be spontaneous – I always believed myself to be undeserving of love. I genuinely thought *think* of myself as an unnecessary burden. Why would anyone put up with me, my weak, crooked body and all of my baggage when they could choose to be with someone else?
As a result of this and a lifetime of rejection, I put up barriers and distanced myself from society; a form of self preservation. Being told repeatedly that I’m not good enough, I’m “no one’s type”, and “too much to take on” has made quite a negative impression on my self-esteem.
Now, I don’t want to ramble or get too personal. But I am slowly starting to trust and believe I am worthy of love and companionship.
They say there’s someone for everyone. The cynical part of me still questions this. But maybe, just maybe, there is.
It takes an extra special person to accept me and my care needs. To take on, without question, a pretty drastic lifestyle change. To see past the wheelchair, the crooked body, the medical equipment and the disability itself, and simply love me for me, unconditionally. To try to convince me every day that I’m not undesirable, unloveable or a burden. People like this are rare, but they are out there!
Let me know if you can relate to any of the following scenarios…
Stranger: There’s only a few steps. Me: I can’t walk, hence the chair. Stranger: They’re only small steps. Me: Nope, still can’t walk I’m afraid. Stranger: Oh, not even with assistance? Me: Not even with assistance. Stranger: Not even a little bit? Me: Not even a little bit. Stranger: Not at all? Me: Not at all.
Awkward, deafening silence…
Stranger: There are steps but we can just lift you (in a powered wheelchair). Me: Thanks but this chair is really heavy. There’s no way you’ll lift it.
Stranger then attempts to lift me in my wheelchair, only to complain of the weight.
Stuck in a long queue of fit, young able-bods who look me up and down (in my wheelchair) but still choose to wait for the one and only lift/elevator rather than take the stairs, which would be much quicker!
A young driver in flashy sports car races into a blue badge bay and gets out without displaying a badge. Me: Excuse me, have you got a blue badge? Driver: No! Have YOU?! Me: YEP! (waving my blue badge at the driver while sat in my Motability WAV).
Being unable to access public disabled toilets because they’re being used for storage!
Entering a public disabled toilet after a mother and baby have just used it. It absolutely stinks and there are used nappies on the floor!
Guy: okay, can I be honest? Me: yes. Guy: let’s be real, you’re no one’s type. Are you! Me: erm, thanks!
Me: I can’t walk. I have something called muscular dystrophy. Guy: oh. Right. Okay… Me: yup… Guy: so is that something you could change if you work on your fitness? Me: no. Afraid not. Guy: not even if you try really hard and actually make an effort?
Me: I’m a wheelchair-user. Guy: oh right, what’s wrong with you? You self-propel, yeah? Me: no I can’t do that, and there’s nothing wrong with me. Guy: but I’ve seen some really fit girls in wheelchairs. They play basketball and all sorts! Me: yeah, that’s never gonna be me. Sorry.
Me: I’m a wheelchair-user. I can’t walk at all. Guy: oh, okay. What happened? Me: nothing happened. I have something called muscular dystrophy. Guy: I just Googled it. Wow that really is a disease isn’t it!! Me: fear not, it isn’t contagious.
Guy: oh, so you can’t walk at all? Me: yeah that’s right, I have muscular dystrophy so I can’t weight-bear. I use a powered wheelchair. Guy: okay…. Me: it’s fine if you want to ask questions. Guy: so…you don’t have sex then?? Me: why’s that? Guy: well, I’m guessing you can’t feel anything…you know.
Woman: aww, I’m sure you’ll find a nice guy in a wheelchair to date! Me: or just a nice guy!?
Social Worker Review
Assessor: are you able to make your own decisions? Me: yes. Assessor: always? Me: yes. Assessor: (with a sceptical expression) but…if you needed advice when making a decision, who would you ask? Me: myself!?
Stranger, whilst leaning over, “It’s good to see you getting out and about”
At a restaurant with a group of friends, all of whom are able-bodied. Waiter comes to our table, looks at me in my wheelchair, and starts rambling about a friend of his who lives near a Paralympian. None of us know quite how to respond.
At the pub with a friend who goes to the bar to get us drinks. When she returns, she says a guy at the bar who she knows told her he didn’t realise she’s now a carer. She had to stop and think for a moment and then replied, “I’m not her carer. I’m her friend! We’ve known each other almost 20 years!”
The guy looked absolutely dumbfounded.
Driving & Mobility
“Wow, you learned to drive? Is that safe? Did you have a special instructor and a special test?”
