Why “All-Inclusive” Should Mean Exactly That (Or – Your Treatment Of Me Shouldn’t Change As A Result Of How I Appear)

This blog post was inspired by a friend of mine surprising me by agreeing with a comment I put on Facebook regarding the fact that I think “Walking Disabled” should be legally treated in the same way as “Wheeled Disabled” when it comes to buses. Those who are in a wheelchair are now covered by a law which means people with pushchairs and prams can be asked to leave a bus in order to allow wheelchairs on. Unfortunately, the same does not apply to the “Walking Disabled” actually getting a seat on the same crowded bus without relying on the (usually) nonexistent manners and politeness of other passengers.

I will expand on my various experiences of being a “Walking Disabled” person on a bus in my personal blog.

Being me can sometimes be a fun experience (and not necessarily in a humourous way). I actually find it very depressing how quickly people’s attitudes towards me can change depending on what I am wearing or carrying.

Before I lost my hair and started to wear what I call “sleeves” I spent a large amount of my life trying to merge in with the scenery and hiding my differences.

To be honest, the attitude change of the bus driver the only time I ever used my white stick on a bus put me off using one ever again in any situation. Don’t get me wrong – he wasn’t abusive towards me. In fact, he was the total opposite – almost fawning over me (and if you have read my blog posts before now you will realise how much I hate being treated differently from everyone else).

My “sleeves” don’t attract much attention (except for the odd compliment). I chose the “sleeve” option because I couldn’t be bothered trying to wrap scarves around my head or wearing wigs (which would make me feel like a fraud – I want to feel like me as much as possible). Actually – I think I have got Nadiya who does the cookery programmes on the BBC to thank for making me feel comfy wearing my sleeves. She wears her hijab wrapped around her hair without covering her neck and shoulders – and she wears it confidently. I know it is not the same thing but if you see someone doing something quirky it makes you feel more confident doing something similar.

The biggest (and most upsetting for me) change in attitude comes when I am attached to my Walking Tank. OK – so I can smile when someone almost stages an evacuation of a bus in order for me to sit down. However, it is little things which bug me, like being asked if I am OK or people picking things up when I know I can reach them (one lady even offered to tie my shoelaces for me when they came undone).

As someone who finds it difficult to ask for and accept help at the best of times you might not realise how embarrassing I find the attitude change in some people depending on what they see when they look at me.

A sleeve is something that other people wear in various forms – could be a hijab, a beanie, or other form of headgear. This usually gets past people unnoticed. I have to play by the same rules as everyone else – just the way I like it.

Anything which signals any kind of disability is usually seen as a request for help (whether or not it is necessary or required). That is when it is not seen as an invitation for abuse (which I have escaped so far).

My question is – why should it matter what I am carrying or wearing??? If I need your help with something I need your help with it whether I am just me, carrying a white stick, or wearing my Walking Tank. (The same goes for if I need to sit down on a crowded bus – my temper doesn’t change because of what I am carrying or wearing. It does, however, change depending on how much my back is hurting and how my eyes are feeling (neither of which are obvious unless I choose to give you a verbal printout of my exact state of health at that particular minute).

When you organise an event – please do not automatically decide that every disabled person is going to need lots of assistance – at the same time don’t let us struggle on our own when we do have unforseen difficulty with some aspect of it.

The best way to make someone like me honestly feel included is either by involving me in the organisation (even just by asking for my suggestions as to how to make it accessible for me), by doing what some of my friends did when they were organising an event they knew I was going to attend – and made sure I could take part in the craft activity without asking me what I could and couldn’t do (a clue – avoid scissors and anything which involves halfway decent hand-eye coordination, as well as drawing), or even listen to me with both ears and your brain when I make suggestions as to how I can be made to feel more included at your next event. Basically – and I know how difficult this probably is for most of you – pretend you or one of your friends or close relatives are like me and think how you would like to be treated. As well as how you would wish to feel when leaving the event.

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Why Restrictions Can Be More Limiting Than You Realise (Or – Don’t Let Anyone Tell You They Know You Better Than You Know Yourself)

This blog post is going to be a bit more “personal” than usual because it will tell you a bit about my background and – hopefully – tell you why I am so passionate about discrimination, etc.

There are three kinds of “restrictions” we face in life (actually – there are a lot more than three – but I will concentrate on what I consider to be the three main ones).

