Questions Versus Answers (Or – Are We Sure We Are Asking The Correct Questions In The First Place???)

There is something which will become blazingly obvious to anyone who decides to attempt to educate me about any given topic – my brain doesn’t compute things in the same way as the rest of the known universe. It has a habit of coming up with some extremely unusual questions (some of which may just sound like I am not taking the subject seriously). This is because I sometimes need different information so I can get things straight in my mind.

On Wednesday night I took part in another Twitter discussion with a few Police officers and other interested people. This one was on the subject of Mental Health and how the Police deal with it in the course of their duties.

One Police Officer (who I greatly respect even though I have never met him) turned the discussion on its head by saying something which made sense to me. He said that the wrong questions were being asked – what we should have been discussing (according to him) was whether or not Police officers should be dealing with people who have bad Mental Health in the first place.

Today I was at a meeting where one of the speakers pointed out the difference between asking what someone can do as opposed to asking what they can’t do. The first question will get you involved in a more positive discussion than the second one.

What became obvious during both discussions was – not only do we sometimes need to ask different questions in order to get the information we need – we also might need to ask different people.

There are two different groups of “Experts” in the world. The first group has got paper qualifications coming out of their ears – the second group may not have the paper qualifications but they have got practical, lived, experience of the subject. I know I prefer dealing with the second group because they can provide me with useful information which might help both me and them. (Incidentally, it also explains why I hate UK journalists being sent to foreign countries to interview the local population whenever a big news story occurs – use the local people.)

If you are going to have the same approach to seeking information you are going to get the same kind of answers.

Sometimes we need to rethink our approach to getting information so we get the information we need instead of the information we want – because they are not necessarily the same thing at all.

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Is A Bad Representation Of Something Worse Than No Representation Of It?

Yesterday evening I went to a very interesting talk on the subject of the portrayal of Mental Health in the Media. The talk was given by two friends of mine – one of whom is extremely open about his Mental Health conditions.

Admittedly the title of the talk was a little ambiguous – “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”. That immediately got me thinking about my favourite routine by a Dutch comedian on the subject of Dutch Dialects where the comedian complains that the accents used for the bank robbers and the Sheriff don’t match the characters.

Anyway – the talk was really insightful and informative. Clips were shown where people were either talking about or portraying Mental Health conditions and we discussed each one in turn.

I was quite surprised when one of the two men who were running the talk said that they didn’t like the episode of “Miranda” which had been set in a Psychiatrist’s office – he said he found that idea being used as a base for an episode of a sitcom offensive because his experience was that a Psychiatrist can legally deprive you of your liberty (definitely not a laughing matter).

This gave me food for thought.

Whilst he has got a very valid point my thought was “OK so an episode of a sitcom is set in a Psychiatrist’s office. Obviously that was played for laughs but someone like me could use it as a starting reference for a conversation with you on the subject of Mental Health and how it affects you”.

The clip which I was offended by turned out to be on the subject of OCD – but I didn’t realise that until it was pointed out. It was Susan Calman on “Would I Lie To You?”. She said that if she had to go to a strange place she would go the day before to make sure she knew what to expect. The other panelists started to make fun of her and they seemed genuinely shocked when it was revealed as the truth.

What offended me about that is I actually ended up feeling stigmatised as well because – due to my sight – if I know I am going to a strange place in the dark I will try to have a “practice run” during the day so I know roughly where I am supposed to be going.

We need to be very careful about portraying Mental Health conditions and physical disabilities on screen. However, as someone who grew up without any portrayals of my level of visual impairment I wonder whether a bad representation is better than none at all.

At least a bad representation can be used as a springboard for conversation. The time where I start to feel uncomfortable is when the news media (particularly the tabloids) give the impression that everybody who has a Mental Health condition is going to go on a killing spree. I have plenty of friends with Mental Health conditions and they are some of the nicest people I know.

Most of us are able to separate fact from fiction – and factual programming (news, documentaries, etc) are supposed to present the facts. Preferably without putting a spin on them to suit their own agenda.

I would prefer to see a well-researched drama or comedy programme with the central character played by someone with the disability or Mental Health condition featured. However, I will continue to say that any representation is better than none.

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Its What’s On The Inside That Should Matter Most

Question – How would you describe the most beautiful person on the planet?

I bet you have got a list of physical attributes that you would like your ideal partner to have – as well as the ideal voice and accent?

