Access for people with disabilities. What is ‘reasonable’?

220px-Handicapped_Accessible_sign.svg

For the disabled, particularly anyone in a wheelchair, gaining access to buildings and all their facilities can still be more than a little difficult in the UK. The situation in other countries may be similar but, from what I have seen, Britain seems to be lagging behind other westernised countries.

True, we have the Equality Act 2010 that followed the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and this legislation is supposed to make discrimination against the disabled illegal. But the trouble is that the law contains the word ‘reasonable’ and that term is subjective – what is reasonable to me might be unreasonable to someone else. Just who determines what is reasonable?

So, as far as access to a building and its facilities such as toilets, the owner of any commercial business otherwise known as the ‘service provider’ is required by law ‘to take reasonable steps to remove, alter or provide a reasonable means of avoiding a physical feature which made it impossible or reasonably difficult for disabled people to use a service.’

Hm, one sentence with reasonable twice and reasonably once; room enough, in my view, for said ‘service providers’ to avoid doing anything.

Of course, most shops, restaurants, offices open to the public and so on do have level entrances or have alternative means of access, such as ramps or lifts but some still need improvement.

Over the last year, Lisa and I have eaten out at several restaurants in Colwyn Bay, the town in which we live. All the meals have been enjoyable but the facilities for customer with disabilities have been a bit hit and miss.

Pen-y-Bryn bar and restaurant is in its own grounds with a large car park but, disappointingly, has just one bay bearing the wheelchair symbol. Access to the building and the necessary facilities is trouble free.

Dolce Vita Italian restaurant has an on-street location with a level entrance. It has its main seating area and facilities upstairs but when I telephoned to make a booking and mentioned my wheelchair, I was guaranteed a table in the small ground floor dining area and was assured that I would be welcome to use their staff restroom on the same level. The owner also told me that he had plans to put in new customer facilities downstairs.

Vergilio’s Pizzeria and Portuguese Grill also has an on-street location and when I phoned to book I was told that my wheelchair would not be a problem. Well, true the staff were attentive and most willing to help me overcome the step into and out of the building as the entrance is not level. However, the bigger problem is that the restrooms are upstairs and so beyond the reach of people like me.

The Venue @ The Clockhouse Indian restaurant is another on-street location with a step to go in. Once again, the owner and manager together made short work of helping me both in and out of the building. Inside, everything is one level but facilities for the disabled do need improving. I discussed the issues with the owner and was pleased to hear that he already had plans to address both of them.

In the past year, my wife and I have also dined at more than 10 restaurants in Honolulu, New York City and Spain. All had level entrances or gentle ramps, the ones with dining rooms not on the ground floor had elevators. All washroom facilities were perfect. A lesson worth learning.

Back in Colwyn Bay, The Toad restaurant is in a prime location with sea views from its first floor restaurant. But there lies the problem, access is by external stone stairs while inside there is a staircase going down to the toilets on the ground floor. When I asked about facilities for customers with disabilities, I was told nothing could be done as it is a Grade 2 Listed building. That’s a building of special interest.

However, to say nothing can be done to such a property is not true. Any alteration would need listed building consent but even if such consent was denied a service provider would still need to take whatever other steps that are reasonable to provide the service.

And to underline that, Planning Policy Guidance Note (PPG 15) issued by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions makes it clear that “it is important in principle that disabled people should have dignified easy access to and within historic buildings” and that with a proper approach “it should normally be possible to plan suitable access for disabled people without compromising a building’s special interest”.

So, alterations should still be possible – even to listed buildings.

Access laws in America seem more strict than in the UK. Lisa told me about a Florida restaurant that had an upstairs bar and entertainment venue with no access for people with disabilities. The owners were told to make such access available or to close their business. No messing.

It’s summer? Really? Where is the sun?

cloudy sky

Do you get fed up with news reports claiming that this, or next, month is set to become the hottest July, or whatever, since records began? If so, you are just like me.

You see, it is not only the weather that irritates me with so-called summers having too much rain, overcast skies even when dry and biting winds. It is the seeming inability of the weather forecasters to get any prediction of sunny weather correct. They have no problem with rain; if that is forecast then it’s pretty definite it will rain. But say that we are set for sunny day, or even a collection of them, is doomed to failure.