The first is the restrictions we all face – namely laws of the land and rules covering whatever groups we belong to. These exist to keep us safe. (I remember my Granddad telling me about a very good example of what happened when someone broke an unspoken rule in a Darts match and ended up with a dart in his ear as a result of walking past a dartboard when the dart was in midair.)

The next restrictions are the ones put on us by other people who may or may not have our best interests at heart. (As you may know – I am not the world’s biggest fan of Medical Professionals. However, if they advise me to do something – as long as they allow me to discuss it with them – I will do it.)

The kind of restrictions I hate are the ones where other people – usually those who cannot be bothered to find out why I am doing something in a certain way – decide that I should be forced to do it their way or not do it at all. Good luck with your attempts to convince me that your way is better than mine (unless – of course – you can actually prove it).

Bullying can also be a restriction – a permanent one. As you might know already – I was bullied both at school and in my last job. The saying “stick and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me” should (in my personal opinion) be made illegal. Words actually hurt more than any physical injury – and I am speaking as someone who was bullied both verbally and physically at school. Physical injuries (usually) heal leaving only minor scars. The scars left by verbal attacks on someone run very deep and sometimes never properly heal. Those scars can (unfortunately) result in someone else paying the price for what a bully (or someone you perceive to be a bully at the time they say something or do something to make your life unpleasant – not necessarily physically harm you but even making promises they don’t keep) said or did to you a couple of decades prior to you meeting your “victim”. Trust me – been there, done that, got the t-shirt, and nearly killed a great friendship before it really began as a result of it.

The third kind of restrictions is the kind we place on ourselves. Or – in my case – try not to place on ourselves.

You could say I am fighting two battles every day – the first is my sight and the second is my physical health (cancer, heart failure, and asthma). If I didn’t push myself to do things sometimes I might as well give up, tidy myself into a corner, and wait for death to claim me.

Let’s just say – if you have ever met me you will know that I very rarely let my health or my sight put the brakes on whatever I want to do (even though I may end up paying for it later due to mental or physical tiredness, or even feeling what I call “puffy” – which most people would probably classify as being at death’s door due to severe lack of oxygen).

I have never been one to use the word “can’t” – if I use the word “won’t” you can translate that as “can’t” because me saying “I won’t be able to do such and such” usually means I have either tried to do it in the past without success or I have thought about possible ways of achieving my goal and drawn a blank – if you want me to do it you are going to have to help me. And I really hate asking for help.

The worst restrictions are the ones based on other people’s ignorance (either unintended or – worse – intended). This week I found out that – according to the Mainstream Media and public opinion – I am an Islamophobe merely due to my sight and not being able to see certain people who choose to dress head to foot in black with a face covering which leaves only their eyes visible. Luckily I have got two friends who are Muslim who have managed to convince me that my sight does not make me an Islamophobe. It makes me someone who has a problem seeing the colour black and separating it from the background (particularly if the background is also dark), among other things.

As a bit of a diversion from the topic – can someone please introduce the BBC news presenter, Clive Myrie, to the concept of tinted shirts??? His habit of wearing a black jacket and tie with a white shirt just gives me a headache whenever he presents the news. In fact, why don’t they introduce *all* the male presenters to the concept of tinted shirts??? It would give my eyes a rest and I would be able to concentrate on what the presenters were saying.

Restrictions can be both good and bad for us depending on the situation we are in. We just need to be very careful about how we choose to react to them.

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Be Careful With Your Language (Or – How Things Can Get Misinterpreted Very Quickly)

This blog post was partly inspired by the furore over anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in the two major political parties in the UK government. It was also inspired by the fact there are certain words and phrases which certain groups of people may apply to themselves but take great offence if someone who is unconnected with those groups attempt to apply to them.

I am not going to go into the whole debate about Religious Freedom and Religious Discrimination. Better minds than mine are arguing over both of those subjects. (I have already blogged about my feelings on the subject of Religious Discrimination versus Disability Discrimination. And the aftermath of Boris Johnson’s comments on the Burka and Niqab actually highlighted my argument perfectly. It took a Muslim friend of mine – who I had not previously realised was a Muslim – to convince me that me not being able to see a Muslim lady dressed head to foot in black and commenting on it could not be classed as Islamophobia.)

However, we are still left with a minefield of words and phrases which can cause unintended offence when used by people who do not understand the true meaning behind them.

A white person using the “N word” when speaking to a black person will undoubtedly offend the black person very badly. However, if the black person uses it in conversation with another black person nobody is offended.