The funny thing is – I could build you a picture of my ideal person as well using a list of things (and you may be shocked by what the person would look and sound like) but I would probably have to give you two descriptions of the exact same person. This is because I have two pictures in my brain – one is the image which most people would see and the other is the image I see in my mind when I think of that question. The image I see is the fluffy, protective, secure, blanket which I can snuggle up against (yes – you’ve probably guessed it – my imagination removes my glasses from my nose).

Society makes such a fuss about people’s appearance which can actually have a harmfully negative effect on those of us who cannot conform to the ideal stereotypes for whatever reason. I am speaking from personal experience here – Apart from the fact I wear glasses (and my sight is not exactly useful when it comes to putting makeup on because I cannot get my face close enough to the mirror to see what I am doing without my glasses) I have got quite a few scars (let’s just say that cropped tops are out of the question).

It would be wonderful if – instead of focusing on the exterior of a person – we focused on their interior. Before you say it – I don’t mean someone’s internal organs, skeleton, ligaments, etc – I mean their personality.

You can be the most gorgeous person in the world to look at but if you are a nasty person it won’t make me like you.

I have the pleasure of knowing some people who could pass for models when you look at them – they are also kind, thoughtful, loyal, caring, protective, honest, and genuinely fun to be around.

I must admit my favourite kind of person is the scruff who would not be considered classically beautiful to look at but who would take time to cheer me up if I seemed down and who would tell me about themselves and their world (not in a “I am the greatest” kind of way).

We need to move away from the idea of good-looking people with lots of money being the most powerful people (if you want a reason for that just look at all the sexualisation of society which is being perpetuated by the media – with the accompanying sexual harassment stories) and move towards the idea of celebrating the kind, the thoughtful, the protective, and the honest people instead.

Oh – in case you are wondering what my idea of an ideal human would look and sound like – here is his description;

Around 6ft 6″ tall and sturdy with muscles (could be usefully employed as a mobile wall if needed).

Ginger curly hair and ice blue eyes.

A deep voice that you feel rather than hear with an accent which is a mix of Rotterdam and the Glaswegian accent.

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Its A Matter Of (Font) Size (Or – How Small Print Can Lose People And Companies Money)

Just recently I have found myself trying to read information which is important for my wellbeing in various ways.

Luckily I have a few apps on my mobile which help me find some of the information I need (Wikipedia and travel apps).

There is something rather annoying about the leaflets you find in boxes of tablets – they have so much information in such small type that it just gives me a headache trying to read them. No wonder most people don’t bother reading them.

Two other sources of frustration are bus timetables and so-called “information” posters on buses.

Luckily my local bus company has switched to the Dutch way of writing a timetable poster on a bus stop. The actual “portable” timetable is now beyond useless for me though (especially for the route I travel on the most) – the font is tiny and it misses out the two most useful bus stops for me.

As for the posters on the buses – do they not realise that their passengers might not have perfect eyesight??? Even if the posters are actually stuck to a wall (as opposed to being stuck to a window – which usually renders them useless when it is sunny) the font is microscopic.

I managed to shock someone simply by taking them into my local CO-OP. Well, there was a bit more to it than that obviously.

I am working with someone on a photography project giving people a taste of my sight. This involves the photographer taking photos of things which I find challenging.

The photographer I am working with has got “normal” vision. So our little trip into the supermarket was an eye-opener for them. Especially when I pointed out the fact that I couldn’t see the price per biscuit, etc, on the labels on the shelves (the ones which advertise special offers). They hadn’t realised that someone with my eyesight could have the same shopping list as them and end up spending more just because I cannot read that size of print.

There are very few places (as in cafes and restaurants) which actually have menus which I can comfortably read due to small print. It has got to the stage where – if a restaurant has got a menu outside it – the chances are I will avoid the establishment due to the correlation between my ability to read the menu outside and my ability to navigate my way around inside (if I can’t read the menu outside there is a high risk of me not being comfortable inside due to poor lighting, cluttered layout, etc).

Yes, I realise that my sight is worse than most people’s. However, surely I deserve to be allowed to feel as able to go shopping, go out for a “posh” meal, etc, as everyone else??? There isn’t even any need to supply me with a special “large print” menu either (although I am very grateful if you do) – just increase the font size in every menu in your establishment.

Here is a tip – bigger type in your establishment means a bigger chance of me spending time and money in it. Surely that is only a win-win situation???

