Wednesday, 25 April 2018

The Lent Experiment Part 3 - The End of The Road

Vital Statistics 3 (March 31st - 46 Days In)

Weight: 8st 10lbs (55.3kg)

Stomach Circumference: 34.5" (88cm)

46 days & I've not once thought about chocolate; now to just Rolo-ver the finish
 line, through the Blue Riband and complete this Snickers...I mean Marathon!

General Feelings: Well, I made it - 46 days without refined sugar! 46 days without knowing the sweet, sweet taste of chocolate, of cake, of cookies, of ice cream, of chocolate (I know I said chocolate twice, that's because it's doubly important)! Now that it's over I'm not going to start acting all smug and make out that it was easy, it's not like I decided to give up vegetables and then feigned tears as I pushed away the brocolli dish! No, of all the foods to give up, sugar is definitely the hardest one for me. But in all honesty, it wasn't as horrifically awful an experience as I was expecting it to be, at least not once I'd got into the swing of things. Articles I'd read beforehand had laid out a series of terrifying withdrawl symptoms I could expect so I went into this expecting the worst.

How I fully expected sugar withdrawl to feel!
That's not to say however that I gave up all sugar, I genuinely don't think I could have made it through the entirety of Lent as even a semi-functional human being if I'd attempted that! But by replacing the refined sugar found in most sweets, desserts and drinks with the natural sugar found in the likes of fruit, yoghurt and honey, I'd like to think I hopefully managed to find a healthier alternative. After all, sugar (in moderation) can be an important part of a healthy, balanced diet. That being said, I did eat a lot of natural sugar alternatives in the last 46 days, possibly exceeding the recommended daily sugar dose on numerous occasions, but there's absolutely no question in my mind that this was still a vastly better option than getting most of my sugar in refined form.


The biggest surprise came when I went to measure round my stomach as, in complete contrast with a couple of weeks previously, when I looked in the mirror this time I was convinced I hadn't lost any of the podge from my tetra belly. However, when I wrapped the tape measure around myself I found that I had in fact lost 2 inches from my stomach since my last measurement! I was so convinced there had been an error that I measured it a few more times, making sure the tape hadn't slipped or become twisted somewhere, but it hadn't. Sure, there could be several factors outside of diet that could have contributed to this 2 inch loss and I have stated previously that without core muscles a person's stomach is more prone to fluctuations in size, but I'm choosing to see this in a positive light and as an indicator of the benefits of a refined-sugar-free diet combined with regular exercise.

The essential quad gym pack!

The other major benefit of a healthier diet - feeling better both inside and out. I've already talked about this in my previous updates so I won't bore on for too long and keep repeating myself, but it's true what they say, replacing refined sugar with natural sugar does indeed seem to make you feel more alert, more energetic and generally more positive throughout the day. I was as sceptical as anyone about this "fact" going into Lent but I soon found that a handful of fruit, mixed with a few dollops of natural yoghurt and a squirt of organic honey filled me up and energised me far more than say, a piece of cake, which would initially leave me feeling satisfied but not long after I'd find myself tired and craving more. 

Tastes as good as...Tastes much better than it looks!
Another handy (and quintessentially British) trick I found was to drink numerous and varied cups of tea throughout the day, switching between cups of standard blend, chai, and the vast number of fruit/herbal varieties on offer. These not only quenched my thirst but also tended to take my mind off snacking, I would assume due to the various flavours and spices in them satiating my taste buds. On the whole, I found there were a surprising number of quick and easy alternatives to sugary snacks and drinks that required very little preparation. And hell, if I can do it, anyone can!

The essential tower of teabags!
However as I was soon to find out, giving up refined sugar for six weeks is one thing, having the willpower not to dive straight back into it afterwards is something entirely different...

Falling Off The Wagon

It just so happened that on the day Lent ended, I was at the wedding of a couple of friends of mine; a joyous occassion that included the all important Three L's: love, laughter and lots of cake! Not just cake either; there was cheesecake, a muffin tower and an old school pick 'n' mix which you were free to delve into at any time. Untethered from my Lent leash, surrounded by sugar, ambushed by cake: I fell off the wagon, hard!

Over the course of the evening, I consumed one slice of cheesecake, multiple muffins and an entire bag full of pick 'n' mix, not to mention getting well into double digits of soft drinks and cider. I ate, drank, laughed, danced and partied the night away with impunity, or so I thought.