Another – slightly strange – example follows.

Call me “Four eyes” and the most likely thing to happen is you being ignored. Not because I am not offended by it (I am) but because as a wearer of glasses with – when I was growing up – very thick lenses it did appear as though I had four eyes. Luckily my lenses have slimmed down a lot and you would be unlikely to tell how bad my sight is just by looking at my glasses – the only way you would be able to tell is if you attempted to look through them.

What I am trying to say is I see calling me “Four eyes” as a reflection on you. You are obviously in need of education if you think it is acceptable to use that terminology. (Although, I will admit that the last person who said that to me was also showing symptoms of some kind of Mental Health difficulties – I had never met them before in my life.)

The best way to cause me maximum offence is to ask “are you blind?” if I either have obvious difficulty seeing something or I ask for your help with reading something.

However, do not be surprised if I refer to myself as a member of “the Bat Brigade (Blind as a)”! To misquote Ronnie Corbett in the “Class” sketch from “The Two Ronnies” – I know my limitations.

That is the issue we all face. Nobody knows anybody else’s limitations unless they choose to disclose them.

However, there is another problem. Some disabilities can fluctuate in their severity – depending on the situation the person finds themself in. This can render what I like to “Unequal Opportunity Questionnaires” totally useless in my case. “What adjustments do you need us to make as a result of your disability?” is the one question I always found impossible to answer (for some reason “Unfortunately I don’t have access to a crystal ball.” would probably not be classed as an acceptable answer to that question).

Depending on the lighting situation, whether or not your establishment has a lift in it, etc, my answer can change tremendously. Unfortunately, the way the job application system works, it is very rare that you have the opportunity to visit the premises before you apply for the job itself (unless, of course, you happen to work for the company anyway).

Let’s just say I am literally useless in a power cut.

We all need to be careful about the language we use when speaking to others.

However, at the same time, we need to have a proper grown up debate surrounding the conflicts between different groups on the subject of language. Otherwise we will be going around in the same old circles for the rest of eternity.

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We Are Overdosing On Digital Technology (Or – Digital Lenses And Analogue Eyes Don’t Sound Like A Good Mix To Me)

I was watching the news this week when there was a report about how people are addicted to their mobile phones.

As someone who makes a lot of use of her mobile phone I cannot really argue with that idea. However, I must admit that some of the things I have been known to use my mobile phone for might not be the kind of thing you would use it for.

As well as phoning people, texting, social media, watching YouTube, sending emails, typing blog posts, etc, on it I make more use of one thing on it than you might expect. The thing I use more often than most people is the camera. But not necessarily for actually taking photos.

Why??? Well, that can act as another pair of eyes for me.

Allow me to explain – my eyes have great difficulty seeing small things (small print, small objects which may have fallen on the floor, etc). Unfortunately for me – my eyeballs do not come with a zoom function fitted as standard. And – sometimes – the closer I peer at an object the more difficult it is for me to see it.

The camera on my mobile does have a zoom function fitted as standard – so – if I am having difficulty seeing or reading something I can use the camera’s zoom function to make it easier for me to see what I am looking at.

There is a place for digital technology. It is all around us and we use it every day. However, my Optician told me something which started me thinking that maybe we are taking it to extremes now.

I went to pick up my new glasses today (they are pretty hi-tech themselves) and Peter Kirby told me about an event he had attended (which was where the second part of the title to this blog post came from). Apparently a rep from some lens manufacturers told Peter that they had invented digital lenses to go in spectacles (glasses). Peter’s immediate response was to enquire “has anyone here got digital eyes??? Because I am pretty sure we have all got analogue eyes”. (Personally, I was convinced that our eyes are mechanical but – seeing as I am not a qualified eye specialist of any description – please don’t quote me on that!!!)

I know that lens manufacturers have come up with some really crazy ideas (as well as some really useful ones – like the Fresnel lenses I have got in my glasses) – I am particularly thinking of things like varifocal lenses which appear to be liquid so they change focus themselves depending on what you are trying to look at. But I think – at least until someone comes up with an analogue/digital adaptor for our eyes – digital lenses are a step too far. And I am speaking as someone who is a big fan of technological advances when they can make my life easier.

Not everything has a digital – or even a technological – solution. Some problems make me think of Google Maps sometimes – if you have the Google Maps app set up a certain way it will ask you to help it by answering some questions about the places you have visited by saying “we need some human help”. Sometimes seemingly impossible problems can be overcome by the addition of human help instead of heading for the nearest complicated technological solutions.

