Pimp my ride (my shopping trolley).

Last week was one of the busiest I’ve had in a long while in terms of things regarding disability, and complaining which I enjoy doing.

On Tuesday I met with Marc Radforth from the German international trolley manufacturers Wanzl. He came down from the Midlands to meet with me in a local branch of British supermarket Sainsburys, who of course use their shopping trolleys. We talked about the current options when it comes to choosing and using a trolley to carry out your shopping fun, which is normally something one undertakes in a mindless fashion – person approaches trolley park, person selects trolley at the front of the queue of trolleys waiting in line hoping to be picked and taken for a spin, person turns trolley around and walks around supermarket putting items in said trolley. This is fascinating right? Please keep reading.

Sounds very simple and straightforward, and normally  the only problems arising from trolley selection and use, are things like getting a trolley with a wonky wheel, and trying to insert a 3 year old into a tiny folding flap of plastic seating when they insist on not walking, and you’re not allowed to leave them tied up outside anymore. Then they moan about the seat being cold or wet or too hard. You try saying to them “What do you want, a bloody goose-down recliner and a pina colada?” You tell them children in third-world countries don’t even have such luxuries, but even that doesn’t make them feel guilty enough to stop whining. The problems don’t stop there though. Well for most people they do, but I’m not most people. My difficulties and needs don’t follow any textbook guidelines, even ones about wonky people. Usually wonky people are taken to a supermarket, pushed around and helped in their shopping needs, but if they happen to be a parent (really!) and wish to be a parent whilst going shopping, their child would have to be transported in a trolley/pushchair pushed by someone else. There are no options for baby/child-friendly trolleys for parents who also cannot walk themselves. Currently, my option is this: put baby+carseat in the raised-up ‘BabySafe’ trolley (I mean, someone else will do this for me as I cannot reach) and then other person pushes trolley around with my baby in it whilst I travel behind/in front/next to the trolley rather than being in control of it myself. Onlookers don’t know I am this baby’s mum and inside I’m screaming,’I know he’s cute, I made him!’

Wanzl’s ‘BabySafe’ trolley with generic European baby.

Wanzl read my Tweet about the trolley issues I have and got in touch with me. They said it would be useful if someone could meet with me to discuss my needs and possible future options. The good thing about a company like Wanzl is that from the meeting I had with them, it was very clear that they will go above and beyond the effort made by most companies to try and provide for all needs. But they can’t provide for this without someone telling them exactly what is needed and what is currently not available. We talked about the new lower-level Babysafe trolley that I found at Asda  and Marc said that this style of trolley was re-designed with the help of people on Mumsnet where it was mentioned that the tray for the carseat was too high both to reach and plonk a heavy baby and carseat on, and also to see over. I have been witness to my PA who is 5’8″ crashing into a wet floor sign that she couldn’t see whilst pushing the trolley. Luckily it wasn’t a toddler. The base of the new trolley was also brought up so it isn’t so deep to reach into. These trolleys are currently in Asda stores, with Sainsburys and other stores to follow suit shortly.

The problem I’m having is that even with improvements to the existing carseat trolley, and also the provision of other trolleys for parents to slot children into (just any child wondering aimlessly will do but parents tend to provide their own) like these:

Trolley with Trend baby seat.

Or these with a typical toddler seat:

Shopping trolley with folding toddler seat.

…I still could not have my child in the trolley that I’m pushing and be able to fit shopping in too. I often use baby slings but they’re not always practical when shopping. I get very hot whilst babywearing indoors and if you need to bribe your child to stop crying by paying them in biscuit currency once they come of age at around 7 months, then they need a place to sit. You might be thinking ‘isn’t there a trolley that attaches to wheelchairs?’, and you’d be right as these do exist at most large stores, and Wanzl have also improved these recently by making the attachment arms easier to operate for people who have problems with dexterity, like I do. Here I am trying out how these work and how I can indeed put a baby carseat in one of these trolleys. But it is unsafe as there are no straps, and although I have since tried this and know that the possibility of my baby falling out of both his carseat and the trolley is very low, that’s not what the trolley was made for and if we have an Earthquake in the foreseeable and he falls out of it, I’d very much regret using an unsuitable trolley. There isn’t a folding toddler seat either. And also, with a carseat/child in the trolley, there’s no room for my coffee grinder, my sledgehammer and my horse-riding jodhpurs to go when I’m shopping at Aldi.

