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The Wheelchair and the Accessible Toilet

Once upon a time, a manual wheelchair and its user wanted to go to the toilet at a popular garden centre. Fortunately, there was a suitably accessible toilet, which was well signposted, so the user was able to go and use the facilities satisfactorily.

However, while in the toilet, the user noticed several issues that could be problematic for other wheelchairs and their users. This highlights how an accessible toilet isn’t necessarily suitable for every wheelchair and it’s user.

A large bin was in the transfer area, consequently making it difficult, if not impossible, for a user to transfer from the wheelchair to the toilet.

If the bin were moved away, the next issue would be the potentially dangerous drop down grab rail that was insufficiently fixed to the wall, as one of the bolts was loose.


What is the purpose of an emergency pull cord?

If it’s to assist a user to call for assistance in an emergency, such as when a user falls on the floor, perhaps while transferring, is it preferable for the cord to be reached by someone on the floor and not tied around a grab rail, as it was here?



The toilet had a suitable washbasin with a good mixer tap and a soap dispenser directly above. But how does the wheelchair user dry their hands?

That’s very easy to answer.

Using wet hands, push the rims of the wheelchair to turn around to access the automatic hand drier located on the opposite wall!

Isn’t it a pity the drier, or perhaps an additional paper towel dispenser, hadn’t been located adjacent to the washbasin?


Is your accessible toilet inaccessible for some wheelchair users?

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UK Disability Legislation: Does it work on International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Monday December 3, 2012 is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2012. This year’s theme is:

“Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all”.

For my contribution, I was inspired, after reading a preview of Seth Godin’s excellent new book, “The Icarus Deception“,  to publish a report of my experiences and recommendations entitled:

“Disability Discrimination Legislation – Does it work in the UK? It’s time for change.”

Click here to download the report

I’ve outlined 10 discrimination cases I’ve taken over the last 6 years which illustrate shortcomings in how the existing legislation in the UK is implemented and made a recommendation to adopt similar legislation to that which exists in Ontario, Canada:

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005
This has mandatory components I feel are essential if we are to progress towards an accessible UK in the foreseeable future.

Please distribute the report freely, debate publicly and encourage action to support my recommendation.

Thank you.

Help to make a positive impact on this International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

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Will the Paralympics change people’s attitude to disability?

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard this question asked on television or radio in the last week or so.

The consensus seems to be that it will. From a disabled person’s point of view, I’m sure the Games have inspired people to want to experience sport and aspire to be taking part in Brazil in 2016, or at other future Paralympic Games. Hopefully, for others, it’s made them aware of more sports they can do just for fun. Let’s hope sufficient legacy funding exists to ensure facilities and coaches exist near their homes so both of these are achievable.

As for non-disabled people, I feel it is easy to say their attitude has changed while disability sport is I the public eye, but how will it change? What will people do differently? What impact will a presumed change of attitude have a month from now, in 6 months or in a year’s time?

I can’t see the momentum being sustained as much as I’d like, but I hope I’m proved wrong. There has never been a greater opportunity to capitalise on the events of the last couple of weeks to make a lasting difference.

Let me suggest a few areas I’d like to see a difference:

  • Will owners/managers of pubs, restaurants, cafes, etc take a close look at their premises and the service they offer, ensuring they welcome disabled customers in the same way as others?
  • Will members of the public spot what needs improving in places they visit and make recommendations to owners and managers?
  • Will people refrain from abusing blue badge parking permits or parking in bays designated for disabled parking?
  • Will refuge collectors and residents stop leaving bins in the middle of footpaths, causing obstructions to wheelchair users, people with sight or mobility impairments as well as parents pushing buggies and prams?
  • Will the Government review their plans to close Remploy factories?
  • Will Nexus and Tyne & Wear Metro find a way to allow mobility scooter users to travel safely on the system? They have been banned since a couple of accidents in 2008. I have what I believe to be a practical solution, so I hope they’ll contact me to find out more.
  • Will business executives, council leaders and officials as well film, TV and radio celebrities volunteer to spend a day in a wheelchair doing their normal activities on 1st March 2013, the date of the sixth International Wheelchair Day?
  • Will people consider attending classes through their work or at further education establishments to learn more about the issues affecting disabled people and how they can help to make their lives easier?

I could make this list much longer, but hopefully I’ve made my point.

I fear the answer will be “No” for the vast majority of people once we get back into a normal, post-Paralympics routine. If that is the case, then attitudes won’t have changed. The Paralympics will have been a great success for many reasons, but the promised legacy will be short lived.  I sincerely hope I’m wrong.

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First Great North Run

I first decided to do the Great North Run at the beginning of 1990. It was a daunting challenge, but I was determined to train and complete the course, irrespective of how long I took.

I was living in Nuneaton at the time and the race was to take place in July. I entered as a normal applicant as I wasn’t using a racing wheelchair.

13 miles seemed daunting, but I put together my own practice programme pushing around the streets near where I lived. The course was relatively flat with a few challenging slopes. I started doing 3 miles a couple of times during the week after work and on a Sunday morning. After a couple of months I stepped the Sunday push up to 6 miles.

As race day approached, I was sent my pack with a five digit race number, which meant I was due to start near the back, just down from Grandstand Road roundabout. At least it was downhill to the starting line.

While I became comfortable doing 6 miles, doing 13 still seemed a long way off. I was going to have to increase the distance. Fortunately, the weather on the Sunday before the race was good as I set off on a planned 10 mile push.