“Your wheelchair’s a bit battered. Looks like you could do with a new one! I suppose you just call and get a replacement through the NHS?”
“Do you have to have training and a test to drive that thing? [my powered wheelchair]”
“They [wheelchairs] cost HOW MUCH?! Why are they so expensive? Can’t you just save up?”
“Oh, you went to university? Good for you! It’s something for you to do, isn’t it. How did you manage though?”
Today I bring you another guest post from Michael Leavy, Managing Director of Home Healthcare Adaptations, a family-run company that specialises in adapting homes for the elderly and less abled.
Michael kindly provided a previous guest post, (How Seniors Can Feel More Secure At Home), which you can view here.
Infographic | How to prevent hypothermia in older people
The risk of hypothermia is at its highest during the winter months. That risk is even greater for elderly people, as their lower metabolic rate makes it harder for their bodies to retain an ideal temperature. Also, they might not detect extreme cold as readily as others, and could have chronic medical conditions which would exacerbate the onset of hypothermia.
If you see signs of hypothermia in an elderly relative, keep them as warm as possible. If the situation seems serious, call NHS 111 for expert advice and guidance.
The infographic below from Home Healthcare Adaptations explains what to do if you think someone is experiencing hypothermia, along with preventative measures they can take to reduce the likelihood of hypothermia.
The harsh winter months affect a high population of the UK with a spate of Flu and other seasonal illnesses. But for the elderly and immobile, freezing conditions can lead to far more serious conditions requiring hospitalisation.
Elderly people are generally at greater risk of hypothermia than most others for several reasons. Their lower metabolic rate makes it harder for their bodies to regulate temperature in cold weather, while the presence of chronic health conditions reduces their immunity to hypothermia. Also, a deterioration in the senses could make it more difficult for an elderly person to detect decreases in temperature, hence they might not take immediate preventative action.
If you have elderly/immobile relatives or neighbours, check in on them throughout the colder months to ensure they aren’t showing any warning signs of hypothermia.
Symptoms of hypothermia include:
A rapid deterioration in physical appearance.
Extreme shivering or an occurrence of sudden, inexplicable body movements.
If you notice any of these in an elderly person during cold weather, call 999 straight away and, while waiting for the emergency services to arrive, move them to a warm place and wrap them in a warm blanket or coat.
Don’t put them in a warm bath or give them an alcoholic or caffeinated beverage!
For over a decade, I have been hiring assistants (via Direct Payments) to help me with an array of tasks, including personal care.
I prefer to recruit my own staff rather than use agency workers. This has given me much more flexibility in terms of when, how and for the duration of time I use my PAs. It also means that I know exactly who will be providing my care, which is not always the case when going down the agency route. However, with this comes the added responsibility of being an employer, which in itself can be rather daunting and stressful.
I’m in the fortunate position of having a hugely supportive family who provide much of my everyday care. Since I live with my parents, I am unable to officially employ them as my carers, and so they carry out this role unpaid!
I do appreciate that not everyone has relatives to rely on. For these individuals, the only option is to pay others, often strangers, to assist with their care needs.
Like me, they might advertise, interview and hire independently, paying for their care with council funded Direct Payments (available in England, Scotland and Wales). Alternatively they may decide to use an agency.
For others though, in times of desperation, there’s no choice but to leave their residence and spend time in respite care. I know of cases where young people in their 20s have been placed in nursing homes for the elderly, where staff have no knowledge or experience of their condition and specialist needs. Personally, I can’t imagine such an experience and count myself lucky that I’ve never had to resort to this.
Over the years, I’ve employed around 10 carers/personal assistants, and interviewed many, many more! The most successful sources of recruitment for me are friends, neighbours, word of mouth and Facebook, though I also advertise locally (newsagents, post office, school newsletters, newspapers, etc).
If you are a full-time carer (at least 35 hours per week) you may be entitled to Carer’s Allowance.
You don’t need to be related to, or live with, the person you care for.
My Mum is in receipt of Carer’s Allowance (currently £64.60 per week) as she is my primary carer.
This may seem like a decent sum of money, but consider ~
£64.60 = 35+ hours care work. That equates to £1.80 per hour
This doesn’t include expenses, e.g. fuel/travel costs, parking fees (hospital appointments), etc.
My Open Letter to Carers/PAs
On behalf of all who require personal/social care, I invite anyone considering taking on the role of carer/personal assistant to think carefully about what it really means before you do apply.