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Here I am having the common knee-to-trolley-handle measurement taken.

During our meeting, Marc from Wanzl told me about a young man in Northamptonshire whose disabilities and requirements were so specific to him that they designed and manufactured a trolley just for him to use at his local supermarket (not sure what happens when a different supermarket has an offer on beer or something but that’s besides the point). So some companies are willing to help even if it doesn’t bring them mass orders and profit in return.

We came up with quite a few notes on what I would need from a trolley. A good sense of humour, likes long walks on the beach, that sort of thing. But mainly just a trolley that I can affix to my wheelchair and have my child sat facing me. Wanzl use ‘eye-contact with parent’ as one of the advantages to their parent and child trolleys, so it’s appreciated that the child needs to be facing whoever is pushing them rather than being strapped to the front of the trolley facing forward, like an unwanted teddy bear on the front of a dustbin lorry.

After the meeting, I went over to the local Morrisons store (and survived) to look at their kids’ clothes, and on the way into the shop I came across these beauties monstrosities.  They looked like some kind of torture chamber from the days when disabled people were brought up in orphanages because they didn’t meet the perfect-baby expectations when they were born. I couldn’t see any Wanzl branding on them, so they’re off the hook for now:

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Really helpfully placed over the metal bumper rail too.

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‘Pick me, pick me!’ it screamed. ‘No, you’re hideously awful’, I replied.

I’m looking forward to hearing from Wanzl following our meeting, and seeing what ideas they come up with. It probably won’t be the easiest trolley to design, but in my head it looks something like a trolley+baby sidecar hybrid. I know they are willing to help though, and that is very encouraging. Hopefully it will be something that can be mass produced and used in supermarkets all over. There aren’t many wheelchair-using parents shopping at a supermarket at any one time (if we all go together people freak out a bit), so each supermarket might only need one or two of these trolleys available, which isn’t too much to ask of Tesco et al, is it?

Moving on from trolleys (I won’t be saying the word trolley too much more I promise), the day after meeting with Wanzl, I met with Andrew Sherwood from Marks and Spencer (M&S) after my ranting blog, this one, where I discovered that the breastfeeding room at the Torquay store where one can comfortably sit and feed their baby, was not accessible to me. Or anyone wider than this gap >______< it seems. So I whipped one out in the kids’ clothing aisle and fed Rafe there. When I met with Andrew, we went and looked at this room and even he couldn’t understand why it was so narrow, but he guessed it might be because the architects were trying to fit multiple facilities in this room for all sorts of parenting needs. Just no wheeled people. But I have since discovered, in Sainsburys near where I live, a similar ‘change and feed’ room with a breastfeeding area that again, I was too much of a wide load for:

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It wasn’t the most pleasant of nursing rooms anyway

So it’s not just an issue specific to M&S buildings. To the person who was holding the tape-measure on these ‘refurbishments’ – YOU HAD ONE JOB.

Some good news from Andrew Sherwood, whose role is Property Development and Facilities Management (improving access and facilities in M&S stores) he has said that they are always trying to improve things for disabled people whilst shopping. They have, where possible, tried to keep baby changing and accessible toilets separate, rather than people who need to use an accessible toilet having to endure the smell of 30 festering toddler poos, and numerous door-knockings when a parent desperately needs to change their kid’s nappy and you just want to have a wee in peace. They have also made it so that, if they have the space for it, they will have two separate accessible toilets with one being a left-hand transfer and one being a right-hand transfer. This may sound trivial to the average toilet-goer, but when most of your limbs don’t work properly, and you find transferring from chair to toilet on the right easier than on the left, it is such a luxury to be able to choose which toilet is easier, rather than struggling in the one toilet provided by  most places.