Saturday news on the internet was quoting meteorologists as saying yesterday would see temperatures to rival Spain with them reaching 26 Celsius (79 Fahrenheit) in England, 24 (75) in Wales and 22 (72) in Scotland. Guess what, nope didn’t happen at least not here in Wales. Here it was only 19 Celsius (66 Fahrenheit) just after midday.

Looking out of the window, yesterday I saw a completely overcast sky with no blue showing at all. Also, although it soon died down, the wind was whistling around where we live.

So much for yesterday being the start of a heatwave.

And, for all the media hype about hottest months in the UK, there has not been one in 2015 so far. In fact, the hottest June, August, September and October since records began all happened in 2014.

This, in comparison, July got off to a great start with the hottest July day ever on the 1st but that was it. In fact, July was so cold on some days that we turned our heating on and, from talking to people, I know that they did the same thing. Needing heating in July is plainly ridiculous.

August is supposed to have a heatwave and with three weeks left that is still possible. But realistically it really is only possible, not probable at all. I would not put money on it and I am most certainly not going to be holding my breath in anticipation.

It may be memories that have improved with time but I can remember sunny summers in my childhood. Not every day, of course, but days and days when I could enjoy being out in the garden enjoying the sunshine. And I can clearly recall my mother and then teenage sister sunbathing on our lawn much more frequently in the early 1960s than would be possible now.

As for yesterday equalling the temperatures in Spain, what a laugh. Even if they had reached the predicted levels, they would not have been anywhere close to those in Spain. Checking yesterday’s weather where we will be moving to in November, I found it to be 31 Celsius (87 Fahrenheit), a bit different from the UK.

It just makes our plans all the more attractive and confirms that we are most definitely doing the right thing. All that lovely sunshine and natural vitamin D too. Lisa and I really cannot wait to be there.

Stopping abuse of parking bays for disabled people

Not all physical disabilities, let alone the mental ones, are necessarily apparent to other people – and by ‘other people’ I include those of us who live with more obvious physical disabilities.

As just one example, let’s look at car parking bays denoted by the well known wheelchair symbol that are reserved for people with disabilities – and by that I mean people possessing the relevant document to allow them to use one of those bays. In the UK these are ‘parking cards’ but are popularly referred to as ‘blue badges’, in the USA they are generally known as ‘parking placards’ while in Canada they are called ‘parking permits’.

Different rules exist for each country, so users have to know where they may and may not park, but I am sure similar issues exist all over the world.

So, let’s look at the country I know best – the UK – and the use of parking bays for disabled people. These are reserved for blue badge holders who only obtain those by receiving one of a certain range of disability benefits or have gone through a pretty rigorous application process for the badge itself.

Now imagine this scene. A car pulls into a parking bay reserved for a person with a disability, the driver puts a blue badge on display and walks away from the vehicle without a walking aid and without any obvious sign of a disability.

Of course it is possible that another member of the family is improperly using the blue badge but is it possible that the correct person, the one with a disability, is whom has just walked away? Well, not all disabilities are obvious, some are known as ‘invisible disabilities’ and a person walking without a mobility aid of some kind might still be in considerable pain.

If someone is not receiving a benefit that automatically entitles him or her to a blue badge, that person has to undergo a walking ability assessment. In general terms, such a person will only be able to get a blue badge if he or she can walk only with great difficulty, at an extremely slow pace or with excessive pain.

Remember, though, anyone who is used to living in pain is usually very good at hiding it.

I have to admit that, in the past, I have on occasion been guilty of making rash judgements relating to someone’s walking ability on leaving a vehicle in a blue badge bay. Fortunately, my misguided comments never got outside my car and were quickly countered by my wife Lisa who, quite rightly, pointed out that all disabilities are not obvious just by looking.

It is more important to trust those who assess people’s abilities before issuing blue badges and to ensure that parking facilities provided for the benefit of drivers or passengers with disabilities are not abused. We need to protect our parking bays from abuse by anyone without a blue badge or by someone misusing a badge issued for a family member who is not in the car at that time.

It is not our, or anyone else’s, place to cast doubt on another’s right to have a blue badge or whatever the parking permit is called in any particular country.

