Tuesday, 8 October 2019

The Process Of Finding My Powerchair | AD

AD - This post is sponsored by CareCo, all opinions are my own. 

In the UK and across the world increasing numbers of disabled people are having to fund their own wheelchairs, a problem in itself, but this also means that researching and finding a suitable wheelchair also comes down to the individual. This can be daunting and I know that I had no idea where to start, as well as my lack of knowledge meaning I initially chose the wrong type of powerchair for my needs. In the hope of helping others to get it right the first time I wanted to share my experience of the process that is finding yourself a suitable wheelchair, the mistakes I made and how I finally got it right!

Firstly, it's good to know what is out there so browsing websites online such as company specific websites if you have any recommendations to go on or websites such as CareCo to get an idea of the more basic chairs out there is a good starting point. Once you know your options you'll have a much better idea of what you want and need. One of the most basic questions you need to ask yourself is, do I need a manual or electric wheelchair? Most people start with some kind of manual wheelchair, but that doesn't mean it's right. I originally bought myself a £200 out of box manual wheelchair that I naively thought I could push myself, how wrong I was. I could manage on smooth surfaces like in a supermarket but even then I certainly paid for it in pain and fatigue in the days that followed. Pain, fatigue and strength will all play a part in this decision, as well as what your postural needs are. In an ideal world you'd have some sort of assessment by a professional, but I know this often isn't an option.

If you need a lot of support like a headrest or need the ability to tilt or recline in your wheelchair then a powerchair may be better suited. Manual wheelchairs fit in cars better however, so that's also something to consider. It's all about figuring out what your priorities are. For me, I don't drive so I needed something that would fit on the bus with ease and through my narrow front door. I also knew that to relieve my pain I needed to lie down and so the recline and tilt functions were vital. Think about your everyday life and what you need out of a wheelchair to achieve your goals.

Now, I don't know much at all about manual wheelchairs but I can talk about what my journey looked like with finding a powerchair! Powerchairs are broken down into 3 wheel configurations: front wheel drive, mid wheel drive and rear wheel drive. They all have different functions and suit particular lifestyles, so the best place to start would be figuring out what configuration fits your life best. Mid wheel drive powerchairs have a very small turning circle, ideal for indoor use and on public transport, the latter being the reason why I went for one. Front wheel drive powerchairs handle outdoor terrain and small steps best and some find rear wheel drive powerchair easier to drive. It all comes down to where you'll be using it. I live in a city and spend a lot of time in London and using public transport, so I had no use for something more catered to an outdoor environment, the turning circle was a priority for me.

If you drive then that will play a big factor in what kind of powerchair you'll need, and a lot of people these days are choosing lightweight folding powerchairs that fit into non-adapted cars for this reason. They are often cheaper powerchairs as well, although they don't offer a lot of postural support they are ideal for with minimal needs and for whom getting it into a non-adapted car is a priority. Powerchairs like the Fenix Lightweight Powerchair are similar in that they dissemble into multiple pieces for those tight on space at home or needing to put it in a car, and it offers a little more postural support with the backrest being height adjustable. These powerchairs aren't for everyone but they meet the needs of ambulatory wheelchair users in a way that the industry has not in the past. And if you find you'd be more comfortable with a mobility scooter then CareCo has options too, including folding mobility scooters.

Other important things to consider are also things like the range of the powerchair, how far will it go before the battery dies? Also, how much postural support will you need? Some of the more specialised powerchairs come with a variety of supports you can add, there really are an incredible amount of ways you can personalise some powerchairs to meet your needs perfectly. Electric functions such as tilt, recline, electric leg rests and a rise function are also things to consider. If you have chronic pain you may find some of these useful for relieving your pain when out and about, as is the case with me.

So, you've done your research, what next? Set up some demos! Now depending on what kind of powerchair you've decided on this might not be possible, especially for out of the box models, or you may find you need to find a store in person to try them, something I recommend doing, but for some places there is information on their website about setting up an at home demo. Having a demo allows you to try out the chair in your space, for me that meant inside my home and in the area around my home to test things like the suspension and comfort. After just one demo of a few chairs I was able to make my decision, but for others this process takes longer and do not be afraid to take your time, it's a big purchase!

Once you've chosen your powerchair, depending on the make and model it could be delivered within a few days or for more high spec powerchairs that require you to be measured and the powerchair made to order, it will likely be weeks or months. For me I know it was more than worth the wait though, the feelings of independence and comfort were even greater than I expected. Having a powerchair that suits my needs has been life changing, and that's what it's about really, finding something that suits your needs. The right powerchair for you is out there and hopefully this post will help you find it!

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Improved Access At The Old Vic | A Look Inside

Disclaimer: This was a press event. I have been gifted tickets to Old Vic productions in the past.

At the start of the year I was invited along to see my first play at The Old Vic, as well as to learn more about their future plans to improve their accessibility. When I first visited, their access compared to other theatres of their size and age wasn't terrible, in fact the wheelchair space having a really good view of the stage put them above others. However, from just one conversation with some of the the team it was clear to see that similarly to me, they believed this wasn't good enough and they knew they could be doing more. They understood that access isn't just about getting in the front door, it's about being respected and feeling welcomed and vitally, being part of the conversation. Their plans seemed ambitious for a 201 year old Grade II listed building, but 9 months on and they have truly outdone themselves. I was lucky enough to get a tour of the newly refurbishment theatre at the start of the week and it really did blow me away.