There is nothing wrong with my mind or my ability to read (supply me with large enough print and I can even read in more than one language) – just my ability to see. But – remember – I can always see where me and my money are not made to feel welcome.

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Disabled People Are Important Too

There are times when I do something expecting one result and get a totally different reaction.

On Wednesday night I took part in a debate on Twitter on the subject of the Police and their treatment of Disabled people. To be perfectly honest I thought I would be shouted down when I put forward my suggestions (and gave some examples of things I find difficult). However, I ended up getting an offer to work with a couple of people to help them understand a bit more about sight problems.

The point when I realised that I was actually being taken seriously wasn’t my offer to talk to a group of Police officers about my sight – it was when one of the Police officers echoed what I had said about really listening to me if I tell you I have got a problem.

I remember interviewing Simon Cole (Chief Constable of Leicestershire Police) for a blog post on my personal blog. Now – if anyone is sympathetic to disabled people, its Mr Cole. He told me that Leicestershire Police are not supposed to use alternating flashing headlights at night. Funnily enough, it isn’t only people with sight problems who have problems with those, other people do as well.

For someone who is so used to being told that my experience doesn’t count to be made to feel welcomed, listened to, and taken seriously, by a group of humans who deal with Disabled people as part of their job made a refreshing change.

I wouldn’t dare try to tell a Police Officer about the “Policing” part of their job but I would tell them how best to deal with me (for example – if it is dark make sure I can see you before you speak to me).

We need to have a proper debate about the treatment of Disabled people by people in “Authority”. It is not just a case of having proper representation in the Media, etc. It is about how we are treated by Society as a whole.

Different levels of disability affect people in different ways. I wear glasses and – most of the time – I appear to be virtually “normal” but I am actually Registered as Partially Sighted and there are certain situations which can actually be life-threatening to me which pose little or no challenge to you (for example – I will make use of a lift or ramp instead of going down strange stairs).

The minute we all agree that we are all disabled in some way – the more likely we are to start listening to each other.

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The Dangers Of Being A Non-Driver

This may sound like a very strange question but I am going to ask it anyway – what is the most dangerous thing you can do with a car (or other motorised vehicle of your choice)???

I can just about guarantee that your answer is going to involve the vehicle being in motion – drive it at people, drive at excessive speed, ram it into a building, use your mobile whilst driving, drink-drive, etc. Or, if you have been paying attention to my blog post on Photophobia, you might suggest driving around with your headlights on full blast at all times (why on Earth do some modern cars have headlights on during daylight hours???), or not driving with any lights on at all.

Whilst I would agree that all the above are dangerous (with varying degrees of danger associated with them – ranging from someone merely feeling unwell to humans and property being permanently deleted from the planet) they all have one thing in common. The vehicle has got someone (at least theoretically) in charge of the steering wheel and the pedals – at least I don’t think driverless cars are a mainstream reality just yet (although, seeing some examples of people piloting – sorry – driving – cars, I seriously wonder sometimes).

You may be surprised to learn that the most dangerous thing you can do with a vehicle is actually to park it. Yes, you did read that correctly – I did say “park it”. Please note – I did not say anything about parking it in a specific place. Even parking it on your own driveway can be dangerous in certain circumstances.

Allow me to attempt to explain.

When you park your vehicle your main concern is whether or not you can exit it without injuring yourself. Once you have managed to extricate yourself from said vehicle you can return to it at a time of your choice (unless it has been stolen or towed away).

Now, unless you have found a way of building KITT from “Knightrider”, you have no way of being in contact with your vehicle the minute you leave it’s vicinity. Nor can it drive off and find somewhere more suitable to park itself if it is blocking a road or a pavement. So – unless you haven’t put it in neutral or “Park” and put the handbrake on properly – it ain’t budging until you (or someone else) move it.

But why is parking more dangerous than driving??? More to the point, why did you say that parking on my own private driveway can be dangerous???

To answer your second question first – how wide is your driveway? Do you have any trees, plant pots, rocks, ornaments, etc, lining it? Has it got a kerbstone-type edging to it? Does it have a drop on either side of it? Or, worst of all, does it have all three??? They can all pose a danger to me in one way or another. And I don’t necessarily have to be heading for your front door either – that nice bushy tree at the corner of your driveway actually obscures my view of your car as you trundle out of your driveway.