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Colour Crush (Or – Why Your Furniture Should Ideally Be A Completely Different Colour To Your Floor)

This blog post was inspired by a YouTube clip I saw showing a tour of the inside of an Airbus A380. However, as you will learn, colour contrasts (or – more precisely – the lack of them) can even make finding a seat on a bus or a train a very interesting experience. As for furniture in a home or office – I will let you work that one out for yourself.

If you are a regular reader of this blog you will know that I sometimes have interesting experiences where colours are concerned. Namely black, white, and red.

Today’s blog post is going to explore another challenge I face regarding colours – contrasts. More to the point – I am going to attempt to explain how certain contrasts in colours (why may seem perfectly useful to you) can actually be useless to the point of being downright dangerous – in certain situations – for me.

First off I am going to let you into a secret about me. I cannot distinguish very dark colours. (I have even been known to get a darkish blue confused with a darkish grey.). I am just about OK if you ask me to show you something navy blue or dark brown. However, any darker than that and -no matter what colour you tell me it is supposed to be – I will inform you it is black.

For those of you who have no problems distinguishing the difference between shades of colours things like finding a seat on a bus or a plane will be something you can do almost without thinking about it. Of course you know that the seat is raised from the floor and you know that there is a gap between the seat you intend to sit in and the one in front.

You are probably now wondering why on Earth I might expect to find a bus seat where I am virtually sitting on the floor??? And why on Earth I would think the seats would be merged together in the first place??? My sight must be worse than you ever imagined!!! In this instance you would actually be correct in that assumption. As we will see.

I will start the explanation by telling you the difference between what I can see without my glasses. A fluffy, blurred world with no solid edges, where everything just merges together. (Let’s just say that asking me to enter a room with a bed in it and lie on the aforementioned bed without my glasses on if I have never been in the room before will result in me flatly refusing to take my glasses off until I have seen the height of the bed with my glasses on. Without my glasses on the bed will look like it is on the floor – even if it is at standard bed height in reality.). My mental measuring system will just go on strike – meaning my perception of things like height, depth, width, proximity to nearest wall, etc, are nonexistent.

The reason I told you that is the same thing happens when I have got my glasses on if the contrast in colours – particularly shades of colours is too close for me to distinguish quickly.

I will give you two examples which I have been subjected to.

The first one is actually a bit of a cop out in a way because there is something present which I can use as a measuring device (but it does not help me work out the most important measurement).

I am on a bus and I have to find a seat (the seats for the Disabled are full and the seats where the pushchairs are sometimes parked are occupied). The seats are a navy blue colour and the floor is a dark grey colour. The yellow poles tell me the approximate gap between the seats. So I know roughly how far I have to walk to find an empty seat. The next thing is to hope someone is sitting near the window next to the seat I intend to sit on. Why??? It is that pesky contrast issue again. If a human is sitting near the window it means I don’t have to try to distinguish the seat from the floor.

The worst one is modern UK trains. A the seats are one uniform colour. The internal lights would (in my personal opinion) be very useful if you wished to interrogate someone (why do they make the inside lights on trains so bright??? Someone really needs to educate train designers about Photophobia). Next we have the rolling display for the stations the train is due to stop at (Cross Country trains have orange text which could do with being bigger – whilst East Midlands Trains have a rolling display with red text which ,I find useless and painful to look at.

To me – the seats look squashed together anyway. Particularly when I enter the carriage. Next we have the most dangerous things as far as I am concerned. Look at the floor between the seats. Nice contrast you might think. The surrounding floor is bright, we have a greyish stripe the width of the seats going directly under the seats the length of the carriage and the seats are a blue colour. Not even you can complain about that Ineke??? Surely that meets with your approval??? Surely even you can definitely distinguish the gaps between the seats now, can’t you??? Sorry but I can complain. You are correct in saying that I can distinguish the gap between the seats. However, that grey stripe actually lowers the seat – according to my eyes – to almost floor level (either that or the stripe makes the floor under the seats seem higher than the corridor through the carriage).

The same can be applied to furniture in static environments (ie, buildings). A black chair on a dark carpet is pretty difficult for me to visually separate (particularly in low lighting conditions).

