Disability Today Articles

 Disability Today Articles
  Written by Eastbourne Access Group members and guests

as published in Eastbourne Herald


April 2021

The year 1981 gave us all such hope

Forty years ago, Eastbourne’s Access Group (EAG) was set up during the United Nation’s International Year of Disabled Persons (IYDP) 1981. An aim of IYDP was to encourage persons with disabilities to form local organisations through which they could express their views and promote action to improve their situation. The great vision was to promote equal opportunities, full participation in society, and living conditions equal to other citizens. I remember the excitement and anticipation we all felt for the future, as we held events and conferences to celebrate new possibilities for all people. To enable everyone to reach their full potential; to end discrimination or exclusion. People talked about what they needed – the difficult experiences they had every day, that other people take for granted, like using public transport, getting a job, going to a pub, shop, theatre, public toilet, or accessing health care. It was recognised that most problems were ‘man made’ in the first place – the design of a built environment that dis-ables one fifth of our community.

I had the privilege of working as a community occupational therapist in the 1970’s and 80’s; we had to be pioneers in those days as we were employed under the radical new Chronically Sick and Disabled Person’s Act, instigated by MP Alf Morris, the world’s first Minister for Disabled People. Then, the UK led the world in these policies – this Act was the first to give rights and promote equality for disabled people. My job was to work with people to understand their specific needs and recommend equipment or modifications to their homes via the borough council’s environmental health departments. These were done asap, and without means testing, matching the principles of the NHS. It seems that this era was one of best times for hope of equality in the UK…the Social Model of Disability evolved here too at around that time, helping us realise that many people are actually disabled by society’s attitudes (including ignorance), and physical barriers, not their impairment. But the disability rights movement, like other civil rights, still have a lot of work to do. Over the years there have been improvements locally, like more dropped kerbs, but even those are not always designed well. Many things have not changed, and there have been incremental cutbacks, means testing, more red tape. Recent changes in our town centre have made some things worse, not better. Businesses could do so much more too, to buildings and staff training, to cater for needs of people with various disabilities – and – they could gain 20% more customers – that’s 20,800 people locally – into the bargain.

Attitudes might be improved by everyone’s recent experience of “lockdown” – such restrictions are a way of life for many disabled people. One of the major achievements of EAG has been the annual publication of Eastbourne Access Guide, a guide to accessible cafes, hotels, leisure facilities, loos etc which enable people with disabilities to feel more assured about the places that do welcome them, saving them so much time and energy. These guides are sent each year to thousands of visitors, and it is on-line – and it was (pre-covid) available at multiple outlets locally. Can we picture a time when such a guide is no longer needed, when we can take for granted people’s understandings, and our streets, buildings, transport, cultural and sporting venues are accessible to all?


A disabled/or age-friendly town is also great for everyone, old, young, families and visitors. Getting tourists back to enjoy our beautiful town post-covid could depend in it?

Gaynor Sadlo, Volunteer

March 2021
Eastbourne Access Group is proud to have supported and campaigned on behalf of disabled residents for 40 years.

Whilst many campaigns have led to a growing understanding of disability locally we still find that society (Government and local councils) build in barriers that simply prevents disabled people from participating in society.

Much of this comes from poor design and decisions which fails to be inclusive.

We continue to campaign for a town centre which is inclusive to all residents.

Inclusive design goes beyond providing physical access and creates solutions that work better for everyone; ensuring that everyone can equally, confidently and independently use buildings, transport and public spaces.

An inclusive environment is one which can be used safely, easily and with dignity by all.

It is convenient and welcoming with no disabling barriers, and provides independent access without additional undue effort, separation or special treatment for any group of people.

Right now this is not the case in terms of the built environment in our town centre as many issues still need to be addressed.

Poor design can also disable the non disabled, lets face it a non inclusive town centre is not likely to entice a whole cohort of residents or visitors alike, thus, the design has to be right for all.

Likewise if our pavements are well maintained, with a flat surface, have step free access with dropped kerbs and are dedicated solely to safe walking those pavements become safe and comfortable for all pedestrians.

On the subject of safe walking we also seek to ensure that high volume walking areas such as park pathways, our town centre and seafront promenade are kept vehicle free.