As I was chatting with friends in the wee hours on the way home, I realised that I was becoming short of breath, needing to inhale longer and deeper in order to get sufficient (or at least what felt like sufficient) air into my lungs. I stopped talking for a bit and focussed on catching my breath until I was confident enough that there was nothing overly sinister going on. Once I got home, I dragged my wheezing, sluggish butt to bed, fell straight to sleep and woke up feeling completely fine the next day. I'm not trying to make out like my being out of breath was a huge deal or anything, but I am 100% convinced this was due to my body being suddenly inundated with refined sugar after a six week starvation period and it struggling to cope with the sudden rush. And no matter how minor this "incident" may have been, it surely can't be a good thing, right?!

Rolling Forward

So, what have I learnt from the last couple of months, what can I take away from it moving forward and what advice would I give someone who was considering something similar?

Well, simply put, the main thing I've learnt from this is that it's not as teeth grindingly hard as I thought to give up refined sugar and with the right attitude, preparation and willpower, a person can accomplish whatever they set their mind to. And for all of us in a constant battle with the phenomenon known as "the tetra belly", the results over the last six weeks definitely seem to suggest that it is possible to slim it down, though maybe not eliminate it altogether, but who knows? As I stated in Part 1, refined sugar was my one true addiction in life, so if I can give it up then anyone can! I know what you're all thinking though, "come on, you only gave it up for six weeks then went straight back on it again, what was the point?!" Which smoothly segues into my plans moving forward...

I daresay I could have gone longer without refined sugar if I had so wished, but the simple truth of the matter is that I like it and it happens to be in pretty much all of my favourite sweet treats. Giving it up for six weeks was great; I'm proud of myself and I feel better for it, but I don't want to go through life having to check the ingredients of every item I buy at the supermarket or order at a restaurant in order to deny myself this little thing that gives me pleasure. However at the same time, I want to try and retain some of the positives I have gained from this experience. Which is why I've decided that, now my Easter binge is over, I'm going to primarily go back to my fruit, nuts, yoghurt and honey diet when at home. Sure, I might get in the odd tub of ice cream or bottle of coke in the summer and splurge on sweets during Christmas; and yes, if I have guests round I'll likely get in some form of biscuits/dessert, afterall no one comes round to visit hoping for a cup of tea and my world renowned selection of blueberries! But other than that I'm going to try to keep my house refined-sugar-free more or less. And speaking of cups of tea, as soon as Lent ended I began adding a sweetener tablet back into my tea; however after the initial first couple of cups I subconsciously reverted back to going sugar free and this would seem to be how I take my tea now, huzzah

And to anyone thinking of trying something similar, I would say: Do it! What have you got to lose? Find a selection of products containing natural sugars that you enjoy and try substituting them for the unhealthier items you would normally have. Combine this with regular exercise and see how you feel. You don't have to completely give up everything, start off small and work your way up, find a balance that you're happy with. Remember to give it time, you may start to feel worse before you start to feel better, let your body gradually adjust to your new, healthier lifestyle. And finally, don't doubt yourself, you're almost certainly capable of more than you think!


Sunday, 18 March 2018

The Lent Experiment Part 2 - A Work In Progress

Vital Statistics 2 (February 26th - 12 Days In)

Weight: 8st 12lbs (56.25kg)

Stomach Circumference: 36.5" (92.7cm)

General Feelings: If I have learnt one thing in the last 12 days, it is that sugar is apparently in everything! A routine trip to the supermarket on February 14th (I'm an old romantic I know) turned into an exasperating hunt for sugarless products outside of the pet food and bathroom aisles! From cereal to condiments, crisps to crackers, soup to sauces - take a look on the back and chances are you'll find refined sugar slyly slotted in there somewhere!

The list felt endless! Sugar, similarly to salt, is a preservative, but I hadn't realised just how much it was being used to both preserve and flavour foods. It seems that unless you're happy to live on a dry diet of meat, potato and vegetables, the secret is to cook things completely from scratch; specifically sauces, glazes and anything being added for extra flavour or moistness.

As far as my sweet tooth goes, I'm relying almost entirely on fruit, and whereas it doesn't provide the concentrated, manufactured sugar rush that a chocolate bar provides, it's at least keeping me from completely crashing during the day! Meals seem somehow incomplete when I'm not finishing them off with a dessert of some sort (I'm sorry but a shiny apple does not count!), but cutting out mid-meal snacks is by far the worst part, as I can feel my stomach grumbling as my energy levels begin to drop at various times during the day.

Disclaimer: This is a 4-5 day fruit salad serving, not 1 portion!

