Disabled people aren’t invisible!

My aim for this blog post is to raise awareness to a big issue that wheelchair users face; the feeling of being invisible.

After gathering primary research from observing my family members whilst out in their wheelchair, some of their comments about our trip out made me think deeply about the frustrations and inequalities that disabled people face in everyday life. The comments that I connected with the most is the feeling of being invisible to others around them. Disabled or not, we are all the same on the inside, we all have a beating heart, red blood, and organs. So why are disabled people being treated differently? Is it because they could be a wheelchair user or different to everyone else? Being treated differently isn’t a nice thing to be put through, and there are millions of people in the world that will have been treated differently for something or another, without an explanation, so why do people think it’s acceptable to treat disabled people differently?

I have done some online research and looked into whether other disabled people may feel, the same due to being disabled and I found some touching blog posts of individuals sharing their experiences with this issue. After reading posts shared by wheelchair users it made me think, we live in such a selfish and ignorant world. I understand that there are many people that maybe don’t understand disability or may feel uncomfortable being around someone who has a disability, but I wonder if these able-bodied people think about feelings and emotions of other people.

I am now going to share a series of articles and blog posts I have found, made by wheelchair users explaining their experiences of how they have felt invisible to the public.


When being in a wheelchair made me feel invisible (Brook.L (2017) 

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When people talk about me as if I’m not there because I have a disability (Hardy. M (2016)

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When I feel invisible in my wheelchair (Hugh-Jones. L (2016)

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References:

 

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Observing the people closest to me…

As part of my primary research, I used my family to help me gather more research on disability and design by taking them out to a public place to see how they would use the space, whether it be going out for a meal or simply shopping.

I am so passionate about designing for disability and when you have family members that struggle daily due to poorly designed buildings, everything becomes more apparent and obvious.

It is okay for a company or shop to say that their buildings are ‘accessible‘, but when I look closer at the finer details it becomes apparent that there are always unnecessary limitations.

For this exercise, I took my grandparents and partners parents out on separate occasions to different surroundings, to see how someone with a disability would interact and use an interior space, I also took observations of the space around them and how accessible the interior was. On top of this, I asked my subjects to give me a piece of advice that they could pass on to someone living with a disability.

 


Grandma S & Grandpa T

Grandma Sandra suffers from Rheumatoid Arthritis in her arms and legs which has caused mobility issues. Alongside this, she became a recent amputee of the lower left leg. Sandra now has a prosthetic leg with which she uses crutches and wheelchair until she is strong enough to walk on two legs independently.

On our trip out we went to a local carvery pub (which was yummy!). There we had to enter through the rear entrance as the front is stepped. The access doors were only just wide enough to squeeze a wheelchair through. I also noticed that there wasn’t a lowered area of the bar that my grandma could go to, to order, and when she did the bar staff couldn’t see her and spoke right over her.

Grandma is a huge football fan, so to help her own visibility when she goes to matches, grandma attached flashing lights to her wheels. Before this, she noticed that people would cut straight in front of her and not notice that she was in a chair, but once they were on she received positive comments. When I took her out she received comments like, “Wow they’re cool!” and “You won’t get lost with those on!” 

Advice –  “Keep your spirits up, there is a life after amputation.” ….. “Never be afraid to ask or receive help.” (Almond. S. 2018)


Grandma F

Due to her age, Grandma Flo’s mobility is slowly decreasing, making it harder for her to go out on her own. We bought her this Rollator and it was the best thing for her! Not only did it give her the confidence she needed to go out but the support too. When I took Grandma out to observe her, we went to the Trafford Centre – somewhere busy. At the restaurant the staff were very accommodating of grandmas rollator and cleared a space for her to put it next to us, however, we were right at the front of the entrance, but we didn’t mind.

Advice – “Get yourself a Rollator!” … “There might not be physical signs, but my disability is mobility.” … “Try not to feel pressured.” … “Don’t let it get you down.” … “Don’t be afraid to ask for or receive help.” … “You’ll have dull days, but you learn to work with them.” (Milenkovic. F. 2018)


Martin

Martin has Neuro Sarcoidosis which can affect any part the nervous system and in worse cases can leave you with a permanent disability and in an unfortunate case, this has happened to Martin.