With 20 per cent of our population being disabled it is essential that we maintain cycle and scooter free zones for vulnerable people to enjoy their exercise in a safe comfortable environment.

We also ask cyclists to please remember that ringing your bell or shouting your presence when approaching pedestrians does not infer right of way.

Many vulnerable people may not hear you, may be scared or frightened by your warning or even lose balance.

Please do not ride where riding is not permitted ie safe walking zones.

We look forward to playing an active part in regenerating Eastbourne with our spending power (20 per cent of all potential spending) and of course participating in active travel through safe walking and a local adapted cycling strategy which, will help Eastbourne reach zero carbon emissions by 2030.

Ray Blakebrough, Deputy Chair

March 2021

March 2021
Eastbourne Access Group 40 years young-
still challenging barriers to accessibility

Eastbourne Access Group started in 1981 in the first International Year of Disabled Persons.

The theme of the International Year of Disabled Persons 1981 was “full participation and equality”, defined as the right of persons with disabilities to take part fully in the life and development of their societies, enjoy living conditions equal to those of other citizens, and have an equal share in improved conditions resulting from socio-economic development. Other objectives of the Year included: increasing public awareness; understanding and acceptance of persons with disabilities; and encouraging persons with disabilities to form organizations through which they can express their views and promote action to improve their situation.

40 years on what has changed? Back in 1981 we had some legislation and the Education Act for children with special needs came in that year. However, there was no legal right to be treated equally in the UK and the concept of making reasonable adjustments was still years away with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.  It was only as late as 2017 that buses had to become fully accessible and even now there are some gaps for train and buses for full access. 

The first meeting of the Eastbourne access group was on 25 March 1981 and it was called ‘Access for the Disabled Project’ meeting. At that meeting the Council said they could not afford £10,000 to convert the toilets in the station into a unisex toilet.The work was funded by the Downland Round table instead. The Arndale Centre (now Beacon) group received a letter of complaint about the high cost of long stay parking. It was agreed at the meeting that a notice should be placed outside the entrance barrier warning patrons of low headroom in the car park. The recommendation was to use the slip road in the Ashford Road entrance to the Centre for disembarking disabled passengers.  The access group asked British Rail to mark off 2 bays in their car park for mini buses and ambulances.

Sadly parking for Wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAVS) still remains a real problem in Eastbourne in 2021 and local car parks with low headroom exclude many disabled children, adults and their families. With the widening of eligibility for the blue badge scheme in 2019 to people with non visible impairments such as cognitive impairments and some mental health  or learning impairments the increasing demand on very limited blue badge parking spaces in town centres means it is getting even more difficult for disabled people to shop, visit the cinema, eat out and socialise with their families in Eastbourne centre.

40 years on we still have a long way to go to remove access barriers and realize equality and inclusion for disabled people of all ages. The fight goes on.

Liz Trethewey, co-chair, Eastbourne Access Group

December 2020
Corona Christmas – a time to regroup

As weeks and months go by Coronavirus is still very much a part of our lives. Whether it is because we have experienced the virus directly or its impact on our lives has been because of the lockdowns imposed by the government, our lifestyles have been changed. This can vary from a mild inconvenience to extreme worry and concern. Inconvenience because we may have to adapt some of our everyday life practices and extreme worry for those classified as vulnerable and required to shield themselves from possible exposure to the virus.
Many disabled people are categorised as vulnerable due to their medical condition and almost half admit to being very worried with two-thirds admitting that coronavirus related concerns are affecting their well-being with loneliness, problems at work and worsening mental health featuring strongly. This is not unexpected when considering that disabled people are more likely to be in low income and insecure work and often live in near isolation, and at even higher risk from the virus if BAME (Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic). The suggestion that poverty, isolation or even early death is in some way natural for disabled people is concerning but it is a fact that after a decade of austerity disabled people are poorer and more isolated which in itself could be a contributory factor of poor health.