That is before I start on Security lighting. Please – if you insist on having security lights at the front of your house – try to make sure they are not focused directly on the road outside your property. Whilst you are at it please check the brightness of them – if me walking across your driveway causes your home to suddenly resemble the King Power Stadium, or Wembley stadium, you may be overdoing the illuminations very slightly (if I am heading for your front door at night I will appreciate some illumination but not to the point where it blinds and disorients me).

Now for your first question.

Apart from all the reasons I mentioned near the start of this blog post – you parking to suit yourself (ie, inconsiderately) can block roads and pavements, sometimes both at the same time.

Apart from possibly blocking access for Emergency Service vehicles – causing possible danger to life – there is another thing you might not have realised.

Imagine you are me for a minute.

You are on a bus which is stationary because the road is blocked due to inconsiderate idiots dumping their cars anywhere they like (there is an event which they don’t want to miss so the section of the Highway Code called “Parking” is completely ignored as a result).

There is a bus behind the one you are on. That one manages to reverse onto the bit of road both buses have just come off. It is dark (as in virtually pitch black). Oh – and the Police have just arrived, with their blue flashing lights on, and parked up almost next to the second bus.

The driver of the second bus tells you and the rest of the passengers to get onto that bus and you will be conveyed to your destination. The second bus is now illuminated by its hazard warning lights – so at least you have some idea of where you are supposed to be going (head for the large motorway sign with the orange lights flashing at all four corners – yes you are certain it is a bus but that is what it looks like from where you are sitting).

Your first puzzle is – what is the height difference between the floor of the bus you are on and the ground? Misjudge that and you could fall off the bus. You are pretty certain there aren’t any traces of a pavement or kerb near the bus (judging by the height of people’s heads as they go past the window).

Good – you have got off the bus and are still upright. Your next puzzle awaits.

Next puzzle is as follows – find doorway and step on to second bus. Finding the bus itself is the easy part. Flashing orange lights are a brilliant guide – it is the blue flashing ones which are causing problems now as they are close enough to blind and disorientate you (as well as obscuring your view of the doorway, door-handle, and floor of the bus). So – when you arrive at the side of the bus near the doorway, you switch your “vision” from your eyes to your hands and feet – and you feel your way onto the bus. Luckily the seating area of the bus is brightly lit.

(Incidentally, just as you get on the bus the driver of the Police car switches the blue flashing lights off.)

Please note – during this incident no other traffic is moving (otherwise you will have to factor that into your calculations as well).

The scenario described above actually happened to me on Saturday evening when I was on a bus back to Leicester (the event in question was a fireworks display in Great Glen).

Walking in the road to get around selfishly parked cars is bad enough when that is all you have to do – having to judge distances, drops, and cope with varying lighting conditions, at the same time, is definitely not my idea of fun.

So – next time you want to park your car – please remember that not everyone has got your sight. If possible try to park in a carpark or park in such a way that the pavement is left for pedestrians and other traffic can use the road. Remember – you pay Vehicle Tax so you can drive on the road – you do not own it!!!

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The Great Size Con

Size Grid on a pack of Leggings bought in Primark

The above photo perfectly demonstrates the thing I find most irritating about going clothes shopping – the difference in measurements for clothes sizes.

No – I am not talking about the fact that some shops and clothing brands have been known to have a difference of one dress-size between them (as in – a size 12 in one shop or brand can either be a size 10 or a size 14 in another). If only life was that easy.

I am talking about the apparently random measurements the dress-size system itself is actually based on.

Since C&A (the best shop to get clothes to fit humans of the female species with my dimensions) shut their UK branches buying clothes has ceased being fun for me. Well, a Dutch retailer understands the strange proportions some people with Dutch blood running in their veins might have. The only place where I can now guarantee I will get a decent pair of trousers which fit me is Bon Marche – because they sell them in three leg lengths (as well as the usual sizes).

Anybody who has seen me in real life will point out one very obvious thing about me – compared to the average female in the UK I am tall (I am 5ft 10 or 1.79m). My height is mostly in my legs (Bon Marche trousers with an inside leg measurement of 29″ just about fit me – depending on the style).

This means that the clothes sizes based on circumference invariably turn out to be too short for me. It is strange how it is never the other way around.

I long for the time when someone decides to wake up and remeasure existing humans so we can all be sure of being able to find clothes to fit our exact sizes without having to work out whether we need a dress size 12 or 16 in order for them to fit us based on our height alone.

There is too much emphasis placed on weight gain and loss.

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