I am going to put my usual caveat here and say I understand that my sight is at what you might classify as the “extreme” end of the spectrum and most people would have little to no problems with distinguishing colours and shades. I also understand that the world is designed for those of us with 20/20 vision (or very close to it).

I just wish that people like me were asked to help design things we are more likely than most people to use. Then our lives would be a lot easier.

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Why You Should Be Nice To Your Neighbours As Well As Your Customers (Or – Your “Target Audience” Is Wider Than You Think)

Everybody knows that a happy customer will come back and spend more money with your company – and they might even recommend you to their friends and family.

But – how should you treat your neighbours??? What difference does it make how they feel about living next door to your organisation???

Quite a lot actually. Especially if I happen to be your neighbour. I may not set foot in your establishment very often but I want to feel safe living next door to anybody.

I would like to share two stories which happened this week in order to illustrate my point.

I happen to live next door to a pub. I have lived in my house for 10 years – before I moved in it was my Grandparents’ house so you could say I have a lifelong connection with both the house and the pub next door.

The current landlord looks out for me and does small things which make a big difference.

This week he went one step further than I expected him to. He invited me in for a drink and told me he had been worried about me (well, the last time he had seen me prior to this week I was walking into the back of an ambulance – which I had asked his wife to call for me – on my way to hospital). He also told me that one (unidentified) customer of his had reported that I was out of hospital and roaming in the wild.

Some people might find that scary but I took it as another sign that he and his wife care about me as a friend as well as a neighbour. That makes me more likely to attempt to sort out any issues I have (like occasional loud music late at night) with them personally rather than getting the Police involved. (There have been a few Landlords who I would have loved to have known they had been arrested for various things.)

Friendly relations with your neighbours may seem like a strange thing for me to highlight as a good thing (surely it should be blazingly obvious that getting on with your neighbours is good for business because if your neighbours are happy you have one less thing to worry about???). However, I am most likely to recommend the pub I live next door to as a good place to drink in with lovely staff because I have no problems with them.

The other thing which happened this week (roughly along the same lines) was me going – with three friends – to my favourite food place in the UK and being treated as a welcome friend instead of a customer.

If you have been reading this blog for any length of time you will know how fussy I am when it comes to the layout of shops, cafes, etc. As well as being slightly less fussy about how the staff deal with the challenges I sometimes face due to my sight.

Well, if you want to treat me – and you let me choose where we go – I will take you to the best cafe I know. Well – actually it is a Gelateria. Tucked away in St Martin’s Square, Leicester, Gelato Village makes the most amazing Italian Gelato I have ever tasted. Seriously – I am addicted to their products.

The other thing I am addicted to is the gezellig (Dutch for cosy, warmth, hospitality) atmosphere provided by the Gelato Maestri who founded it (Daniele Taverna and Antonio De Vecchi) and their Italian staff. (The fact that the layout is ideal for someone like me is beside the point.)

When I visited on Tuesday I actually ended up feeling like I was a personal friend of Daniele. He looked after me and made sure I was OK (I did have my Walking Tank attached to me as well as having my head wrapped in a “sleeve”).

There are places which make you feel as though you are part of the furniture in a bad way – as in – they are more likely to forget about your existence even when you are in their establishment. There are also places which make you feel like a much loved antique or piece of furniture in a good way – as in – they seem to know how to make your life easy just by merely existing and anticipating any problems you may have before you say anything. Gelato Village is definitely recommended for people with sight problems based on layout, lighting, and the friendliness of the staff.

In fact, I feel like dragging the people in charge of most cafes and restaurants in existence to Gelato Village so they can learn how easy it is to accommodate someone like me in their establishment without making anyone else feel left out.

That is the whole trouble with certain organisations. The remit they are given is usually to go for the easy customers and ignore people like me who they usually flag up as a “troublemaker” because I will try to educate them about my difficulties when they make something impossible by virtue of their unwillingness to understand that I can be quite happy with a few adjustments and you do not (in most cases anyway) need to demolish your premises and rebuild totally from scratch.

Both your customers and your neighbours are useful sources of free advertising for your business. Keep them both happy and you will find yourself being recommended to their families and friends as a very good company.

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My Identity Is My Personal Story (Or – How To Upset Me In One Very Easy Move)

This blog post was inspired by two debates which I have been watching with interest because they both affect me in one way or another. The first one was Trevor Noah’s take on the French Football team who won the World Cup and the second one was Disability in the Church. Put those two together and you come up with the – I think – very valid question of “Who is more qualified to decide what I should identify myself as?”

