Thursday, 28 January 2016

Planning ahead...

My last post was about how 2016 could be a very exciting year for disabled people in general with the media (just Channel 4 at the moment) stepping up coverage. Since Monday, it has emerged that LEGO are launching a figurine of a 'Wheelchair Boy' (http://bricksfans.com/2016/01/27/lego-releases-first-disabled-minifigure/) which again is extremely positive news because young kids are the main target audience and, as I have mentioned before, the only way society can change is if children are taught from an early age that disabled people are just like them. All this talk of what a promising year it could be has reminded me that I have quite a busy one lined up... although after researching flights to Barcelona, I probably will not be able to tick everything off my list.

First up on my 2016 itinerary is a couple of nights in Barcelona. Unlike most intellectual beings, my main reason for visiting Catalonia is not to soak up the culture. Some of you have probably guessed why I am looking to go there and it's for the Arsenal of course. Why else would I go away for a few days in March? I would probably enjoy looking around the Gothic architecture and other tourist attractions but it is the Nou Camp that excites me the most. We have got a Cathedral in St. Albans but not Europe's largest football stadium.

Before any bitter Tottenham Hotspur or Manchester United fans chirp up (by the way, they are not even in this prestigious tournament so it is just jealousy), I am 99% sure we will be sent home with our tails between our legs but the home of FC Barcelona is at the very top of my 'stadiums I want to visit before I die' list and I want to see first-hand what it is like. Also, anything is possible in football. Even if the inevitable does happen and we do lose, just like in M√ľnich, I will not regret making the journey as it will no doubt be a once in a lifetime experience.

I was just looking through a list of the largest football stadia in Europe and as of writing, I have been to four of the top 10 (Signal Iduna Park, Allianz Arena, Old Trafford and Wembley). As I said earlier in the post, hopefully that number will rise to five in March. Then, all being well, I will be going to three other stadiums in France for the 2016 European Championships in the summer. I have had the tickets for almost a year but only discovered in December that the first match I will be attending in Paris is going to be the World Champions versus Northern Ireland. I was over the moon when I heard that draw because I desperately wanted a home nation and the fact it is against Germany makes the game an even more exciting prospect.

You are probably wondering why I have bought tickets for the Euros, especially when I have explicitly said that I do not enjoy International football as much compared to the club game. The truth is because France is not that far away and it is a better way to spend my life than sitting around, waiting for Arsenal to return. Also, ferries are cheap and we will definitely need the car during this trip. The other two matches are a few days later in Lille and Lens respectively (only twenty minutes between each other) so after watching the match in Paris, we can stay in the Capital for a couple of days before driving Northwest to the Lille area for the two remaining fixtures.The teams who will be playing are not clear as it depends on how the final group table looks.

Last on the list is a return to Cyprus for a family holiday (obviously it depends on how much I spend on the other two). We had such a brilliant vacation last year but hopefully my older brother and his girlfriend will be able to join us this time. I still want to go to California but I guess that will have wait for another year. I am not made of money and after those two football excursions, I will most definitely want a relaxing break; chilling by the pool and soaking up the sun. I envisage visiting the West Coast of the USA to be more of a sightseeing trip.

Bye for now!

Monday, 25 January 2016

Changing perceptions...

 2016 could be the year!!!

I realise I sound like a desperate Tottenham Hotspur fan who thinks that this season their team can achieve the impossible and finish above Arsenal but I am actually talking about 'Wheelchair Boy' reaching a larger audience. Well, not me personally but the message of my blog will be. I have always maintained that the public will soon become less ignorant when it comes to disabled people if the media were to constantly put disability in the spotlight. It's a step in the right direction to have shows such as The Last Leg (I have spoke highly of the programme on here before; you probably think that I work for the PR team) but it's only on for about 4/5 months a year so it's not enough coverage in my book.

Thankfully though Channel 4 have heard my 'call to arms' and have made a dedicated year of disability, which is a massive stride forward in the fight for equality and rights for disabled people. Read this article if you would like further information on their plans: http://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/jan/18/channel-4-year-of-disability-rio-paralympics?CMP=share_btn_tw 
The two announcements that excited me the most are that there is going to be a disabled character in Hollyoaks (not that I watch it but I would if they explored some of the real issues disabled people face in life) and someone with a disability is going to be on Gogglebox (hopefully the person will be hilarious yet modest like me).

C4 is all about innovation so I hope that focusing on disability becomes a trend and other broadcasters soon follow suit. Attitudes will only change if more disabled people are given access to enter the mainstream media bubble.

Bye for now!

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

The call of nature...

Toileting is not the most elegant subject to discuss but after all, it's only natural and even 'Wheelchair Boy' has to go. You probably are thinking "what happens in the WC, stays in the WC" and you would normally be right. I quite like my privacy. However, I cannot think of anything better to write about. Not just that but I know some of my readers are interested by the modifications I have in place to help me out in ordinary life situations. Hopefully you read this post and think "I did not know that!" Others will no doubt think "Did I really just waste five minutes of my life reading that?"

Going for a wee is a simple act for able bodied people and requires little thought. However, it has always been that extra bit difficult for 'Wheelchair Boy'. There was no problem when I could stand because I would use the bars in the disabled toilet (they are not just there for decorative purposes)  to get to my feet, my carer would lower my trousers and then I would be able to do the rest using a bottle. As you all know, because it is the reason I had to get the Carony Classic system fitted in my car. I cannot stand anymore unless I have the standing hoist to support me. This is OK for toileting at home but I would be stuffed whenever I am out and get caught short.

