Wednesday, September 15, 2010


I've been playing with another Google toy that I never knew existed. This time, it's SketchUp - a 3d modelling/design program. I discovered it while trying to make a start on the room layouts for the wedding.

My previous experience with 3d computer design begins and ends with The Sims. This is pretty much like someone saying their experience of English literature begins and ends with having read Peter Andre's autobiography - technically it's a book and it involves skills like the turning of pages and the reading of words, but.

Nevertheless, SketchUp is very easy to use and Google have done their usual thing of short, helpful video tutorials. Within a couple of hours, I had produced this:

That's a proper size layout of the room where the reception will be held, complete with the correctly-measured tables, chairs, sofas, bar unit and so on created from scratch (Google do have a "3D warehouse" of ready-made objects but I was having fun). At the moment I'm still populating the room with the various items it needs to contain. Then we'll be able to shuffle them about until we're happy.

Yes, I know I could do this with paper. In fact I bought a pad of graph paper for this very purpose. But a computerised layout won't scatter everywhere as soon as there is a breeze, and I can delete and move lines without making it messy. Plus, I can view it in 3d and in all sizes.

I know it's not exactly *pretty* at the moment, but there is the potential within the program to add colours and textures and shadows and whatnot. I think if I go too far with that my poor little computer might fall over, though, so we'll get the basic layout sorted and saved and then play about with details.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Hawking Comparison

As the government's attacks on welfare claimants increase, stupid and offensive comments about disabled people are being repeated more and more often. The one which is bothering me today goes something along the lines of:
"That Stephen Hawking bloke earns his own living, therefore benefits should only be given to people who are more disabled than he is."

Yes, that Stephen Hawking bloke does earn his own living, and all power to him for that. However:

1. He is a bona-fide 100% genius, and was already recognised as a genius before his illness was affecting him.

2. Quite possibly because of that genius, he has had access to custom-made adaptive and assistive technology FAR above and beyond the norm. Professor Hawking was using technology in the 80s that is not necessarily available to people with the same condition even today.

3. If the genius aspect was removed - if instead of being Professor Stephen Hawking, PhD, CBE, FRS and however much else of the alphabet you feel like adding, we just had Steve Hawking with seven mediocre GCSEs from the local comp and a bronze swimming certificate - how employable would he be? If the man who holds the workings of the universe in his head were to express an interest in coming to give a lecture at your nearest college or university, it's a fair bet that they would scramble to provide wheelchair access to as much of the campus as possible and make every other adjustment asked for in terms of allowing extra time, ensuring appropriate parking space, and whatever else is in his 'rider'. Would they do the same for someone who had applied for the minimum-wage caretaker's position?

Professor Hawking is a remarkable man and as such he is the exception, not the rule. The only possible answer to "Stephen Hawking has a job, why don't you?" goes something along the lines of "Stephen Hawking has written several best-selling books explaining scientific mysteries which have baffled the finest minds for centuries - why haven't you?"

It's one thing to aspire to the achievements of the most amazing people ever to have lived, but quite another to take them as a benchmark for what is expected of us.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Wedding dress!

Short version for the easily bored: I bought my wedding dress. No, there aren't any pictures.

Long waffly version:
I wasn't expecting to have bought my dress already. Truth be known, I thought it was a process that would take months. But, I felt I should start that process sooner rather than later, so my Future Mother-In-Law (FMIL) and I decided that we would begin dress-hunting once she returned from her summer holiday. While we weren't averse to the idea of second-hand or internet-ordering, we felt it would be a sensible start to try on a few different styles and see what worked on me.

The first issue I had to sort out was the extremely limited access to bridal shops. I phoned all of the ones I could find listed locally. None of the ones in my home town were wheelchair-accessible and only one, maybe two, in the next town over were able to tell me that they had access. Not to be put off, I made August appointments with both of those. One of them cancelled, so eventually we just went to the one remaining shop, which was Eternal Bride in Warwick.

They were lovely. I don't think they were experienced with disability issues and it would have been tricky to get through the store if I was using a more typical bulky type of powered wheelchair, but they were friendly, polite, non-intrusive, and made every effort to accommodate me. I was impressed.