 

 

It’s official – Cloudy skies are bad for our health

Just had to allow myself a little smile of satisfaction when scientists agreed that Lisa and I were correct in making our decision to move to sunny Spain from cloudy, rainy Britain.

Well, of course, that is not what the actual report said – as no boffin is really going to analyse our decision-making abilities – but what it did say was the main reason behind our forthcoming move to a warmer climate.

The news was revealed in The Guardian, a UK national newspaper, in a report headlined Britain not sunny enough for healthy vitamin D levels, say experts.

According to scientists who jointly advise the UK government, people in Britain suffer from a vitamin D deficiency because of a lack of bright sunshine. They say that British weather prevents much of the population from receiving healthy amounts of the essential vitamin from sunlight, and that natural food sources alone are not enough to boost levels.

Their answer to the problem does not urge following us in a mass emigration but does suggest that people generally should increase their vitamin D intake with supplements.

The advice is contained in draft recommendations from the scientific advisory committee on nutrition (SACN). Although I, for one, had never heard of this worthy group before, apparently it is an independent advisory body to the government and their view could lead to new guidance being issued on the subject.

Even more interesting for me is that the committee made its recommendation after studying the links between vitamin D levels and multiple sclerosis along with a range of other health problems including musculoskeletal health, heart disease, type 1 diabetes and cancer.

Living with MS, I have known for some time of the link between the illness and vitamin D deficiency and had been advised to take daily supplements by my MS Specialist Nurse. The potential health benefit to me of more sunshine, so more vitamin D, was a key factor in our decision to move.

Speaking to another newspaper, the Independent on Sunday, vitamin D specialist Dr Adrian Martineau said the new advice marked a “sea change” in thinking.

He said “Before this, the general assumption was that adults were able to make all the vitamin D they needed from sunshine, and didn’t need to have any dietary or supplementary intake. The action of sunlight on the skin in the UK is highly variable for different populations depending on the time of year and the latitude – you’ll get more UVB in Brighton (south of England) than in John o’Groats (north of Scotland) – and finally, how much skin is exposed and the colour of skin.

“SACN was right to say that we can’t rely on sunshine in the UK to meet the vitamin D requirements. That’s a major and important change. It’s a big step forward that this is now officially recognised.”

Need I say more?

Handling currencies the direct way is so simple

Ups and downs of fluctuating currencies and their ever changing rates of exchange were not anything that I have ever been unduly concerned about. Unless I was travelling abroad, the relative values of the currencies never bothered me.

That all changed in the time leading up to the purchase of our home in Spain – for which we needed to transfer a significant amount of sterling (GBP) into Euros. So, every day, both Lisa’s and my eyes could be found looking at the pound:euro exchange rate.

Throw in the volatility of the money markets owing to the Greek debt crisis plus the Bank of England’s governor indication an interest rate rise is likely by the year end, and we quickly found ourselves with a greater understanding of financial matters.

Note that I refrain from using the term expert for two reasons, the first being that a greater understanding is clearly not an indication of any real command of the subject. The second reason that I never claim to be an expert in anything is because of a training course I completed some years ago. In that we were told that an ‘ex’ is a has-been and that a ‘spurt’ is a drip under pressure. I have never forgotten that.

Anyway, it was obvious that we needed to find the best possible way to transfer our pounds sterling currency into euros – gaining a good rate and incurring the lowest charges possible.

So where do you begin? Well, we started by looking to our bank but their rate of exchange seemed less than favourable plus they charged a fee on top of that. Other places seemed similar, until we discovered companies that exist to buy and sell currencies.

There are quite a few but we chose to go with Currencies Direct (just to be clear, I am NOT being paid to mention or endorse them, this is just our experience). They offered a rate only just below the quoted exchange rate and charged zero fee. It all seemed great, so we opened an account and waited for the money to arrive from my UK property sale. I could organise a transaction via the website but that had an upper limit lower than the amount that we needed so, once the cash had arrived in our UK bank, I telephoned Currencies Direct’s trading desk.

Quoting my account number and answering the security questions, I gave details of the transaction I needed to make. It was so simple. The exchange rate was locked in, guaranteed, and the deal was done. I just had to transfer funds from our UK bank to Currencies Direct. They did the rest, even making a payment of some of the cash, now in Euros, to a third party. Our new home was bought.