I have noticed a definite decline in my general energy levels, coupled with an increase in moodiness. Certain things that wouldn't have annoyed me before are now burrowing under my skin, causing me to lambast whichever poor person I hold responsible! If I'm in a good mood then I'm generally fine, but if I'm feeling at all grumpy and/or tired then this is exacerbated by a lack of sugary energy; I'm basically regressing into a giant baby who needs food and naps at regular intervals! But so far I seem to have avoided the oft reported headaches and shakes, so I'll take that as a minor victory!

On the stats side of things, I seem to have maintained the same basic weight whilst also losing half an inch around my stomach. I'd like to see this as a positive step in the right direction and a testament to my increased exercise and decreased sugar intake, however it's still far too early to tell. Plus, one thing about having no active stomach muscles is that your stomach can stretch and bloat depending on how much you've eaten and when you last "evacuated". And yes, it can be a bit of a pain finding somewhere to get weighed in a chair. Fortunately my local spinal injuries unit isn't too far away and they're happy for me to pop in and get weighed as and when I need it; plus it gives me the opportunity to nip upstairs to the gym with my Active Hands general purpose gripping aids and hop on a few of the machines that aren't always on offer at regular gyms!

Anyway, so far so good. I seem to be making some small progress whilst also avoiding some of the worst elements of going cold turkey. I still feel a desperate craving everytime I see someone tear into a chocolate bar, but come on, it's not like I've resorted to inhaling the insides of the wrappers like some kind of pervert with a chocolate fetish...*laughs nervously*

Get me an open flame, a spoon, a needle and a tourniquet - STAT!

Vital Statistics 3 (March 14th - 28 Days In)

Weight: 8st 13lbs (56.7kg)

Stomach Circumference: 36.5" (92.7cm)

General Feelings: I'm not going to lie, when I looked in the mirror this morning I was convinced that my tetra belly had visibly shrunk, so I was pretty disappointed to find that, upon measuring, it's stayed exactly the same size! On the plus side however, I'm now 4 weeks into Lent and am yet to stray. Before Lent began I made sure I had eaten disposed of all the chocolate in the house so as to make sure there was nothing left to tempt me during my cold turkey period. A couple of weeks ago however, whilst going through my rucksack, I found a solitary chocolate wafer bar stashed at the bottom. This bar now sits alone in a transparent, glass jar in my kitchen, acting as a constant test of my willpower every time I wheel past it. I mean, sure, I could just throw it in the bin, but come on, this is chocolate we're talking about here!

The struggle is real dammit!

Speaking of willpower; I took my mum out for Mother's Day last Sunday and while she tucked into her Eton mess, I sat nibbling on a selection of cheeses and grapes. This marked the first time in my life that I had ordered the cheese board from the dessert menu, and although I do love cheese, this was in no way a comparable substitute for the ferrero rocher cheesecake or chocolate brownie sundae that were beckoning me over...

On the whole though I am finding it easier the longer I go without refined sugar. Natural sweeteners such as fruit, honey and fruit juice (not from concentrate) are adequately filling me and now seem to be giving me a slower but longer lasting burst of energy. Don't get me wrong, when my energy levels start to drop and I haven't got a healthy snack nearby, I soon become worn out, but I have a definite sensation that my energy levels are increasing and starting to last longer. At the gym, I can do an hour on the handbike without feeling quite as laboured as I might have before; and I can only assume this is down to swapping out short lasting refined sugar bursts for longer lasting natural ones. I still feel a little irritable and moody here and there, especially after a full day at work, but on the whole I would honestly say that I have more drive and feel a little less sluggish than usual. Sure, get me on the sofa and there's still a 50/50 chance my head will start to nod after a period, but whilst in my chair I feel unusually perky!

*Special shout out to the photobombing physio and her 'taken aback' reaction!

So here we are; a full month into things and with less than 3 weeks to hold out, there is definite light showing at the end of the tunnel! It's going to be a strange feeling once this is finished and I'm free to indulge in desserts once again, as part of me is desperate to tuck into a chocolate egg (or chocolate anything for that matter!), but another part of me is actually enjoying the health kick I'm on and the positivity I'm getting out of it.

Decisions decisions...


Tuesday, 13 February 2018

The Lent Experiment Part 1 - The Beginning

Good News Everyone!


Exciting little announcement before I get into the main thrust of this latest blog entry:

Towards the end of last year I was contacted by one of the founders of the website Feedspot. He informed me that my blog had been selected as one of the Top 30 Quadriplegic Blogs on the internet and sent me this little award to display on my page! I did consider asking exactly how many quadriplegic blogs there were on the internet but quickly decided against it, preferring instead to remain in blissful ignorance, insulated inside my little ego boost bubble!