They even managed the Holy Grail of assistance - they asked me what I needed and then they paid attention to my answers.

We tried on loads of different shapes and styles of dresses from the racks and got a really good idea of what works well, and what I should avoid. Then I had a bit of a rest while FMIL and Debbie (the member of staff helping us) went upstairs to look through the sale dresses (three-figure price tags rather than four). They came back with about six dresses, all of which I probably would have chosen myself at that point. And once they'd been tried on, one of them was considerably nicer than the others...

Unfortunately it was a discontinued style so I couldn't simply plan to order it nearer the time, and, due to the fact a huge train skirt won't work with the wheelchair, it would have required some £150 of alterations on top of the not-inconsiderable price of the dress itself. I was tempted, but felt that I should not spend that kind of money without thinking about it, consulting Steve, and going to more than one shop. Debbie very kindly agreed to hold it for us for a few days and FMIL and I started frantically trying to find somewhere else to try dresses.

Since the biggest issue with the dresses in Eternal Bride had been the huge floofy skirts and trains, we decided that our best bet would be to try a department store. We figured this would carry outfits that were more "cream-coloured formalwear" than actual bridal gowns, and perhaps have a more modest price tag. Monsoon, for instance, used to carry a small range of dresses that would be equally suitable on a low-key bride, a grownup taking First Communion, or someone attending a prom. I'd already had a look around local department stores with this in mind, but hadn't found anything, so it was back to the phones. It seems that many department stores now only carry a bridal range at their flagship stores, but I was able to make an appointment at House of Fraser in Birmingham.

Advice: don't bother. It was all £1,000-plus floofy dresses with huge trains, and an added rather baffling feature was that many of the dresses had SHARP beading and sequins under the arms - I didn't even wheel anywhere but after half an hour of trying-on I had loads of angry red marks and scratches on my inside upper arms. Dejected, FMIL and I met up with Steve for lunch in the Bullring, where we spotted Sonique.

Sonique mainly do prom dresses, or to put it another way, they have a huge range of formalwear, in colours including white shades, many of which do not have trains and do not floof out by a metre or more. They're also that bit more affordable. And the staff know their stuff - rather than having us rummage through all of the hundreds of dresses in the store, the lady we spoke to listened to our list of features we liked and disliked and then picked two dresses off the racks and invited us to come and try them on.

Sonique are not champions of accessibility. Like every other store in the Bullring, they have level access built in from the word go, and they have kept their aisles uncluttered. However the changing cubicles are one-person size with no seat and solid swing doors, which meant that since I needed physical help getting into the dresses, I was basically expected to take my top off and then stand propped in the corner of a cubicle with the door open while the assistant got the dress over my head and did it up. I still had my jeans on underneath and I wasn't feeling very impressed...

... then I turned around, saw my reflection in the big mirror, and had the fabled "this is my dress" moment. While I stood there gobsmacked, stick in one hand and doorframe in the other, the assistant looped a matching wrap around my arms and it was perfect.

Trying not to get overexcited, but no longer so bothered about the lack of privacy, I got rid of my boots and jeans and carefully sat down in my wheelchair. It was still perfect. I could still move my arms. I could still breathe and lean and twist as much as I usually can and it wasn't at risk of tangling in the wheels. I stood up again. It was even the right length, and it didn't interfere with where I need my stick to be.

I tried on the other dress, just to be certain that it wasn't simply a case of me being relieved that I was trying on a dress that was comfortable. Nope. The second dress was nice enough as dresses go, but not WOW nice. I put the first dress back on. Miles better.

After a bit of consideration, FMIL and I decided that we'd tried on a truckload of dresses, this was the best one by far, we weren't likely to top it unless we got into the realm of full-on bespoke dresses and even then it wasn't guaranteed... so I bought it.

I'm not at liberty to disclose any major details about it (if Steve finds out what it looks like, FMIL will kill us both) although if anyone's interested, compared against a Dulux colour chart the nearest matching shade is "chalk burst".