Andrew told me of the legislation and guidelines used when designing and providing facilities in buildings which should be adhered to by ALL architects so that people can expect the same level of ease wherever they go. As you can imagine, this is definitely not the case. I explained in our meeting that a common problem I have is that to be able to make use of grabrails and bars in accessible toilets, they need to be at a certain height for me to lift myself up on. And there are many places where I know I find it difficult to use the toilet either because the room is too small to turn my chair around in, especially if I’m with the kids, or the toilet is lower than it should be, or the grabrails are too high or they’re too far away. Just yesterday I was at a local hospital and went to use the toilet before my appointment and I couldn’t reach to lift myself up as the grabrail on the right of me was so far away:

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It might look like nothing, but this makes it really bloody difficult.

I fully understand that this issue probably wouldn’t be an issue for the majority of wheelchair users, as many people have normal use of their hands and upper body. But I don’t. If everywhere was the same so it was equally as easy or difficult wherever you go, there wouldn’t be that unknown when you go to open the toilet door and get that feeling of “oh great, I really need a wee but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to use this toilet, I might have to wait ’til I’m home”.

I think the problem is that most companies think that as long as they have a toilet with a bit of space around it, shove a changing table in there and twenty thousand nappy bins and a grabrail randomly attached somewhere on the wall, and an emergency alarm cord tied up so it can’t be pulled by an inquisitive child, but is actually out of reach to those who might need it and is now rendered useless, then they have done their job by catering for all needs and nobody should feel the need to complain.

Well it’s rubbish, facilities are mostly crap and badly maintained and hardly ever cleaned so you can see last month’s pee dried on the toilet seat because fuck it, it’s not used that often to worry about. At least there’s a toilet with a wheelchair symbol on the door eh?

Knowing you’ll be able to go to the toilet or choosing a trolley that you can fit your kid in and go about your shopping trip should be the least of my worries, I shouldn’t even need to think about it beforehand like most parents. But I do, and it means I often can’t relax or be fully comfortable in most places. Hopefully someday soon that’ll all change.

For now, Andrew Sherwood has asked for the doorway of the breastfeeding room in Torquay to be widened so that I can use it. He is going to make their architects aware of this flaw in their planning.

You didn’t expect someone to be able to write over 2000 words about trolleys and toilets now, did you? Next time I might provide a photograph of one of my favourite accessible toilets with no wee on the seat. Something to look forward to!

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Photos of trolleys are taken from Wanzl’s website. Other photos are all my own.

 

Have you used a wheelchair lately?

My guess is that, no, you probably haven’t. It’s really quite a fun and exhilarating experience so I thought I’d give you a factual account of what you’re missing. Any profanities are strictly necessary.

Having a sweaty bum and back for the entire time between April and November. For me this was especially awful this year as I was heavily pregnant. And being hot, pregnant and in a wheelchair brings a special kind of under-belly sweat that I bet you’re all jealous of. But being seated in a black chair constructed from man-made fabrics, nylon and sponge and not being to stand up and cool your butt down is just hideous.

People leaning on your wheelchair. There are only certain people to whom I have given special permission to lean on my chair if they feel they need to for any unforeseen circumstantial laziness. The rest of you, use your glutes. Seriously, you have plentiful bum, leg and core muscles which I’m quite sure have many uses, one of these being holding you in an appropriate standing position. Magical!. Use ’em or lose ’em. And while you’re at it, stop moaning about having to walk somewhere or go for a run to keep fit, you don’t know how good you have it.

I have eyes, ears and a brain. If I am unknowingly in your way, ask me politely to shift. It is never necessary or helpful to move a wheelchair-user who is a complete stranger, out of the way for your own convenience. This actually happened to me in a supermarket – an elderly man saw it as his job to move me slightly to the left so he could get to something on the shelf that he couldn’t reach. Probably denture glue. But I was actually quite stunned, as was my partner who then looked at this gentleman with utter amazement. Would he go up and lift someone’s leg to get them to step out of the way? I doubt it.