Of course, it won’t end there.

Once we move to Spain, my company pension and disability benefits will continue to be paid into our UK bank, so we will regularly need a transfer money out to our Spanish bank account but in much smaller quantities than the initial transaction.

Oh, the world of international high finance!

Charity event in August, seaside resort in UK = clouds and rain

Just got back home from taking part in our last sponsored fundraising event before we move to Spain. Not the last event, just the last sponsored one.

This morning MS Synergy held its ‘wheel and walk’ on Llandudno promenade and the good news is that there was a pretty good turnout of walkers as well as those of us unable to walk very far and being pushed in wheelchairs. The number taking part this year was more than four times greater than last year.

Apart from raising money through sponsorship, we also took the opportunity to accept donations from people we met on the prom. I will let you know how much we raised as soon as I know.

Talking of a walk on the prom in a seaside resort town in August, it would be reasonable for you to think that we would have been blessed with sunshine and blue skies – but, sadly, this was not the case.

As is usual in the UK, the morning was heavily overcast but at least it was not windy. However, it did start to rain just as we were finishing.

The British weather was, in fact, the major factor in Lisa’s and my decision to move to Spain.

We are so fed up with rain, rain and more rain with only a rare appearance of any sunshine that we are moving to a place that has sunshine for at least 300 days a year. As for rain, where we are going, December is one of the wettest months of the year when rainfall averages just over 35 mm. And that works out at just over one mm a day. Colwyn Bay, on the other hand, has nearly 131mm in December while even its driest month, June, has almost 53mm. (All figures taken from World Weather Online statistics publicly available on the internet).

I think that the differences speak for themselves.

Although we are heading for the sun, rest assured that we are not doing so without regard to our health. We are both conscious of the damage UV can do to our skin and are fully prepared to take every precaution. Lisa, whose blood is half Sicilian, has a Mediterranean skin and she is used to the sun as, before coming to the UK, she had lived in Florida for 18 years.

By contrast, I am fair-skinned and burn more easily than I tan so sunblock will need to play a major part in my life. That goes for insect repellent as well because I was bitten a few times when Lisa and I visited the area in May but then I was not wearing any repellent.

You live and learn.

Times, they are a-changing

It’s official. At last the money – from the sale of the home I used to share with my ex-wife – has come through. That’s it, the final link between us is now finally severed.

It would be time to pop the cork from a bottle, or two, of champagne but Lisa and I just don’t have time to spare right now as we have just completed the purchase of our new home in the south of Spain. Now, there is so much to do as we prepare for the move.

Oh, great times ahead.

We are not actually flying out to Spain until November but before that we are heading to the USA for what promises to be a super holiday. It all starts with a luxurious cruise across the Atlantic – hey, cut that out, stop singing the theme to the Titanic film. After that, we will be spending nine days touring around several states.

Finally, we will return to the UK, staying for just two nights, collecting our two cats from the cattery and sending them on their overland journey to Spain before we fly out to welcome them to their new home in the sun. Actually, both Pooka and Prissy were born, and lived most of their lives, in Florida; I am sure they will welcome the hotter weather.

Now, though, there is much to be done.

We have already started, of course, and have sold lots of bits and pieces through Ebay and North Wales Auctions in Rhyl. Most of our furniture will eventually go that way as we have bought our new home already furnished, although we will be buying a few new items.

Unwanted clothes and books have been sold to specialist companies while other fabrics such as duvets, pillows and curtains are being recycled.

Lisa has been a tower of strength through all this and has so far packed three 110 litre plastic crates, with an outsize suitcase to go – alongside a weekend bag full of shoes, a bundle of my walking sticks and shepherd’s crooks and my essential over-armchair swivel table (disassembled and strapped together). These are all being collected in early September and taken to our new home by road.

Once they have gone, if I know her (and I most certainly do) Lisa will begin packing for our trip to Spain, via America.

We are actually moving out of our current home, a rented flat in the North Wales town of Colwyn Bay, before we go to America. On the day we move out, Darren from North Wales Auctions is  coming back to clear the house. Perfect.

I’ll let you know how things progress.