Firstly, this is not a choice for us – it is a necessity! We’re not too busy or too lazy to do things for ourselves. When we advertise for carers, it’s because we NEED them and not necessarily because we want them.
As physically disabled individuals, many of us cannot independently carry out essential everyday tasks such as washing, dressing and toileting. To have no option but to entrust such intimate activities to another person – a stranger – is unnatural and unnerving. We are, in effect, placing our lives in your hands when you take on the vital role of personal carer.
Recruiting carers can be a lengthy and extremely stressful process for us. There’s the initial worry over whether there will be any applicants at all, followed by the dreaded interview process.
We often find ourselves waiting around for interviewees to attend, only for them to carelessly fail to show without any notification.
Please do bear in mind that disabled peoplehave busy, purposeful lives too, sodon’t waste our time. We appreciate there are valid reasons for failing to attend job interviews, but it’s no hardship making a quick phone call or sending a text message to let us know in advance.
As you would with any potential employer, be professional and courteous.
If and when we are able to successfully recruit, it can be incredibly frustrating and disheartening when that person flippantly decides to resign days later. You may wonder how and why this occurs, but the sad fact is that for many disabled people it is a reality. We are not afforded the luxury of being able to manage until a replacement is found. No, we can’t simply wait for the right person to show up.
Some of us even have to resort to respite and residential homes in the meantime, thereby taking us away from our own homes and everything we hold dear. Try to imagine if you will, how demoralising and distressing such a situation would be if it happened to you. I therefore reiterate how important it is to think before applying for a role as a personal carer.
Are you dedicated, trustworthy, reliable, able and willing to learn? Ask yourself: are you considering care work for the right reasons? (it is not an easy option!)
Your role as PA may be demanding and will involve a variety of tasks. You will be responsible for the safety and wellbeing of your potentially vulnerable client/employer.
So, if your attitude to care work is casual and indifferent, this is most definitely not a job for you!
I am 30 years old, and I have the progressive condition, Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy. As a result, I am completely non-ambulant. I use a powered wheelchair and am unable to transfer without the use of a hoist and support from carers.
Imagine being denied the basic human need to go to the loo; being unable to access a toilet whenever you need to. Imagine having to hold in the urge all day, every day. Having no choice but to strictly limit your fluid intake to the point where you cannot risk drinking from morning until evening. Living with dehydration, impaired mental function and recurrent infections, simply because adequate toileting facilities are not made available to you.
This was my life until 2011, when I underwent medically unnecessary surgery to insert a suprapubic catheter. Of course, I didn’t want an operation, a General Anaesthetic (in itself a huge risk due to my poor lung function) or an indwelling catheter. By no means is this an easy fix, believe me! But I just couldn’t do it anymore; I was making myself ill and relied on assistance from others in order to carry out the seemingly simple task of toileting. No longer could I inflict undue stress on my body and mind.
So, I resigned myself to the only option available to me at that time; a suprapubic catheter. With this, I no longer need to transfer from my wheelchair or depend on other people. I don’t have to struggle and suffer the indignity of using small, dirty and ill-equipped public disabled toilets. But, 250,000 disabled people in the UK still do.
Often, there is not enough room to fit a wheelchair in a disabled toilet, let alone space to transfer, adjust clothing and accommodate a carer too. Baby changing facilities get in the way, grab rails are too few and carelessly installed, the toilets themselves are too low, and hoists…what hoists?!
The majority of disabled toilets I have used throughout my life have been vastly inadequate, filthy, often neglected or used for storage!
I think it’s important that there are Changing Places facilities everywhere, including smaller towns, villages and rurally as there are many disabled people (like me) resident in these locations too.
The lack of such essential facilities locally makes me feel restricted, excluded from society and considered less important.
The 19th July 2017 marked the second Changing Places Awareness Day and eleven years since the campaign began.
Each registered Changes Places toilet includes:
1. – a height adjustable adult-sized changing bench
2. – a tracking hoist system, or mobile hoist where not possible
3. – adequate space for the disabled person and up to two carers
4. – a centrally placed toilet with room either side
Shane Burcaw is a high-profile, 26 year-old American writer, public speaker and charity founder. He has documented all aspects of his life with spinal muscular atrophy with candid humour, thereby informing and inspiring others whilst also influencing the public perception of disability.
Burcaw has been commended for his ongoing determination, sincerity and ability to raise awareness of often uncomfortable issues, in a sensitive manner.
