Faith Restored

On Monday afternoon, my struggle against inadequate disabled facilities continued. Keeping the recent experiences outlined in “A Long Way To Go” firmly in mind, I considered things to have hit an all-time low when I was guided to a cubicle in a local car park by a friend in my time of need. I had my RADAR key with me, so opening the door was not a problem, and although it was a touch on the heavy side, my upper body strength meant I could move it independently. When the doorway was clear, the daylight revealed a room that should have been just the right size to accommodate my wheelchair – doubts remained, however, so I only tentatively moved in. Unable to hold the door behind me any longer, I relaxed my arm, and it slammed shut with a hefty thud. It was then that I faced my biggest challenge yet, and not in negotiating the toilet. I was suddenly finding myself stuck in pitch darkness, and unable to find a light switch!

There was absolutely nothing for my eyes to adjust to, so aside from the fact that the door was behind me, and the toilet somewhere in front, I had no idea where anything else was. I had no choice but to unzip the bag strapped to the left side of my chair and fumble for my phone. I pulled it out and the screen came to life, only to illuminate the positively¬†disgusting¬†lavatory visitors were expected to use. It was almost full to the brim with long sheets of discoloured and soggy toilet paper, as well as the leavings of the last poor soul who struggled in there. The walls and floor weren’t much cleaner, and the sink and taps – ironically for items that exist to wash your hands – were most likely dirtier than the fingers of anyone who has just done their business. I will admit that I can’t recall what the handrails were like, or even if there were any proper ones at all, but in any case, this was a toilet I simply could not use without a light and some degree of sterilisation.

I was desperate and without relief once again. I was also naturally angry, since I was having to take yet another detour just to perform a common bodily function, but thankfully the next disabled cubicle was only a short distance away. Out came the RADAR key again, and with the help of a kind stranger – who waited and held my umbrella outside whilst I did my thing – I was in. This new toilet was not spotless either, but it did at least contain a window, so natural light was in abundance. Space was plentiful too, and upon approaching the bowl I was grateful that it was positively poo-free. Lovely. Well, it wasn’t perfect, but it would have to do. Within a couple of minutes I was done, having been able to wash my hands without touching anything thanks to an automated system. I emerged onto the pavement again, and the stranger handed me my umbrella with a smile. The kindness of ordinary folk can manifest itself in the most insignificant ways, and that was one such way – but, with my toilet ordeal now over, the stage was set for another to appear.

The time came to go home, and that meant getting on the bus. This particular bus had evidently seen better days, however, and any modern designer with a shred of common sense would surely have made the wheelchair space much bigger – not that I could access it anyway. The issue on this occasion lay not with another wheelchair or a pushchair, but with a sea of suitcases belonging to several holidaymakers. Bear in mind that the disabled space must always be given first and foremost to someone who really needs it. In this case, I was that person, but before I’d even edged onto the ramp to board the bus, the owners of the cases were complaining about having to move them. Luckily for me, the driver stood firm, insisting that I had to be allowed on and they would have to do what they could to fit me in. What followed was a series of inch-by-inch shuffles and slides as I did my best to squeeze, but even when it seemed impossible, we managed it – almost certainly defying physics in the process. This was in no small part due to the determination of the driver, who showed a great deal of patience as I lurched into my slot. Indeed, she held the bus at the stop until I was safely seated, and when I needed to get off again ten minutes later, she made a very nerve-wracking departure a whole lot easier. People like her are those I probably don’t give enough credit to when I’m moaning about others, but now is her moment and I wanted to express my thanks for her consideration here – not forgetting the umbrella-holding man either. Your contributions to my day may have been relatively small, but they have not gone unnoticed. My friends and family are there for me on a daily basis, and they should always know how valued they are, but in your own little ways, even you help restore my faith in humanity.



The Trooper

Just under a week ago, I picked up a brand new electric wheelchair. To the untrained eye, its somewhat unremarkable outward appearance and black paint job might make it indistinguishable from my previous one, but look deeper and you’ll find several improvements. The most notable of these is the addition of an extra set of wheels, so that it now has six instead of four. These have the effect of improving the chair’s agility – it is now much neater in its movements, requiring less input from me on the joystick when I need to get into a tight space. Furthermore, the two larger wheels that were previously at the rear have now been centralised, enabling me to turn on a sixpence more quickly. The chair does both of these things very smoothly, and is completely unfazed by bumps and kinks in the ground below – where its predecessor would shake and rattle dramatically in response to the slightest jolt, the new model is silent, the extra wheels allowing it to glide cleanly and gracefully around like a metal ballerina dancing on a bed of air. By this stage, you can probably tell that I’m very impressed with what I’ve been given!

The chair’s merits don’t just lie in the newer features, though. Since it is essentially a giant Meccano kit, which took an hour and a half to dismantle and reassemble before I received it, old parts can easily be screwed in amongst their replacements. When I first sat in the chair, its armrests were too far back and too short, making them inconvenient for me when driving. As it turned out, this wasn’t a problem for long, as the engineer was simply able to attach my old ones instead, easily rectifying the situation. Part of my old seat was also carried over to the new chair to give me a similar sitting position, adding to the Frankenstein’s Monster-style feel of the machine. As a result of these modifications, I have a chair that is practically tailor-made for me – even before it was ordered, we requested that it be exactly the same width as my old one, so that I could still drive it into the back of our car. The control panel and buttons are all the same too, so there are no new processes for me to learn. It’s as the old saying goes – if something ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Lying amongst all of the old and new abilities this chair has is a single, fundamentally important one that was the main motivation for having a new one. The University of Winchester’s main campus is rather steep, to such an extent that taking my old chair there would most likely have been downright dangerous. I have tipped up in it before on a much smaller incline, so steeper ones would have posed a much more serious problem. Thankfully, due to the two extra wheels at the back, it is impossible for me to perform a wheelie now, so I am equipped with just what I need to tackle a brilliant three years’ study without any accidents. This new chair will be my little trooper!