We are all guilty of it (yes – even I hold my hands up to this one). We all make snap judgements about people. Some of us – who have little or no experience of the reality behind those judgements – have an interesting habit of “joining sides” and (usually) making the situation worse than it needs to be.

I found what Trevor Noah said about the French Football team to be very interesting. I also found his reply to the French Ambassador’s indignation refreshing. Here is a mixed-race South African man who pointed out that you can be from two places at once and you shouldn’t have to hide your cultural background in order to fit in with those around you.

There is one question which I hate most of all – “what country were you born in?”. Usually – on hearing the answer “England” – people have been known to decide I am English. And technically they are correct. I have a British passport. But do I feel (or – more to the point – have I ever felt) English??? Nope.

I was brought up by a proudly Dutch Mum (“I was born Dutch. I am Dutch. I will die Dutch” was her answer when I made the mistake of asking her why she never got a British passport. One of the Governments wanted her to surrender her Dutch nationality in order to get one.) and an English Dad who also became rather attached to Dutch life and culture through living and working in Holland (as well as marrying a Dutch lady).

To me – my “nationality” is not dependent on my home country but the country where I feel most at home. I might have mentioned this before but – it was only when I started at Primary school that I learned that England and Holland (sorry – The Netherlands) are two totally separate countries. (I did have a couple of very good excuses for that. The first being that English and Dutch were both spoken at home – sometimes even in the same sentence. The second being that driving onto a car ferry and being escorted into a windowless cabin for the duration of the sailing before being driven off the ferry doesn’t exactly give you much opportunity to see things like sea. Seeing sea when travelling between countries helps you distinguish the difference between countries.)

As a result of my upbringing I have always felt more at home in The Netherlands. Speak to me in Dutch and that is the quickest way to relax me. (The next best thing is to find a Glaswegian and get them to talk to me. The speech patterns are the same.)

So, whilst you are technically correct when you call me English, calling me English actually upsets me because it feels like you are ignoring half of me.

The other thing which I find seriously frustrating is people’s attitude towards Disabilities. Particularly the ones like mine which don’t exactly advertise their full consequences most of the time. If you see me wandering around in public most of the time you will see a human of the female Species with a pair of glasses on her nose. You may have walked past me without realising it. However, there are two instances where I get unbelievably nervous around other people.

The first is when I have to do something which isn’t quite the done thing – as in walk down a ramp or ask someone to read something for me. OK, so walking down a ramp has been known to get me admonishing glares (would you really prefer it if I broke my neck as I bounced down that steep staircase???) but asking someone to read something for me is really putting my faith in their ability not to immediately decide I am an illiterate idiot. (Unfortunately, most strangers fail that test.)

The other instance where I get unbelievably nervous may surprise you. It is when I am talking about my sight – whether or not I actually know and trust the other person.

My sight is a part of me. I know my limitations as imposed by it. The problem comes when I find myself having to explain why I cannot do things which people might expect me to – more often it is the opposite. I don’t have a Guide dog (I do own a white stick but I never use it). And you could say I have an independence streak as wide as the North Sea. If I really want to do something I will find a way of doing it.

The sometimes amusing thing is when I find myself in your world and you ask me questions which may seem perfectly sensible to you but might as well be on the same level as a PhD discussion on “the uses for natrium in the diagnosis of saline deficiency in a Hotpoint Tumble Dryer” as far as I am concerned – especially when it comes to explaining my answer to you.

For example, at one job interview I attended there was a question about the last film I had seen. Hmm – solo trips to cinemas when you have a potentially lethal cocktail of Photophobia (sensitivity to bright lights) and non-existent night-vision are best avoided unless you have at least a week to psyche yourself up for the experience before you go. (And – before you say it – dragging your mates along just because you want to go and see a film leaves you feeling guilty for putting them out. They have their own lives – not to mention tastes in films, etc.). When I explained that I don’t go to the cinema very often because I am partially sighted the rather offensive reply came back “well – you don’t look partially sighted”. Apparently, partially sighted people should come with white sticks or Guide dogs fitted as standard???

I was “socially trained” to hide my sight problem as much as I can. As I said earlier – I can usually move among you undetected.

I must admit I did somehow manage to get offered a job as a “School Crossing Patrol” a few years ago. I did query it (I had stated on the application form that I am Registered Partially Sighted). Luckily I failed the medical for that one.