I was a little bit anxious about phoning Eternal Bride to tell them I wasn't buying my dress from them after all, but they continued to impress me with her polite, friendly, professional approach and I really can't praise them enough. Even though it was Sonique who happened to stock the actual dress I chose, it was Eternal Bride, and particularly Debbie, who made wedding dress shopping a fun and accessible experience for me, and I'd recommend them to anyone.

Done/arranged/have a PLN:
Food and drink
Bouncy castle
Balloon swords
Hair (sort of, I have a stylist but not a style) and makeup
Gloves (in progress)

Still not even properly thought about:
Ceremony options
All the flowers
Decorative balloons
Shoes, lingerie and jewellery
Nice walking stick
Table decorations
Venue floor plan

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Your opinion does not change reality

Yesterday I was reading an article by Naomi Jacobs that pondered a recent piece of research by Scope. According to the Scope research, 91% of Britons say that they believe disabled people should have the same opportunities as everyone else - yet 90% said that they had never had a disabled person come to their house socially.

Naomi pointed out that there are 11m disabled people in the UK and that this dissonance may be due to a poor understanding of disability issues. Yes, marginalisation of disabled people happens, for all sorts of reasons from prejudice and fear to physical access issues. But many people may well have worked with or socialised with a disabled person unknowingly, without understanding what "disabled" actually IS.

This was proved almost instantly in the comments with claims that there "can't be" that many disabled people, almost entirely on the basis that "it doesn't feel right."

Now, okay, CIF articles attract a lot of comments from people who are misinformed (or just trying to be antagonistic). However, Naomi had actually linked to a short and comprehensive document of Disability Facts and Figures(PDF) from the Papworth Trust, it's just nobody had bothered to click on it.

So. Some little summaries.

11 million disabled people in the UK:
6.9 million of working age
770,000 under 16 (83% of disabled people acquired disability during their working lives)
3.4 million people over retirement age.

1.2 million people in the UK are wheelchair users, which for many people is still the definition of disabled. However only 28% of these (about 336,000) are under 60. People often find it easier to accept that an older person may have impairments and often insist that these people "don't count" as disabled.

So if we take the common perception of disability as only applying to people of working age who are wheelchair users... that's about 0.5% of the UK population, a figure I am sure the naysayers would find much more palatable.

However, the DDA definition of disability is
“A physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.”

This means that as well as covering physical impairments that are visibly obvious to the layman such as the loss of a limb, it also covers everyone with less obvious but disablingly severe conditions such as learning difficulties, sight loss, hearing impairments, and mental health problems. Furthermore:
Medication or equipment (such as an artificial limb) which helps an impairment, is not taken into account when considering whether an impairment has a substantial effect.

Which means that the DDA also covers all the unnoticeable people walking around with conditions like epilepsy or diabetes or heart conditions, who with their medications are perfectly able to live entirely normal lives, but without their medications, would be hospitalised or dead.

All of a sudden, the 11m figure seems remarkably low. We're not "all a little bit disabled" (having to go to bed with a headache once in a while is not a substantial or long-term effect) but we probably all encounter disability much more than we think we do.

Endnote: Please bear in mind that the DDA definition of disability is very different to the one used for assessing disability benefits - for starters, benefits assessments assume that you have taken all your medication and that you have all the access equipment you could wish for (see the imaginary wheelchairs fiasco). So 11m disabled people does not mean 11m benefits claimants.

The Scope research was by ComRes and apparently used a statistically viable sample of GB adults that was weighted to be demographically representative, and 91% of them said disabled people should have the same opportunities as anyone else. Yet according to other research, this positive attitude is not carried through into reality. For example, a 2009 YouGovStone survey on behalf of IOSH (Institution of Occupational Safety and Health) found that 73% of employers would not even consider hiring an older or disabled person and would therefore actively deny disabled people those opportunities. It was spun it as "27% of employers would consider hiring an older or disabled person," as if it's somehow praiseworthy that a whole quarter of employers are prepared to consider meeting their basic legal obligations. We've got a way to go.