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The numb bum. Always a numb bum. (There’s a theme to this post isn’t there?!) You’d think after years of using a wheelchair I’d be used to it. However, each and every day I get an achey numb bum and have the urge to stand up and stretch my legs. But I’d have to quickly get back into my chair incase people thought I had been faking it all this time. Maybe it’s because I used to be able to walk albeit in an quirky fashion, so I know what I’m missing, but it never goes away. I can’t wait to get on the sofa at the end of the day to lay back and be in a position that isn’t a right-angle. Being sat down all the time also brings great joy when it’s raining outside (or inside). Your thighs face up to the sky and get drenched very quickly. A raincoat serves little purpose here..

No, we’re not all paralysed. Not everyone who cannot walk and uses a wheelchair is paralysed. Use your imagination for f*ck’s sake. Maybe my legs have been taken for use by aliens who move around their own universe using stolen human limbs and replacing them with useless, but very life-like, dummy legs. The aliens have immobilised me for their own benefit. Consider this a cry for help.

We weren’t all in a tragic accident causing us to lose the use of our legs. See above. Some people have experienced this kind of heartbreaking occurrence though, and I’m pretty sure some of the following applies to these people too. The question asked most often with the accompanying tilty-head of doom is “Oh, how did it happen? You poor thing! You cope so well though!” Oh crap. Do they want a biological breakdown of the faults in my Mitofusin 2 gene and how it has affected me my whole life, gradually taking my movement and independence, or will the simple answer “I have a muscle wasting disease” suffice?

Disease!? Hark! This girl is DISEASED! Step away immediately, we might catch it!

The jokes about women drivers and being in charge of an electric or even my manual wheelchair, never get old. In fact I’ve not heard enough of them. Please say more things like this so I can legitimately punch you in the face.

Last time I checked (which was never) wheelchair users did not feature on the list of banned or dangerous dogs. If you see one of ‘our type’ coming down the same side of the street as you and your little darlings, there is no need to yank your child out of the way, almost dislocating their shoulder in the process. I don’t bite children. They taste like snot and poo, and I live with three of them so really I’m ok with just rolling past you in a completely nonthreatening manner. But you’ve just made your kid scared of wheelchairs and people in them. Round of applause to you.

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Shopping and general wheelchair access woes. We’re in the 21st century with 3d printing and robots and cars that drive and park themselves. But we can’t work out how to make pretty much everywhere accessible to wheelchairs and have facilities for people who need them because of a disability. It won’t be cheap, but most things that are vital for disabled people aren’t cheap. But surely it can be done properly and not take decades in the process. Hopefully it’ll happen in my lifetime but I am doubtful. I mean, we must be quite a healthy, capable nation, or why would they not give more funding to local NHS care trusts and councils. Maybe disabled people are just moaning about nothing.

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The shitty wrists. You read correctly. And by shit I don’t mean my own or even humans in general. Dog shit specifically. People are idiots and lazy and perpetually leave their dog’s crap wherever it was delivered. Because who wants to pick up poo? Well not me and my wheels. And seeing as I don’t own your dog, or any dog for that matter, I do not want to find chunks of dog poo in the tread of my wheels and then the creases of my wrist/hand before realising what has happened. Some dog poos are highly stealthy and not obvious, hence why we sometimes wheel through them. No amount of Dettol spray and hand-washing gets rid of the horror. And here’s a picture because my teachers taught me to support my arguments with evidence:

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Any enquiries about trying out a wheelchair and experiencing all of this for yourself should be submitted via my facebook page or Twitter @shopgirlygm.

Check out another blog I love, and which inspires me to write about the crappy stuff more and try and illustrate the unillustrateable. Hurrah for Gin is hilarious.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The School Mum 

My daughter, Amélie is soon going to start school. Along with thousands of other kids across the country, we’ll be getting up extra early on Monday September 7th to get her school uniform on, pack small pots with snacks and sandwiches and make a head of 4-year-old hair look suitably coiffed. Amélie will be a little nervous no doubt, but will mostly be excited, more so because she gets to use her Frozen lunch box and rucksack. I on the other hand, will be more apprehensive. 