My identity is a complicated mix of things like my background, my sight, my health, etc. You only get to see the bits I choose to show you. There is no way on planet Earth that I would judge what you can do based on the man or woman I see standing in front of me. So could you please kindly refrain from subjecting me to that treatment??? It gets boring and highly irritating after a while.

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Discrimination Is Discrimination (Or – We Really Need To Talk About True Equality)

On Wednesday evening I took part in a rather interesting discussion on Twitter. It was interesting both because of the original topic and the way I managed to widen it a bit without causing anyone too many headaches.

The topic was loosely “Diversity” – as in the Police and their attempts to recruit and retain more people from the BAME communities.

I have to admit that I hate the current scene of each section of what you might call the marginalised communities (BAME, Disabled, Poor Mental Health, LBGTQ, etc) all apparently fighting among themselves to get the most recognition for their cause. The way I see it is as follows –

Every single section of the marginalised communities deserves the same rights as the rest of the population. This means that they should all work together to achieve that. However, the way I can see it going currently is not going to help anyone. Mainly due to infighting – either about who is the worst off as far as actual physical representation is concerned, or about what should legally be done to ensure that all the different groups are respected and equally heard.

Another thing which I find extremely annoying is the fact that I have to be very careful what I say in certain situations because – whilst my sight problem qualifies me as covered by the Equalities Act it can also leave me open to an accusation of being in contravention of either the Racial Discrimination Act or any kind of Religious Discrimination Act. (This is in particular connection with Muslim ladies who insist on covering themselves head to foot in black with a niqab – rendering themselves both dangerous and invisible to me in certain situations.). Of course, I respect your right to hold your own religious beliefs. I do not immediately associate Islam with terrorism. I just wish that some Muslim ladies would wear something colourful over their black outfit which would actually make it easier for me to see them (and distinguish them from street furniture, walls, etc).

We really need a proper debate about the different strands of what I like to call “Quirkies” and their (sorry – our) needs as far as recognition and representation are concerned. I don’t just mean on Twitter either. I mean we need to have such a discussion face to face in person. We all face discrimination and underrepresentation in one way or another. The best way to sort this out would be for everyone to recognise each other’s worth and the fact we all have valid opinions and expertise. Apart from that – everyone (Quirkies and “normal” people) needs to learn from each other’s experience and act on what they learn.

To be honest I don’t actually hold out much hope of a simple solution which would benefit everyone concerned – simply because of the somewhat entrenched positions some groups appear to have adopted.

I want to leave you with a thought. A few years ago there was an episode of “EastEnders” which had an all black cast (no other race appeared in that one episode). There was a bit of a fuss about it but it soon blew over.

However, I have yet to see anyone on any TV programme with my kind of sight problems. The more contact we have with different cultures, abilities, etc, either in real life or through any kind of media (be it Social Media or Mainstream Media) the less alone people like me will feel – and it will give us the confidence to speak out and fight for our recognition.

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Everyone Needs To Clear Their Mind Every Once In A While (Or – How I Got Into Blogging)

I don’t know if I ever told you about how I got into blogging (and what keeps me doing it). So, I decided to share a bit about that with you in this blog post.

I was made redundant from my last job in 2009. Well, you could say that that was the highlight of a run of three not exactly fantastic years for me. In 2007 my Mum died of cancer, in 2008 my English Grandma was rushed into hospital with cancer (she died in 2012, two days before my 39th birthday – also on what would have been her 70th wedding anniversary).

So, I had a lot of things going on in my head and I needed an outlet for them.

I have a lifelong love of reading and writing and I had my own laptop (still got it but it needs attention) so I accidentally created inkyworld (my personal blog).

Between you and me – I am feeling a bit guilty about not updating my personal blog for what feels like years due to “circumstances beyond my control”. I will remedy that though.

I can still remember how surprised I was when people started to tell me I am good at writing (I mean people who are unrelated to me and not employed to be complimentary about my efforts – as in teachers). This was mainly due to the fact that I hadn’t actually told anyone about me starting a blog. It was two very close friends of mine (so close in fact that I consider one to be my Second Mum and the other one to be my “little sister”) who were the first to tell me. My “little sister” was actually the subject of the blog post they had both read – to be more accurate it was a review of a gig she had done.

The blog kind of snowballed from there. It has had a change of hosting site (which resulted in me losing the 500+ blog posts I had put up before the switch – meaning I had to start from scratch). It has also had a bit of a change of direction. Or should that be a more accurate pointing towards the things I am really passionate about???