Shane kindly took time out of his busy schedule to speak with me about life with SMA, what motivates his work, and why personal care doesn’t affect his relationship with able-bodied girlfriend, Hannah.
1. Shane, please could you tell us about your disability and how it affects you and your lifestyle?
I have Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 2, but I’m on the weaker end of the Type 2 spectrum. SMA is a neuromuscular disease that causes my muscles to weaken and waste away over time. I’ve been using an electric wheelchair since the age of two. In a nutshell, my disease affects every single function of the body that involves muscles. I can barely move my legs, arms, and hands. I have difficulty swallowing, speaking, and breathing (especially when sick). Because of this weakness, I rely on other people for pretty much every aspect of daily life, from getting out of bed, to eating, to going to the bathroom. Luckily, I’ve been surrounded by incredible people who have always been there to help me, and because of that, I’m able to live a fairly “normal” life, with a career, a variety of hobbies, and frequent traveling for both leisure and work. I live with my girlfriend, Hannah, in Minneapolis, and she is my primary caregiver.
2. What motivates you to do the work you do (writing, public speaking, raising awareness through social media and your charity LAMN) and how do you find the energy?
My disease is progressive, so my condition and abilities deteriorate over time. I learned at a young age that many people with SMA pass away at a younger age than the average, and that realisation instilled in me some sort of existential determination to leave a mark on the world. Some might call it vain, but I was terrified by the prospect of dying without having done anything to be remembered for. I began sharing my story through funny blogs and later books, and working hard to grow a non-profit organisation that provides free equipment to others with my disease. Coffee is really the only way I’m able to balance writing, the non-profit, blogging, vlogging, and public speaking!
It should be noted that two years ago, the first-ever treatment (Spinraza) for my disease was discovered and approved. I began receiving it at the age of 25, and it’s supposed to stop the progression of my muscle-wasting. This has been a huge development in my life, both physically and mentally, and I’m still coming to terms with the fact that my future might be much different than I originally imagined.
3. Could you please tell us about Laughing At My Nightmare (charitable organisation) – how it all began, aims and objectives?
Our non-profit grew out of my blog that I began writing in 2011. People from all around the world felt an authentic connection with the idea that humour can help us cope with adversity. My cousin Sarah and I co-founded LAMN as a way to spread that idea to more people, and along the way we began raising funds to provide equipment to the muscular dystrophy community. In the past three years we have provided over $150,000 in medical and adaptive equipment to people living with muscular dystrophy.
4. In 2014, you wrote your first book. A memoir also entitled, Laughing At My Nightmare. Two further books followed. Who are your books aimed at and can readers expect?
5. In the past, you have faced criticism from some in the disabled community. The terms ‘inspiration/pity porn’ have been used. Can you explain why this is and how you feel about the backlash?
Living with SMA can, at times, be extremely difficult from an emotional/mental standpoint. Experiencing the slow decline of ability through my adolescence and coming to terms with my future and my place in society was not always a bright, cheery process. My writing has always been an authentic reflection on my thoughts and experiences, so I wrote honestly about my fears and challenges. When my story began to receive attention on a larger scale, there were some people in the disabled community who didn’t agree with my sharing of these intimate worries. People accused me of playing up the negative aspects of my disability for attention, while others thought I was exploiting my life in an attempt to be “inspiring.”
I’m glad that people spoke up with their criticism. Although my writing has always been overwhelmingly positive, their feedback helped me reflect on some of my fears about getting worse and dying. Getting involved in the muscular dystrophy community has been such a positive thing for me, and they’ve helped me reframe my outlook on a personal level, which, in turn, has changed how I write about my disease. We are all learning and growing together!
6. Has your attitude to disability, your own in particular, changed over time?
Earlier in life, my biggest concern was minimising my disability for the sake of appearing “normal.” As I’ve gotten older, I’m less concerned with fitting in, and becoming more passionate about embracing my disability and changing the way society sees disability.
7. You have been with your able-bodied girlfriend, Hannah, for over two years. If you are comfortable doing so, would you please share with us how you met and a little about your relationship.
Hannah and I live together in Minneapolis, and she has been my primary caregiver for the past seven months. After doing two years of long distance, we are both happier than we’ve ever been now that we are permanently together. Like all couples, we have the occasional disagreement, but by and large we don’t feel like the caregiving aspects of our relationship create a strain. In fact, we both agree that these caregiving activities help strengthen our emotional connection.
I would like to thank Shane for taking the time answer my questions.