Martin uses a motorised wheelchair as his means of transport, due to it being a motorised chair it is easier for him to get around because of the permanent state. When I took my partners parents out to observe, a few issues arose. Firstly we were only offered the table right next to the entrance – but it was way too cold to sit there, another issue was space inbetween tables – furniture had to be moved. But on the other hand, the restaurant was accommodating in other ways; there was a lowered bar area, the bar area floor was clear and had enough unobstructed space to turn, the carvery server was an acceptable height but could have been a touch lower.

Advice – “Listen to and take advice from specialists.” … “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.” … “Plan long-term.” … “Challenge as much as you can.” … “Look at motorbility.” … “Educating others on your disability.” (Rowley. M. 2018)

Today I visited the SRSB!

19-02-18

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Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind

It is Monday 19th February and today I visited Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind!

A little introduction

The SRSB was originally formed in 1860, and has supported, and continues to support individuals across Sheffield suffering from a visual impairment. Hosting an array of different activities and services daily, SRSB provides access to these to around 300 people each week. Not only does it have a beautiful building in Sheffield City Centre, but SRSB also provides a residential home care service for up to 30 people.

I arrived at SRSB shortly after 14:30pm after what seemed to have been a members club leaving the building. I was greeted by a lovely gentleman named David who worked at the SRSB and was willing to give me a tour of the building and facilities they have.

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The Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind – Milenkovic. A (2018)

The centre provides a support service to those with a visual impairment, what made this more interesting is finding out that some of the volunteers at the SRSB had a visual impairment themselves so it was lovely to hear that there is mutual support happening too. The age range varies from children to elderly people, however, the average age of people that attend the centre is 88.

Within my first steps into the SRSB, I noticed a map of the building which was there for everyone, although it wasn’t an ordinary map. It was a TacMap. This has been specifically designed for those with a visual impairment and it allows them to navigate themselves through the building. Each word was raised along with a corresponding raised symbol, of course, there is braille on there too. The members of the SRSB are all taught how the map works in relation to the building which I thought was great.

TacMap above
TacMap at SRSB (2018)

 

TacMap entrance
TacMap at SRSB (2018)

 

David kindly showed me around the building and the main areas that are used by the members. We went into what is called the ‘Home Demonstration’ room, this is a kitchen fitted with accessible equipment which aids those with a visual impairment understand where things are in a kitchen and how the essentially work. Unfortunately, the photo I took doesn’t show the kitchen fully as there are many small fascinating additions which help a visually impaired person to understand a kitchen; many of the additions are ‘bumpers’ on the oven/hob dial that indicates numbers, a talking microwave which I thought was amazing…. who wouldn’t! There was also a lowered sink area for those who are in a wheelchair.

Kitchen Demonstration room
Home Demonstration room at SRSB (2018)

 

There is one thing that I did learn whilst at the Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind and that I will definitely remember for the future, is that there has to be a contrast in colours so for someone who is blind, they can identify objects through colours. Even though they won’t see a clear image of a colour or object, over time and with help this becomes of second nature. For example, the chairs you see in the image have a beechwood structure and the seat is vibrant blue, this chair sits on a  bright red floor and rests against a white wall, from this information the person is able to figure out where the chair would be.

The last thing that I was absolutely fascinated by was the handrails. Now that might sound a bit silly but actually, they were great. They weren’t fancy, patterned or made from a very expensive material, but they helped in many ways other than just to hold on to.

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Handrail close-up at SRSB (2018)

The handrails in SRSB are fitted with fire exit indicators. In case of emergency and the fire-exits need to be used then this little contraption tells you whether you are heading the right way or not just by simply running a finger over it. if it goes over smoothly that means the user is going the correct way, but if your finger gets stuck and won’t go any further that means that the user is heading away from the fire exits. Not only do they assist in fire exits but navigation around the building. towards the end of a corridor, there are bumps on the handrails which indicate that there is a choice of turning left or right.

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Corridor at SRSB (2018)

 

My visit to the Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind has helped me to get a better understanding of visual impairment itself but also how people live day-to-day and knowing that there is a fantastic facility for those that need the help.

I hope you have enjoyed reading my post!