Anyway, it's been a good while since I last posted anything and I'd hate to lose my newly acquired Top 30 billing, so without further ado: Happy 2018 and welcome back to the, now award-winning, Diary Of A Gimpy Kid!

Hellbent on Lent

With the Christmas excess and subsequent failed attempts at a dry January firmly in the rear view, it's time to turn my attention to a tradition I try to honour every year: Lent. Now although I do consider myself Christian (though not exactly what I'd call a practising one), I don't participate in Lent for a strictly religious reason. Instead I prefer to give something up for 40 days as a test of my resolve and usually in an attempt to be a little healthier, so that by the end, I can feel like I've achieved something, no matter how small. Previous efforts have included the giving up of alcohol, chocolate and even bad language one year (which is harder than it $!*#ing looks)!

When someone takes the last disabled bay you were about to pull into!

This year however, I have decided to test my willpower to the limit and give up a whole host of things! What exactly have I decided to give up?? Why am I putting myself through this ordeal?! All will be revealed shortly.

First, a little backstory...

Sugar and Spice and All Things Nice

A little over a month ago, it was the 13th anniversary of my being able to play wheelchair rugby, park at the front of the shops and pee sitting down (sometimes without even realising it)! It was on a Wednesday this year and I didn't really have any plans, so I used the day as an excuse to get a takeaway and watch a bunch of films to take my mind off things - Walking Tall, The Running Man, Stand By Me!

I'm not a huge takeaway eater nowadays, not because I don't enjoy them; in fact I'm a firm believer that everything terrible for you has been scientifically designed to taste amazing and sprouts taste like, well, sprouts! No, I choose not to have a great deal of takeaways because I want to stay as fit as possible. Actually, scratch that; I need to stay as fit as possible. Before my injury I would play sports, go to the gym and do some form of exercise most days because I enjoyed being active and also, truth be told, because I was vain and no doubt subconsciously sought to compensate for being a bit on the short side, so I wanted my body to be as toned as possible. Sure, I still had takeaways (far more than I do now in fact), but I was younger, my metabolism was faster, I was more active and I was on my feet - all factors that contributed to calories being burnt faster and my svelte waistline being maintained!

Warning: Portrayal may not be 100% accurate!

Fast forward to the present, and whereas I still enjoy playing sports and exercising, my injury has made damn sure that vanity and the dream of a toned torso play absolutely no part in my reasoning! Instead I do it in an effort to keep my weight down and maintain a level of fitness that will allow me to live an independent life.

My true Achilles heel in terms of diet, comes in the form of my insatiable sweet tooth. Whether it be biscuits, cookies, cakes, pies, pastries, sweets, ice cream or absolutely anything smothered in chocolate, not a day goes by where I don't find myself craving something sugary and delicious. It is the one thing in my life that I can say I am truly addicted to. Whenever out for a meal, no matter how much savoury food I may have eaten and no matter how full I may feel, I will always find room for dessert. As I tell people: I have a savoury stomach and a dessert stomach, kind of like being half-cow! It has gotten to the point where, if I'm going on a health kick, I try not to have any sweet items in the house other than fruit, because try as I might to resist temptation, I know that eventually I'll cave and ravenously dig into whatever tasty treat I might have hidden away in the kitchen. As part-time singer, part-time cult leader, R Kelly says: "My mind's telling me no, but my body, my body's telling me yes!"

Even when I'm out at the pub, my drink of choice has never really been beer, slightly too bitter for my palate. Instead, I much prefer cider; it's sweeter, full of sugar and on average contains more calories than a pint of Guinness! 

Waisting Away

So what effect has this love and dependence on sugar had on my body exactly? Well apart from making me feel tired, sluggish and grumpy when I haven't had any in a while, it has also helped me develop quite the pot belly! Now every quad who's suffered a neck break will know about the dreaded tetra/quad belly phenomenon: The lack of stomach muscles meaning that over a relatively short space of time you'll start to put on weight around your middle which will protrude even more due to the fact you're constantly sat down. No matter what size you were or what shape you were in before injury, eventually the tetra belly gets us all!