Luckily I was looking at my jeans one day when this standing malarkey was starting to become an issue and suddenly a light bulb went off in my brain. I thought of a way that I could still go in a bottle without standing.  Cut a hole in the crotch and sew on Velcro strips so that it is easy to re-seal. Thanks to a family friend, most of my trousers are adapted but they just look normal. You can only notice they are different if you have a proper look (which would be weird; let us get to know each other first!) or if I point it out in a blog post...

I do not think any of you are that grossed out by what I have written up to this point so I am going to discuss the second call of nature. I have some decorum so I am not even going to mention the actual pooing (oops, I just did) but instead I would like to focus on the cleaning up after oneself. Obviously I cannot wipe after I have finished so when someone else has to, I feel so pathetic and useless. At home, I have a Clos-o-Mat wash and dry toilet so I can do it all myself at a touch of a button. I just wish they were more common in places I visit, particularly hotels.

Hopefully this post has been quite insightful and not just weird.

Bye for now!

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Fashion IZ Freedom...

The reason I appear stoned is because I am high...ON LIFE!

Before you all start reciting Justin Bieber lyrics at me ("What do you mean?"), let me explain what the title of this blog is going on about and why I have decided to upload a picture of 'Wheelchair Boy' wearing a t-shirt with the statement on. Basically, a Canadian designer called Izzy Camilleri has decided to launch a new campaign to raise funds and awareness for accessibility called 'Access10'. As the founder of IZ, a provider of sophisticated and functional clothing for people using wheelchairs, she will give 10% of total gross sales towards building ramps in communities across North America. One example is StopGap, a charity who organize teams to build brightly coloured ramps.


As for why I have took a 'seated selfie', it is because I really wanted to be part of this campaign. In previous posts, I have mentioned issues with accessibility at various places and that the only way for change to happen is to raise awareness.  I hope that by wearing the Fashion IZ Freedom’ t-shirt, 'Wheelchair Boy' will be able to help spread the message of what, I think you will agree, is a great initiative. It is really commendable that unlike most people in business, Camileri is giving back.

Buying clothes when you are in a wheelchair is extremely difficult, especially when you are a bit on the chunky side. Whether it is trying to buy shirts that are big enough at the back but not too baggy everywhere else or jackets that are easy to put on and take off, normal high street retailers do not consider disabled customers when designing a new clothing line. Dr. Alex Palmer, from the Royal Ontario Museum, agrees with my point; “For centuries and across the globe, fashion has been designed to hang off a standing figure.  IZ has revolutionized this history by making fashions that are designed for sitting. This is a truly innovative line that transforms lives and the history of pattern making.”

Obviously, izcollection.com is not the first adaptive clothing website but what makes it stand out in my mind is that the designs are stylish. Normally, clothes specifically made for disabled people look like they have come from a wardrobe in a retirement home. At the grand old age of 22, I do not want to dress like a pensioner (no offence if you are over 65). According to Izzy Camileri,“IZ was created to give people with disabilities access to beautiful fashion" and I think rightly so because being wheelchair bound does not mean you should not look your best.The editor-in-Chief of Zoomer magazine, Suzanne Boyd echoed my thoughts by admitting that “Fashion isn't the most inclusive world, but everyone should have the ability to look and therefore feel their best.”

This final part may come as a shock but the woman behind the collection and subsequent campaign is not actually disabled (which makes the work she is doing to help disabled people even more impressive). Izzy Camilleri, is one of Canada’s most celebrated fashion designers, and has dressed A-list stars like Angelina Jolie, David Bowie, Jennifer Lopez, and Meryl Streep. In 2004, a well-known journalist and wheelchair user contacted Izzy and asked her to design functional clothing that was also fashionable – something that certainly did not exist at the time. IZ started from there and now, 12 years on, she is still producing style-savvy adaptable clothing created purposefully for a seated frame.

This has got me thinking. Who is up for 'Wheelchair Boy' tees?

Bye for now!

Monday, 4 January 2016

Slowly does it...

I know I am a little bit late with the 'reflecting on the year that was 2015' post but it is OK as I am not looking back on the year that has passed. Although it was personally a very good one for me; moving into my flat was a particular highlight. Instead, I will be looking back between now and when I first started using a wheelchair part time (2004) to see if life is better in 2016 for disabled people.

Without question, there have been a lot of positive changes in recent history to improve the lives of disabled people including improved access to public transport and other daily activities that able-bodied people take for granted.

However, I decided to make the title of this blog post 'slowly does it' because any changes in the way disabled people are treated within society is gradual. I might go into one restaurant (via a ramp), take a lift upstairs to eat and use the disabled toilet before leaving. Then I might go into a shop next door (where my carer has to bump my wheelchair up a step), struggle to get around the tight layout just to be told that the men's section is upstairs and there's no lift. That is a true story and is just one example of how victory in the fight for equal access seems imminent yet is actually so far away.

The greatest challenge for the disabled is changing people's attitudes towards them. There has been a noticeable improvement over the past few years in my opinion. Whether that is because the media are beginning to use disabled talent (nowhere near enough but comedians like Alex Brooker are better than nothing) or young people are simply more educated and less ignorant as a result, I do not know. It just seems that there is now a 50/50 split between those who understand we are normal like them and those that see the disabled as scum of the earth whereas before, large swathes of society thought that way.

Last month, 14 people were killed in California following an attack on a disability centre (http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/california-shooting-what-know-thursday-6944525). Massacres are not uncommon in America but this was the first one that seems targeted on a specific group of people. Perhaps it is just me being paranoid that the world is out to get disabled people or maybe it is a metaphor (quite a strong one) to symbolise the disabled shall never be equal as there will always be people out there who want society to be cleansed of these imperfections.

On that somber and rather depressing note, I would like to wish a belated Happy New Year to all my wonderful readers. I plan to have a more productive 2016 when it comes to writing but how many times have I said that?

A: Just the once because it has never been 2016 before...

Bye for now!