 Photo: The Old Vic

Firstly, we have the brand new second entrance. Not a tucked side entrance down a dark alley, but a second main entrance that has not only allowed step free access but will also serve greatly to decrease crowd sizes upon entry. Access is usually this tucked away thing, you wouldn't even know some theatres are accessible because their side entrances are barely visible, but not at The Old Vic. This second entrance is not to be hidden. The automatic doors lead you to their brand new lift, yes that's right, a 201 year old Grade II listed building were able to put in a lift. A short journey up takes you to the new foyer which has been made significantly bigger by taking 3 rows of seats out from the stalls. The step free area includes the box office with a lowered counter, meaning I can now choose paper tickets if I wish and pick them up myself,. There's also a seating area and the most incredibly gorgeous curtain that has to be seen to be appreciated. The old foyer area is still unfortunately inaccessible to wheelchair users, as much as they wanted to make it all accessible there really was just no possible way but they have shifted the layout to make sure that things like the box office are in the step free area. It means that when I enter the theatre, in theory I would not need any assistance from staff, which is a rare experience for me.

Something that was so odd to me as someone who has only ever been on the left hand side of the theatre, was being able to access the right hand side. It sounds like something so small but being able to wheel around the whole of the stalls meant I was able to see the beauty of the theatre in all it's glory. It also means more seat choice, with the number of wheelchair spaces going from just 2 to 10. You will have great difficulty finding other theatres in London of The Old Vic's size with 10 wheelchair spaces, or even more than 2. Two of those wheelchair spaces are sat together as well, meaning 2 wheelchair users can sit together to watch a production for the first time in the OV's history. I cannot even express how needed and appreciated this is. The wheelchair spaces are scattered across the stalls, catering for those who want to sit close to the stage and those who'd rather sit a little further back. They've also increased space in the aisle's seats to make wheelchair transfers easier.

 Photo: The Old Vic

One whole area of the theatre that I had never seen before was Penny, their cafe bar that not only serves the theatre but acts as a hub for the community. The brand new lift allows access to this area for wheelchair users and other disabled people for the first time ever and it did not disappoint. It is such a gorgeous space and as a gin fan their extensive collection is more than enough to satisfy my gin needs. Their menu and drinks list is also dedicated to sustainability, local suppliers and equality so you can enjoy a pre-show drink knowing it's doing some good in the world. You can also find the brand new second accessible toilet down here. It is so much nicer than the other one that can be found in the stalls, a lot more spacious and up to date. It's super helpful to have two in different places in the theatre now though, it means I can visit Penny for a drink without having to request access to the toilet in the stalls.

Photo: The Old Vic

Alongside improving the accessibility, The Old Vic were also adding and updating their toilets, something that was much needed. They've also taken the incredible step of removing binary language labels such as 'male' and 'female' on the toilets, replacing them with 'urinals' and 'cubicles'. This language change will help so many people, including trans and non-binary people, parents and children of different genders and carer's. They also have one specific gender neutral toilet too, as the rest of the toilets aren't being called gender neutral, they've simply had a language change. I think this is a such a huge step for the industry that must be celebrated, theatre is for everyone and small changes like this open up the doors to so many more people.

The Old Vic have also introduced a free Access membership, allowing those who need access specific seats to book online for the first time. I tested this out not so long ago for them and I absolutely loved it, I always prefer booking online when I can so I'm over the moon about this. It means no more waiting until the phone lines open to book tickets and actually being able to see where your seat is when booking. It gives disabled people more choice and autonomy, something we need a lot more of in this industry.

I knew that these changes would be huge but it didn't quite hit me until I saw them all in person. It really made me realise that disabled people do not need to be putting up with poor access anymore. It isn't just the physical changes that make The Old Vic a leader in accessibility, it's their attitude too. The sky's the limit for them, they will never stop asking questions and striving to do better. Even now they are already thinking about what more they can do to improve their accessibility, for them it's a necessity, not a box ticking exercise. I really cannot applaud for them enough for how welcome they make myself and others feel within this industry.

Phase 2 of their plans now begins, the building of The Annex which will house a learning centre, a playtext library, a cafe-workspace, more back of house space for staff and a brand new studio theatre. You can learn more about these plans and donate to make them possible on their website.

Monday, 9 September 2019

The Feeling at The Other Palace | Review

This ticket was kindly gifted to me by The Feeling.

If you're a fan of new and developing theatre then The Other Palace is the place to be and I found myself in their studio once again over the weekend to see the brand new developing British musical, The Feeling. Written and produced by Kyra Jessica Willis and directed by George C. Francis this musical follows a friendship group as they tackle some pretty heavy problems, as well as a few romances. The stories of Kasey, Edie, Jessie, Lexie, Archie and Mel interlink along the way, with characters Jamie and Holt also appearing to help tell this story.

The stage in The Other Palace studio is small but the space was really used effectively to help tell the story, with the majority of it revolving around a cafe where the friend's lives seem to unravel. Some really serious topics are touched on within this show, including mental health and alcoholism and I feel they are all handled really sensitively and I liked the touch of the back of the programme containing information about where you can receive help if you are experiencing anything that is happening on stage. This is an honest piece of theatre that feels realistic but still has the dramatic edge that theatre fans enjoy.

In my opinion I think this is a show that would perhaps work better as a play, whilst I did enjoy the music I felt at times that more of the story needed to be told through the script. There were occasions where it felt like we were almost going into one song straight from another, equally there were also times that there was either too much or too little happening on stage. I think the story shows a lot of promise though and it's a story that people would find relatable. With some more development, the running time being cut down and some work on the script I think this could become an important piece of theatre that certainly has a place in this industry.

I also applaud Monsteers Artistry for representing and hiring actors that really reflect everyday life as well, they are supporting the underdog and that's something I think we'd all love to see more of. Overall, I'm really looking forward to seeing how this show develops in the future.
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