The daunting thing is that we are both starting school that day, and aside from my sometimes unfounded anxieties about my children, I am selfishly more nervous about my new role as a School Mum. I don’t think I know which category I fit in, I’m presuming there isn’t a group next to ‘yummy mummy’ or ‘forgetful parent’ that says ‘the disabled mum’. Are there any books I can read to prepare myself for how to behave? How many people do I need to converse with at the school gates?  What do I wear? How many times is it acceptable to use the question “did you have a good summer?” Is it frowned upon to only talk to people you already know? Surely complete strangers don’t need to introduce themselves just because their respective children spend all day together? I’m imagining it might be a bit like going to the hairdressers’. Neither party in the hair cutting experience actually wants to get into the other’s personal life in the 50 minutes you are sat in the white faux leather chair, with a floor-to-ceiling mirror reflecting your own awkwardness. The hairdresser doesn’t particularly want to know if you’ve any holidays booked this year, and she couldn’t give two hoots about your perspective on the weather. If she wants to know, she can look out of the window.

I’m wondering if every school mum strives to be on the PTA. I’m not sure if there’s an audition process, or if I’d have to bake a homemade coffee and walnut cake as bribery, or if I have to be related to the janitor or something. I’m assuming it’s still somewhat of a club for moany overgrown Teacher’s Pets like when I was in primary school. I love a good moan and I’m all for supporting people to make changes that need changing, especially when it comes to something my children have to be involved in, but I’m not sure if I want to be a part of yet another battle of popularity, ego boosting and parent politics.  It’s going to be complicated enough trying to find ways to explain to new people that they don’t need to swoop in and do my kid’s coat up for me. I don’t doubt there will be a Rescue Parent rotating around and with their nose in everyone’s business at all times. Those are the kind of parent politics I’ll be dealing with!

So what sort of school mum are you? Do you always try to make conversation with the person standing next to you or is it acceptable to have moments of relative silence, not needing to know what brand of cornflakes the other buys, or how their kid scored on the spelling test? Is it important to make sure your little darlings look their best for at least the beginning of the school day, out of the fear of what other parents might think? Nobody doesn’t judge. We all do it. I like my kids to look tidy for the most part and I like their hair and clothes to look like they’ve been washed recently. No one wants to sit next to the smelly kid. But almost equally, they are kids after all and does it really matter if their shoes have yesterday’s mud on, or they have a toothpaste smear on their sleeve.* 

I do also wonder what teachers’ impressions of certain parents are. I often get anxious about the fact that I don’t often speak up about something I want to say to those looking after and educating my children. In a similar way, I get anxious and paranoid if I ask those people something which I only need to ask because of my disability out of fear of being an awkward burden. For example, at the Parent/Teacher meeting a few weeks back, I seemed to get more stressed than necessary, about needing to ask Amélie’s future teacher what the wheelchair access is like throughout the school. I don’t plan on hanging out in the playground at lunchtime, or joining in with the infants’ Christmas Production, but I need to know what kind of lengthy detours I’ll have to take to get around in the buildings my child will be in for the next 7 years, and my youngest child for three years after that. I don’t want to single my children out as those kids whose mum can’t get into their classroom for parents’ evening. 

It’s given me a lot to think about. I wonder what Amélie’s new friends will be asking their parents about the lady in the wheelchair, and what their parents will say back. You might be thinking that this is all very presumptuous to think that I will be occupying people’s thoughts this much, and that I’ll blend in with the rest of the parents waiting to pick up their little darlings and their precious offspring won’t stop to stare (which I don’t mind, by the way) and maybe you’ll be right. But experience tells me otherwise.

It hasn’t ever happened. I’ve never blended in; as much as I’ve tried, I’ve always been ‘different’. Well since I started primary school myself around 25 years ago. Attitudes have changed since then but there is still a heck of a long way to go. Just having to ask about school wheelchair access singles me out instantly. Then I have to consider the gradient of the slope into the school entrance, too steep and I’ll have to bulldoze parents (maybe some kids too) on my way in, or I’ll need help just to access the school to pick my child up.

I just don’t want Amélie to feel different in her first few years in education because her friends have noticed something different about her family. The next few days and weeks will be very telling. 

Until then, I’ll be the one lingering at the outskirts of the queue like the awkwardly misshapen carrot in the field that isn’t quite sure of its future occupation. 

*seriously, how long until a child stops wiping their toothpasted face on their clean sleeve? I’ll let you know in a few years…

@shopgirlygm