Live for the future, let the past go

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Vicky Balch has every right to be furious with the awful hand dealt to her this year but she really must get a firm grip on her life and look to the future with a new, positive outlook. Otherwise she is going to have a truly miserable time of it.

On 2nd June this year, Vicky was one of several people injured and trapped in an accident on the Smiler roller coaster at Alton Towers, one of the leading theme parks in the UK.

Her injuries were so bad that, despite a series of operations, surgeons eventually had to amputate one of her legs. Another young woman also lost a leg as the result of the accident.

Vicky hit the headlines again today when she lashed out at the decision of Alton Towers bosses to re-open the ride. She is reported as saying that two senior bosses told her of their intentions, during a visit to her home. She said that they told her that they might be able to reopen the ride by the end of this year.

She is disgusted by the possibility of the ride being reopened at all, let alone within seven months of the incident. Is she right? Perhaps, perhaps not.

Before considering that, though, maybe we should take a look at her attitude to life in general since she suffered that terrible injury.

There is no doubt that the accident caused a considerable upheaval in Vicky’s life we can see that she has not yet been able to come to terms with it. In all likelihood, it is too soon. She is still suffering, still grieving for things she can no longer do.

“I’m very up and down at the moment,” she is reported having said. “Talking about things I can’t do any more makes me really emotional.

“I can’t walk my dogs and I can’t ring up my friends at uni and say, do you fancy having a drink tonight?”

Yes, she is in a bad place right now but, and I don’t mean to be unkind here, she has to realise that she is no worse off than some other people. She is using a wheelchair for travelling more than a very short distance, just like me. But she has now taken her first steps using a prosthetic leg, while I will still need a wheelchair.

Again, Vicky looked back instead of forward when considering her future when she said: “I feel less feminine now. The way people look at you, that’s a big thing for me. I liked the attention before but now they look at me in a different way. It’s horrible.

“After my first op I asked my mum, ‘Who’s going to want me like this?’ And I still think like that.” Well, while it is true that the guy she had been dating has now left the scene, I have no idea of what went on between them at that point and so will not comment on that.

However, looking ahead, Vicky is likely to meet men who are shallow and so avoid any possibility of a relationship with her but she will also meet some who see beyond her injury, beyond her prosthetic leg, and fall in love with who she is.

But first, she needs to let go of the past, accept the present and make the very best of the future. That’s the way to find happiness.

So, what about reopening the ride? Alton Towers’ management has discovered the accident was the result of human error. There was nothing wrong with the ride itself, they say. If that is true, as long as steps have been taken to eliminate an error such as this happening again and the authorities are happy, then put the accident in the past and let the ride be reopened.

And in the unlikely event that she is reading this: Vicky, we cannot change the past but what you do now will affect your life to come. You can make yours a great life, embrace it and live it to the full. Shape your life around what you can do now and what you can strive to achieve in the future.

Caring through love not duty

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High above New York City on the viewing gallery of the Empire State Building.

To misquote a well-known Shakespearean saying about greatness: some people are born carers, some people learn to be carers while others have the role of a carer thrust upon them.

In the case of my carer, the last one is most definitely true. Not that my carer thinks that what she does is any more than any loving wife would do but Lisa has to cope with quite a lot – which she does exceedingly well, without complaint, and usually with a smile. And this is despite her having diabetes and a touch of arthritis.

She says she does it out of love not out of duty.

Actually, we both had to laugh when we looked at the requirements for her to claim the UK’s Carer’s Allowance benefit. It says she has to provide at least 35 hours of care a week. Oh, if only it was so little. She provides me with many more hours of care than that. In fact, she rarely goes out leaving me at home alone; and it is almost unheard of for me to be allowed out by myself. And I do mean ‘allowed’ as while, in most cases I have the final say, where my health is concerned Lisa is in charge.

Care covers a whole multitude of things that most able-bodied people take for granted, such as preparing my food, cutting up meat so that I can eat it easily because I cannot hold a knife and fork at the same time, helping me to shower and dress, getting my wheelchair in and out of the car, wheeling me about, and physically supporting me if I try to walk a few yards using my walking stick.

And that does not include extra washing of clothes and/or bedding if I have an accident involving problems with my waterworks. Then there is responsibility for my medication, ensuring we have enough of each one, preparing correct doses and making sure I take the correct tablets at the proper times.

At home, although our new home in Spain is suitable for wheelchair use, I do not yet need to use one indoors. Instead, I get around by supporting myself on furniture and the occasional grab rail. Sometimes I fall and Lisa has learned not to rush to help. If she is in another room, she just calls out to ask me if I am all right. A negative answer or no answer at all would bring her to my side in seconds.

One thing that is remarkable about Lisa is that she married me knowing that I have MS when her only previous experience of the illness was her grandfather and he, it seems, chose to be a sufferer not a fighter.

As my wife and carer, Lisa has to cope with so much, day and night, seven days a week. She has to contend with my occasional outbursts of frustration, my impatience when something won’t go right first time and, sometimes, my determination to do something that I am no longer physically able to achieve – that usually ends in a fall. I often joke that the floor and I are on very good terms as we spend so much time together.

In the ‘CAN do’ attitude to life page on this website, Lisa says I am her hero because “He truly amazes me every day. I don’t think I know a more positive person.” However, in truth, she is really my hero, or heroine if that word is still used today, for all she does both seen and unseen by others.

Lisa is my love, my lady, my life, my very best friend and my carer. She knows that I have a positive outlook on life but she is my strength when I am weak, my support when I am in danger of falling, and, above all, the most wonderful person in my whole life.

 

 

 

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

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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.