I completed that in just under 3 hours, but learnt a very important lesson during that practice, which would serve me well the following week- you get blisters on your hands when pushing so far. I had seen the racers taping their hands in addition to wearing gloves as I was and I did the same on race day.

The weather was favourable on race day as I was dropped off at the top of the Grandstand Road slip road on to the Central Motorway. The atmosphere was fantastic as nearly 40,000 of us assembled for the mid morning start. As the gun went off in the distance it was a slow crawl as we made our way towards the start line.

About 20 minutes later I crossed the line and made my way towards the Tyne Bridge on the Southbound carriageway. This passed under the Northbound carriageway, which also carried a mass of runners. Pushing on the road proved much easier than on the pavements where I had practiced and I made steady progress over the Tyne Bridge and along the Felling By-pass towards the long gradual climb from Gateshead Stadium to Heworth Roundabout. It was a slow climb, but when I reach the top at the 4 mile marker, I felt quite relieved as I knew there were some downhill and flatter stretches as I headed towards the A19 crossing near the Tyne Tunnel.

I was in full flow now and the watching crowds made the event extra special as they cheered me on. It’s something you have to experience to really feel what taking part in the Great North Run means to those of us who have done it. The race continued on up John Reid Road and on towards the steep hill at Marsden. I was well past the 10 mile mark and certainly up for the final challenge to go down that slope into the final stretch along the sea front.

I decided to cope with Marsden hill in a zig zag pattern and turned left to see there was still over a mile to go. By this time, there were thousands lining both sides of the road in the final mile.  I was now running on the reserve tank with adrenalin driving me on.

Finally, the finishing line was in sight as I turned right on to the now flattened grass to cross the finishing line.

Although absolutely thrilled to have completed the event, I felt a little disappointed that it was over. I could have done a bit more, I’m sure.

Soon I was in line with other finishers to receive my medal and t-shirt. My unofficial time was around 2 hours 45 minutes, which I was delighted at, given it was the first time I had covered the full half marathon distance.

Like just about everyone else in the race, I had decided to raise money for a good cause. As a child, I had spent three years at Pendower Hall School from the age of 8 after my various spells in hospital. They were significant years in my life, so I had decided to raise funds for them to buy some computer equipment. I can’t recall the exact amount raised, but it was a significant amount that would enable them to get a new printer, which were much more expensive in relative terms than they are today.

A few weeks later, I visited the school to present a cheque to Miss Danskin, who I was delighted to see. She had been my class teacher for the final two years I spent there and was now headteacher at the school.

I completed the Great North Run again in 1991 and 1992, but that’s a story for another day. Will I do it again? I’d love to!

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My Early Years

According to a letter I saw recently while researching my early life medical records, my Orthopaedic Consultant, Mr. C. C. Michael James stated I had a “stormy passage” through the first 10 years of my childhood.

I was born on 19 May 1953 to Joyce and Tom Wilkinson in The Green, Wallsend, which is on the banks of the Tyne. I think that makes me a genuine “Geordie”. I had a condition known as Spina Bifida, although they didn’t know it at the time.

After an intial unknown period of time as a baby in the Fleming Memorial Hospital for Sick Children in Newcastle after I had burnt my little toe on a hot water bottle, doctors started to diagnose my condition and decide upon a course of treatment. It began when I was admitted to Newcastle General Hospital on 31 October 1957 under the care of Neurological Consultant, Mr. L.P. Lassman.

In November 1957, Mr. Lassman performed a Laminectomy, a common yet complex operation for Spina Bifida.

I had several other operations during a lengthy spell in the General. On one occasion I am aware that my parents were told I may not survive the surgery. However, the “can do” attitude and determination to succeed attitude of Mr. Lassman and his medical team prevailed and I am forever grateful to them.

This left me with an left foot that was turned inwards as well as other lower body muscle weakness generally associated with Spina Bifida.

Mr. James, an Orthopaedic Specialist working at the Sanderson Orthopaedic Hospital in Gosforth, Newcastle, was working closely with Mr. Lassman and he was next to operate to straighten my left foot and get me up and walking.

I was admitted to the Sanderson on 21 July 1959 and on 18 September 1959, Mr. James operated to straighten my foot. I wore a plaster for several months, although they got me walking on it with “mobility aids” on 14 October 1959.

When the plaster was removed, my foot was still twisted  in wards. Further surgery would be necessary, but for now I was discharged on 12 February 1960, after spending nearly 7 months in hospital.

For the remainder of 1960, I attended the Sanderson 3 times each week for physiotherapy and in January 1961, I was re-admitted for further surgery on my left foot. It was another lengthy spell there, but I can still recall the elation I felt when the plaster was removed and my foot was straight!

I was discharged from the Sanderson for the final time in June 1961, although I continued to attend for physiotherapy for several more months and to see the specialists periodically for many more years.

I had received some basic primary school education while I was in the Sanderson and at home during my 1960 “sabbatical”. At the age of 8, it was now time to embark on full time education. Despite living some 8 miles away, I was ferried each day by taxi or minibus to Pendower Hall School in the west end of Newcastle.

I spent 3 productive years at Pendower and passed my 11 plus exam, which entitled me to a Grammar School education. The only major medical set back during that period was when I broke my left leg. It started as a hairline fracture that the specialist thought would heal on it’s own.  But my medical condition had other ideas and a gap opened up! The consequence of this was I had to wear a splint for 3 months and was unable to go to school.

During my rehabilitation when the break had been fixed, it was suggested I may walk better if I used walking sticks, which I have used ever since.

A blog about my Grammar School years will follow soon.

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