I went from a 28 inch waist at the time of injury, to a 32 inch waist, within the space of a couple of years, nothing too horrifying but enough to get my attention. In the following years I managed to more or less hold steady at this size, however towards the end of last year I started to notice my jeans were becoming a little tighter on me and I was developing a slight overhang of stomach podge, mortification!! This can almost certainly be accredited to the fact that 2017 was by far my most unhealthy year since injury; a combination of moving house, niggling shoulder pains and general apathy had led to a sharp reduction in the amount of weekly exercise I was doing, and my willpower to eat healthily was almost nowhere to be seen, a reassuring voice in the back of my head whispering to me; "after Easter", "after summer", "after your birthday", "after Christmas"...

I probably should have prefaced all this by stating that this isn't me complaining that I'm fat, what with my gargantuan 32 inch waist! Yes, I've got a tetra belly and you can most definitely 'pinch an inch' (or 5!), but other than that and a sprinkling of muscle in my arms and shoulders, I'm as skinny as a rake everywhere else, devoid of fat or muscle, another side effect of the injury and the reason why it's impossible to find a shirt that fits me properly! This is simply me making an observation about my general lifestyle, the effects it's having on my body/health and what I'm planning to do about it.

Which conveniently leads me back to the subject of Lent. I mean, my god, it's almost as if this was my plan all along...

...(it was not)!

The Battle of The Bulge

So, the main issues I wanted to face going into 2018 were:
  • My addiction to sugary products
  • My expanding stomach
  • My general health and fitness levels
It is therefore with all this in mind that I have decided that for Lent this year I am going to completely give up all produce containing refined/processed sugar (chocolate, biscuits, cakes, soft drinks, cider etc), as well as all beers, lagers and ales. Instead of relying on sugar to get me through the day, I'm going to attempt a more balanced diet, coupled with regular exercise, in order to lead a healthier lifestyle in general. Oh and in case you were wondering about me coasting on caffeine, I hate coffee!

This search for a healthier lifestyle will likely involve an increase in the consumption of produce such as fish, vegetables, fruit, nuts, natural yoghurt, fruit tea, water etc. As far as exercise goes, my aim is to do some form of it at least 5 times a week. This could include things such as wheelchair rugby training, doing sets of weights and other activities with my various Active Hands aids, going on the handbike or even playing table tennis (I don't count pushing my day chair in this list, as it's something I have to do every day...well, either that or live my life as a bedrest boy, eagerly awaiting a call from The Jeremy Kyle Show)!

Slightly surprised this hasn't been a genuine headline...yet!

During this period I will intermittently be reporting back on here (every 10-12 days or so), to give brief updates on how things are progressing, including my current weight, current measurement around my stomach and most importantly, how I am feeling. I've read a number of articles stating that going cold turkey on refined sugar can lead to mood changes, tiredness and experiences of withdrawl, so it will be interesting to see if substituting this for a healthier lifetsyle can counter the negative effects at all. I already spend every waking moment either lying or sitting, and one of the side effects of my spasm medication is drowsiness, so it will be interesting to see if these changes will affect me more than they would an able-bodied person. Worst case scenario, I have to give out handwritten letters of apology to friends and loved ones, for the eternally tired, depressed, moody horror I devolved into during this period!

Vital Statistics 1 (Feb 13th - The Day Before Lent)

Weight: 8st 12lbs (56.25kg)

Stomach Circumference: 37" (94cm)

General Feelings: Having just stuffed myself full of pancakes, I can sense my body becoming tired and a little bloated, but overall I feel pretty much the same as I ever do; not full of energy but not entirely lethargic either. My weight is on the low side for someone of my height (5ft8" or 1.73m), but that's not a huge shock when you take leg and torso muscle atrophy into account. And whereas I would like to gain a little muscle in my arms whilst knocking a few cms off my stomach circumference (measured around my belly button), the last thing I need to do is lose weight from anywhere else on my body. That's part of the reason I'm doing this, to see if it's possible to reduce this accursed quad belly without losing weight from the rest of me, hopefully via a combination of healthy eating and exercise.

Let's Get Ready To (Tummy) Rumble

And so it begins. The annual Shrove Tuesday pancake gorging is over and tomorrow will signal the start of LLL: The Lean Lent Lifestyle! My customary Valentine's Day tradition of sitting alone at home, audibly weeping into a tub of Ben & Jerry's whilst watching Me Before You taking one of my many, many female admirers out for champagne and truffles will have to be put on hold this year, as for the next 46 days it's goodbye sugary delights and hello healthy alternatives.

