We’ve been joined by a guest blogger, Krishna Francis, to discuss accessibility matters: the impact sudden disability has had on his life and how it’s affected his sense of feeling “normal”.
“Disability is suddenly sexy. At least, that’s how it seems. With channel idents for Channel 4 and BBC1 featuring wheelchair sports men and women, and a run of Malteser’s adverts during the Rio Paralympics that had storylines centred around disability, more and more public spaces are filled with objects that recognise the travails of dealing with a body that has issues. That’s progress.
Except that, viewed from the inside of a disabled body, it is unclear how to respond to these changes. It’s a peculiar fact of becoming disabled that suddenly you find yourself with a completely new set of requirements and no easy way to define them. Take me for example. One day, cycling home from work with things on my mind, I hit a telegraph pole and awoke a day later in a hospital bed to be told that I may never walk again. So far that diagnosis stands. From the bottom of my lungs downwards I have no feeling or control of my body. It’s a lot to take in.
All aspects of my life have been changed. A small illustration of this, the position of my injury is T8 which stands for thoracic 8 corresponding to the exact vertebrae and area of my body – C, cervical, T, thoracic or L, lumbar – where all feeling and movement stops. In my case this means that my diaphragm has limited function. Picture the scene: I’m taking a drink from my water bottle (important since hydration is an issue necessary to keep my bladder flushed regularly) a little water goes down the wrong way, in order to cough it up again I have to aid my diaphragm by giving it a shove from underneath with my hand. It’s not deadly or even massively inconvenient but it does remind me that stuff just doesn’t quite work as it ought. Suddenly the world isn’t as comfortable a fit as it once was.
That means that when I’m out and about and I encounter a world that doesn’t require me to make sacrifices it’s a small joy. It’s not always the big, expensive things that are the most helpful. Obviously a lift between floors is an aid. A ramp that allows wheelchair access makes the world feel more open and inclusive. These things mean that the world has me in and other wheelchair users in mind. It recognises the need for us to be able to get into certain spaces in order to be able to live our lives. A lift in a building means that building isn’t excluded to us. Great. However, sometimes there are small instances where an element of thought in the design of the everyday gives me the opportunity to forget the hunk of metal, rubber and fabric underneath me. Easy but thoughtful solutions like the presence of a wheelchair-accessible picnic table can mean I have the chance to participate in an ordinary activity like eating out in a pub garden without giving details like where I’m going to sit, a second thought.
It’s easy enough to fit in and not grumble. There are plenty of times that I’ve removed my foot paddles to lower my knees in order to fit under a low table. Or I’ve sat at the end of the bench and eaten with my body at a 45 degree angle to the table. It’s not painful or humiliating but it’s not straightforward. Initially I figured it was just one of the things that one puts up with after suffering a spinal injury. I’m not dead, I can make do. Yet when the element that requires me to put up is absent, when a piece of public furniture allows me to use it without any concessions on my part it really helps. Not that I exactly notice. Oddly, I’m not conspicuously grateful, I’m just not forced to sacrifice my comfort or my dignity to fit in.
To say I’m not grateful is perhaps to miss the point. In the moments when the world around me has taken into account the peculiarities of my new way of being I feel present. I’m not the person who needs special attention to be included. I’m also not reminded that the human made environment isn’t naturally given to thinking of people in my position. Instead I can get on with interacting with friends and family or simply existing in a space that has me already in mind in the way that it has been put together. Feeling ordinary is a boon when everything about the way you live reminds you that you have special needs that distance you from the everyday. More than I feel grateful for good design, I feel ordinary when it has been taken into account for me”.
Krishna – thanks so much for sharing your experiences with us. Inclusivity is about more than basic accessibility – it’s about comfort, acceptance and the ability to be relaxed and present.
Here at BRP we try to recognise a range of mobility needs. Any of our A-frame picnic tables can be adapted to include a single wheelchair-accessible space at no extra charge. For users who are ambulatory but have limited mobility, the Batley V-frame picnic table is a great choice, allowing users to walk right into their seat without the need to swing a leg over the bench. If you benefit from having something to grab and hold onto while you transition from sitting to standing, anything with a backrest on can be a great help, as well as offering additional support while you’re seated. For those who want a picnic table with backrests, take a look at the Calder 8-seater – backrests can be added on request. For those who need a something to ‘push’ on in order to stand, a seat with arms can help – our classic Ilkley sloper bench is ideal. All of our recycled plastic furniture is heavy enough to be reliably secure, although fixing kits are available for both soft and hard ground.
In common with the rest of our recycled plastic furniture, these accessible options are maintenance-free, lifetime-guaranteed and will never rot, split or splinter. A towel will wipe them dry instantly, so they’re ready to go, whatever the weather. They’re resistant to UV, the application of graffiti and to the growth of moulds and algae.
All of our picnic tables and benches are included in our Buy 4, Get 5 offer. Choose 4 identical items and get a 5th, absolutely free. All A-frame picnic tables can have a single wheelchair-accessible space added at no extra cost – this includes standard and Junior size options. An accessible option can count as one of your 4 identical items, too.
If you want to improve accessibility to your site, choosing the right seating isn’t the only consideration. For wheelchair-users, getting onto and around sites – especially rural sites like nature reserves and picnic areas – can be tricky. Uneven surfaces, boggy paths and shifting gravel can all pose a problem for chairs and other mobility aids. Our Hebden X Grids are Part M approved (that’s the section of building regulations governing accessibility), so they can be used to create pathways suitable for wheeled mobility aids.
Have you ever tried to push a wheelchair/pushchair though sand? Well, loose gravel behaves in a similar way: your wheels sink and making any kind of progress becomes really hard work, whether you’re wheeling yourself, or being pushed. Our Hebden X Grids provide a flat surface and contain gravel dressings. When filled with sharp gravel, the stones settle against each other and provide a solid surface into which wheels won’t sink.
Together, we can make a world a more welcome and accessible place – to everyone.
If you’d like to know more about any of recycled plastic products, get in touch with our friendly team:
01422 419 555