In case you didn’t realise from reading my output on here – I suppose you could say my main focus in life is to try to educate people about life on the margins of society – with a particular emphasis on physical disabilities and Mental Health issues.

(Well, you could say I have got lifelong experience of having a sight problem, I have friends with other physical disabilities and both myself and some of my friends have had (or are currently experiencing) poor Mental Health.

That is what really keeps me going and keeps me blogging. You could say it takes the focus off me and my problems for a while. I create content that I hope you like reading and find informative. The original strapline to inkyworld was “A Sideways View Of Life” – I came up with that because I see things differently to most people (both literally and metaphorically speaking).

The best thing which came from inkyworld (apart from praise and plaudits from some amazing people who I admire for their own work in their own realms of experience – who I feel genuinely honoured to be able to class as my friends) may surprise you.

You are actually reading the best thing to come from inkyworld. Yes – being allowed to join Simple Solutions and write blog posts highlighting some of the challenges I face in a way that makes them (I hope) relevant for organisations to learn from – is actually the icing and the chocolate sprinkles on a very nice cupcake.

I wanted to take this opportunity to thank Roger and Lucy for their support and taking a chance on me in the first place.

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How To Reduce Stress In A Terrifying Situation (Or – Try Not To Contradict Your Colleagues Without Checking First)

I am aware that different people have their own ideas about what constitutes a “terrifying situation” – and the situation I am about to describe may not seem to be most people’s idea of one. However, please read this blog post with an open mind. I hope you never find yourself in my situation but I have decided to share this with you as a bit of an exercise in miscommunication and how it can affect someone like me in certain situations.

Anybody who knows me will tell you that there are two establishments which scare me to death when I think about going anywhere near them – schools and hospitals.

Unfortunately, I am currently finding myself spending more time in hospitals than I would ideally like to. I appear for appointments – and I have been admitted at least four times over the past year and a bit.

For those of you who don’t know – I have got Metastatic breast cancer, Heart Failure, and Asthma. (I am also on portable oxygen.)

On Wednesday I had what must be the most soul-destroying experience so far. And it turned out not to be the second session of Chemotherapy itself – it was the build up to it.

I had been told to turn up to the Chemotherapy Suite in my local hospital at 1.30pm for – guess what – Chemotherapy.

So I hauled myself and my “Walking Tank” to the correct place at the correct time – only to be informed that (a) I wasn’t on the system, and, (b) the Chemo Clinic is on a Tuesday.

To say I wasn’t best pleased is an understatement. In fact, the words “I am going to cry in a minute” (the early warning sign of an imminent total meltdown) passed my lips.

Now – if I had been properly mobile (as in off oxygen) I would probably have taken it in my stride a bit more but I was worried about the oxygen situation more than the Chemo.

Eventually I got an apology from a nurse and was informed that an order had gone in to the pharmacy for my Chemo – but it could take up to three hours to appear. (Apparently the Ward I had been discharged from last Friday forgot to mention the plan to the Chemotherapy Suite.)

Eventually I had the Chemo and finally arrived home approximately 4 hours later than I had planned to (with an empty “Walking Tank”).

I think I have mentioned previously that I am good at being spontaneous but I am not so good when it comes to people changing my plans without either informing me or asking me first???

Let’s just say that if you tell me to go somewhere because something important (connected with my health) is due to happen at a certain time you are guaranteed my appearance at the location in question and as close to the specified time as possible.

If you then try to tell me I have made some kind of error – after me informing you that I was told to appear in front of your desk by two separate people and handed you a copy of my instructions in black and white on the letterhead of your organisation – I will not leave until I am ordered to by the person (or people) who told me to turn up. You could say I am annoying like that.

The perfect organisation would have all its lines of communication (between staff members as well as between staff and visitors/customers/patients) open and clear.

Of course, very few organisations are perfect. However, there needs to be a clear line of reporting so that people like me know who to complain to when we feel fobbed off. (I spent 15 years working in an office and know the importance of keeping everyone informed as reliably as possible.)

If your organisation has several departments which deal with the public may I suggest you draw up a Communication Chart so everyone knows who is responsible for what???

Miscommunication can – in some cases – have potentially life-threatening consequences.

We don’t need to be kept informed of every little thing about your organisation – we just would like to know about the things which affect us.

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