That's right, Lent this year lasts from February 14th until March 31st, which is 46 days rather than the nice, round 40 days we always hear about. Upon further investigation, I found this to be because apparently Sundays aren't counted in the 40 day period; but not before I sat staring at my calendar for a truly embarrassing number of minutes, repeatedly counting over the days, whilst questioning everything I knew about maths, as an increasingly baffled expression grew over my face...


Sunday, 9 July 2017

The Disability Invisibility (Part 2)

*I had aimed for this to follow up Part 1 within a month, however moving house, writing off my car and being without a computer for nearly 4 weeks has led to some unforeseen delays for which I can only apologise!

But without further ado, it's time for Part 2

From Bathrooms To Bays

In my previous blog entry I wrote all about disabled bathrooms, the new signs that were beginning to appear outside them, and the positive and negative effects these could have on disabled users. Some of the feedback I received on the entry was from people who had found that these new signs, although designed to highlight the varying nature of disabilities, were instead confusing people and leading them to believe that the bathroom was for use by anyone, disabled or otherwise. This isn't something I had considered at the time of writing, but it's a legitimate point and certainly one worth adding to the argument and mentioning here. It goes to show just how tricky it can be to put across a point (in this case that 'not every disability is visible') without diluting that point and leading to even more confusion.

In this second part of The Disability Invisibility, I'm switching my attention from bathrooms to parking bays as I take a look at who should and shouldn't be using the disabled bays, the issues and frustrations that come with needing to park in one of these bays, and what, if anything, needs to change...

When you take things a little too literally!



I was driving for a little over 5 years before I had the accident in which I broke my neck. And in those 5 years I can honestly say that I never once parked in a disabled bay. I mean, why would I?! I didn't need the extra space to fully open my door when getting out, if I was in a rush to get somewhere then I could simply walk faster, and it's not as though every other parking bay was located in a field, a 2 mile hike from my destination!

Since my injury however, disabled parking bays have naturally become a lot more relevant in my life. Now, as a full time wheelchair user, if I go out in the car and am unable to a find a suitable space to park in, then I'm really only left with 3 options: a) Pull over, get the binoculars out and stakeout the disabled bays until one becomes free, much to the annoyance of every other driver who now has to manoeuvre around me, b) Begin a monotonous 2mph circuit of the car park, instantly revving into fast and furious mode the minute someone approaches a car parked in one of the disabled bays, or c) Let out a few colourful words, turn around and go home. Because if I can't park somewhere that allows me enough room to get my wheelchair out, then I physically can't get out of the car, it's as simple as that.

During my younger, more hot-headed years, I had a number of verbal altercations over parking bays, and was met with a variety of different reactions and excuses; from apologetic and defusing, to sarcastic and antagonising. But one always sticks in my mind: As a woman exited a sports centre/gym with her two children either side of her and made her way to her car, I rolled down my window and asked, "Excuse me, but do you know you're parked in a disabled bay?", to which she replied, "'Ere, I've got two kids mate!" My initial thought was, "Well if you consider your children a disability upon yourself, then maybe you should've thought more before having them!" However this thought, probably wisely, stayed in my head and I instead chose to scold her with a rather tame, "Well that's no excuse for being a lazy #?!*$ so-and-so!"

Yes, I think it's safe to say that since my injury, nothing has caused exasperation and expletives quite like the disabled parking bay fiasco!

Saying what we've all thought before, albeit in a much politer way!


To Park Or Not To Park...

As a general rule of thumb, if you are ever driving around, see an empty disabled bay and wonder, "Should I park in that bay?", this can be answered by following this very handy guide: Simply ask yourself the question, "Do I have a disability or impairment which severely affects my mobility?" If the answer to the question is "yes", then the space is all yours. If however, the answer is "no"/"I'm not sure"/"well I did stub my toe getting out of the bath this morning...", then those parking bays are not applicable to you I'm afraid and you'll have to slum it with the common man in one of the many, many, *deep breath* many regular bays on offer. Honestly, you wouldn't believe the number of times I've gone to the gym of all places and found that all the disabled bays have been take up by regular gym goers who must simply see the yellow spaces in front of them as they pull into the car park and lock onto them like homing missiles. The irony is that they're not even the closest parking spaces!

The clue is in the name: Disabled Bay. Not, I'll Just Be 2 Minutes Bay. Not, I'm Picking Up My Kids Bay. Not, There Was Nowhere Else To Park Bay. And most certainly not, Luxury Bay For Lazy Baes (I'll get my coat)!


Now I know what you're thinking, that an even simpler question to ask would be, "Do I have a blue disabled parking badge?" And you're right, that would be a more straight forward way of testing, but one however, which comes with a more complicated answer. For example, I'm fairly sure that I'm not the only one who has seen someone pull into a disabled bay and pop a blue badge onto the dash, before hopping out and casually strolling off. And I'm definitely not the only person who, after seeing this, has thought to themselves, "Well someone's taking advantage of grandma's parking privileges!" No, unfortunately policing blue badges and disabled bays is an absolute minefield and challenging a person who is parked in a disabled bay can put you in a rather sticky situation, as more and more people seem to have blue badges now and being able to tell apart those who have genuine mobility issues from those who don't is becoming increasingly tricky...

The Invisible Disability Strikes Again!

To quote my previous entry, "there are a countless number of disabilities that exist beneath the surface, affecting millions of people and giving them just as much right to use the disabled facilities as someone in a wheelchair". This statement was true for disabled bathrooms and it's equally as true for disabled parking bays. In fact, when you think about it, the mantra of, not every disability is visible, is even more applicable here as I would imagine there are even more people who have the right to claim a disabled parking bay than use a disabled bathroom. Having a weak heart, shortness of breath, chronic fatigue syndrome, those who experience pain, those who have psychological/behavioural problems, the elderly; most of these people wouldn't necessarily need to use a disabled bathroom, but all are eligible to at least apply for a disabled parking badge, and rightly so. If you have an issue that affects your mobility or limits how far you can travel on foot, where parking that little bit closer or having a little extra room to get out would make life that much easier, then you have every right to do that. Once again, the issue comes down to being one of honesty but also one of obtainability.

Lest we forget

It's definitely much easier to police who uses a disabled parking bay than who uses a disabled bathroom, as you at least need to display a badge in your windscreen when parked in a disabled bay, or risk getting the dreaded parking fine! However, if your vehicle has a disabled badge belonging to a friend or relative then essentially all you'd need to do is pop it on the dashboard, instantly giving you carte blanche to park in any space you wanted, without fear of repercussions. And if anyone were to query it then you could just hide behind the near impenetrable invisible disability shield! Short of making a citizens arrest and demanding to see the photo ID on the back of the badge, there's not an awful lot else a person could do after that, no matter how able-bodied a person may appear. Yes, a disabled badge is a wonderful weapon to have at your disposal, especially if (as is often the case) badge holders park for free!

A Two-Tiered Overhaul

So what, if anything, should change? Personally I believe that, as far as disabled parking bays are concerned, the biggest issue is that of obtainability; there are simply not enough of them to cater for the near 3 million blue badge holders in the UK. This is especially problematic if you are a wheelchair user who absolutely needs a larger space in order to get your wheelchair out. Sure, it would help if there were more disabled bays available, and in a perfect world there would be enough spaces to cater for everyone; but this is not a perfect world and the Mega Car Park: Space For Everyone solution is neither practical nor realistic.

No, instead I would suggest an overhaul of the blue badge system; splitting it into two tiers: One for those who require larger spaces for wheelchairs or walking frames, and one for those who can walk largely unaided but require proximity parking. From what I have seen, it seems to be a relatively small percentage of blue badge holders that require wheelchairs or walking frames to mobilise. I would therefore leave the majority of disabled spaces as they are, but set aside a handful of spaces in each car park specifically for those who have the 'top tier' blue badges, meaning they require larger spaces for wheelchairs etc, and making them distinct from the 'regular' disabled bays. They wouldn't even necessarily have to be right at the front, just as long as they were big enough for a person to open their door fully and assemble their chair.

I don't mean to come across all Animal Farm and imply that all disabled people are equal but some are more equal than others; this is purely my personal idea and opinion, and I'm sure there will be numerous flaws in what I've just suggested. Maybe I'm being selfish and looking at it purely from a wheelchair user's perspective, I'm just trying to come up with what I think would be the most practical solution. And I do believe there needs to be a change.

But what do you guys think? Feel free to let me know if you agree or disagree and whether you have a solution you think would work better. 

As always, thanks for reading!


Friday, 5 May 2017

The Disability Invisibility (Part 1)

Post Easter Intro

Hey guys! I hope everyone had a great Easter and celebrated Jesus' resurrection in the most appropriate way possible - by ploughing through a mountain of hollowed-out, chocolate eggs that were delivered by an omnipotent rabbit! I gave up chocolate for lent this year, but like a recovering addict who's fallen off the wagon, I've been hitting it pretty hard since Easter Sunday.

My mother, the enabler!

I'm determined however to battle through the palpitations and fluctuating energy levels to get this entry written before I pack everything up, move house and then inevitably spend the next 6-12 months staring at the sea of sealed boxes in the spare room, wondering when exactly they'll begin unpacking themselves?! But I digress...

For this latest blog entry I've decided to look at how different disabilities are viewed when it comes to using certain disabled facilities. I'm breaking it up into two parts, with this first part looking at disabled bathrooms, the concept of the 'disabled person' in relation to these bathrooms, and why new signs are starting to be put up outside of them.

Sign of The Times

Last month I read an article that had been posted on the Active Hands Facebook page about the new signs that are beginning to appear on disabled toilets; signs stating that:
I think we can all agree that the message here is fairly self-explanatory: Just because you cannot physically see that someone has a disability, this doesn't mean that they don't have one. It's the age old adage of 'don't judge a book by its cover'. And it's completely true. The outline of a figure in a wheelchair has long been seen as the universal symbol of disability. It's a fairly outdated image that has had the unfortunate side effect of stereotyping every disabled person as a wheelchair user and only a wheelchair user. Sure, if you've got a crutch or severe limp then you'll maybe sneak into the club, but anything less than that and you'll be on the receiving end of tuts and evil eyes as you shamefully emerge from the disabled toilet, a hang-dog look about you. I think most wheelchair users, myself included, at one time or another, will have silently judged or 'cripple-shamed' someone for using what is seen as the 'wheelchair only bathroom'.

"Bloody walkers, coming over here, taking our toilets!"

But as time has gone on I've come to understand that there are a countless number of disabilities that exist beneath the surface, affecting millions of people and giving them just as much right to use the disabled facilities as someone in a wheelchair. Conditions such as ADHD, autism, Crohn's disease, chronic fatigue syndrome and ulcerative colitis all exist beneath the surface, invisible to the naked eye. Even conditions that affect mobility such as multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy can go by unnoticed in their milder forms. However, this shouldn't deny them the right to use the disabled facilities. Several comments on the article were made by people who had in the past been publicly shamed for using the disabled toilet due to their condition being invisible. No matter how mild or unnoticeable it may be, if you have a condition that would be eased by the use of a larger, more accessible bathroom, then you have a right to use it.

The issue really is one of honesty.

Taking The P: Disabled Bathroom or Convenience Cubicle?

Much of the feedback to the article on the Active Hands Facebook page demonstrated that the major concern most people have with these new signs is that they would encourage more people to abuse the facilities. Proximity, convenience, peace and quiet, needing to go number 2; I'm afraid none of these are acceptable reasons for using the disabled bathroom! It is after all called the disabled bathroom, not the convenience cubicle; and as I once informed a gym employee who thought it was okay to use the room to unleash a devastating chemical attack, "It's not your own, personal s******* chamber!"

You know who you are!

Many people use the accessible bathroom without strictly needing to, this is a fact, and one which is proving increasingly difficult to police. In theory one could argue that by limiting the use of these bathrooms to only people in wheelchairs, you are ensuring that only those who need them most are using them; unless of course a person were to borrow a wheelchair for the sole purpose of gaining access to the disabled bathroom, in which case I can only applaud your determination! But by implimenting this rule you would then be discriminating against all the aforementioned people with invisible conditions, which would be unacceptable.

On the flip side however, by now using signs physically stating that "not every disability is visible", you are opening the door to every man and his dog using these facilities whilst hiding behind the 'invisible disability' mantle. One solution would be to ensure that every disabled bathroom was fitted with a radar lock and key system, so that only those carrying a radar key can gain access. However, this would be dependent on every person with a disability having a radar key on them at all times, otherwise you'll be left crossing your legs for the duration! Personally, I really only take my radar key out with me when I go to pubs, most of which utilise these locks; but even then I've been guilty of forgetting it from time to time.

In Conclusion

The truth of the matter is that, short of installing finger print scanners outside of every bathroom and moving one step closer to a hellish, Orwellian reality, there is no sure fire way of ensuring that only those who need to, get to use the disabled facilities. Instead we must continue to rely on a combination of honesty and guilt. Sure, we could always politely confront the person if we didn't think they should be using a particular bathroom, but if they claim to have an underlying condition then who are we to argue? The most important thing is that those who need to access them, can access them, without being shamed for it. And in that regard, these new signs can surely only be a positive thing?

In Part 2 I'm going to switch my attention to disabled parking bays and the joys/battles that often accompany them. In the meantime however, I shall leave you with a cautionary tale and perfect example of just what can happen if you use the disabled toilet without an appropriate reason...