Ill health, physical and mental, exacerbated by poverty and isolation is likely to be a lower priority than Covid-19 issues as the NHS struggles to cope with a (potential) post-Christmas spike in infections. Routine but nevertheless important treatments could again be postponed to the detriment of the patient’s mental health. I am sorry to paint such a  gloomy picture as we approach Christmas and I like so many others, am desperate to see my family at this special time but amid great uncertainty, what is clear is that it will be a long while yet before we return to any sense of normality. This is especially true for marginalised groups. Over the coming weeks, shut behind closed doors in more ways than one, disabled and elderly people will be all too easy to forget but we must not let this happen. During the first Covid peak earlier in the year we stood on our doorsteps and applauded the emergency services and a real community spirit revealed itself. We are not clapping now but the need for community could not be more real as we enter winter and front doors remain closed. It is our duty as responsible citizens to show compassion and kindness to others. A simple phone call with a cheery message can mean so much to a lonely person and the offer of help if needed could be a lifesaver. If you are in a position to help this could be the greatest Christmas gift you’ve ever given. If on the other hand you are someone who could benefit from help, don’t be shy or feel embarrassed, there are many organisations out there only too willing to offer help where needed or accept volunteers who want to make a difference.

2020 has seen too many glum faces, let’s brighten things up and bring smiles to as many faces as we can. Let’s make Covid Christmas one to remember for all the right reasons.

Written by Ian Westgate MBE, Volunteer

October 2020
Are We Making Progress?

It is 2020, 30 years after the publication of The Social Model of Disability was published and 20 years since the Equality Act became law but what has changed in that time? The model says that ‘People are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment or difference’ and the Equality Act emphasises this by stating ‘People with disability should not be treated any less favourably than people without’. Barriers can be physical, like buildings not having accessible toilets, or they can be caused by people’s attitudes to difference, such as the assumption that disabled people cannot do certain things for themselves.

Why then are we having the same difficulties decades later? Businesses will often cite cost as a factor for not complying although this is not an acceptable excuse and why a phrase called ‘Reasonable Adjustment’ has been incorporated in the legislation. It is an uncomfortable truth that the government’s ‘Jewel in the Crown’, the NHS, does not follow the guidance either and for this there can be no excuse.

As a permanent wheelchair user with MS, I have encountered barriers that are not unique to me and continue to frustrate other disabled people, not exclusively wheelchair users.

I am unable to transfer from my chair to an examination plinth without lifting or hoisting equipment but very few doctor’s surgeries or health centres have these facilities. I am sure many other patients are denied proper and thorough examination because they cannot get onto an examination platform or couch. Intimate examinations for cancer and other life-threatening conditions are left undone because of this, with the patient being distressed feeling if it was their fault the examination did not take place. Scans need access to parts of the body unreachable if the patient is seated or too frail to get onto an examination platform themselves and manhandling of a patient is unacceptable for so many reasons. Has anyone found an answer to this dilemma? Is there a consulting room or clinic that has these facilities to hand? I have tried many times to explain my situation at the time of booking an appointment only to be frustrated on arrival to find that there is no provision for lifting on the premises. The distress and anguish felt by patients some of whom have already struggled to overcome the anxiety of facing crucial examination is nothing short of emotional cruelty, heightened by their feeling of inadequacy for failing. Where is the Duty of Care so prominently emphasised in the Equality Act of 2010?

I am not targeting the medical professionals in any way, but I do think there is lack of understanding in the system. There is certainly truth in the statement “You’ve got to live it to truly understand it”.

To further emphasise this I ask, why are there pedal bins in toilets designed for wheelchair users?


                                                                                              Written by Ian Westgate

July 2020
Lockdown: welcome to my world

16 weeks into the Coronavirus lockdown there has been much reporting of negative effects on society but in the face of negativity there is a positive.  I am referring to the equalisation opportunity for disabled people compared to their non-disabled peer groups.

Whereas non-disabled people have had their lives severely restricted by lockdown to try and limit the spread of Covid-19, this is how many disabled people’s lives are every day. Not going out is nothing new to a large number of disabled people.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals have been made available by streaming them free of charge to anyone with a computer Smartphone or tablet and a broadband connection.  Likewise, the National Theatre and many provincial theatres have streamed performances via YouTube. The Globe Theatre has been showing Shakespeare and even a local Devonshire Park Theatre has in on the act. Productions, performances and films streamed in this way has given disabled people opportunities to enjoy the arts without the arduous task of travelling to faraway theatres that may not be capable of providing the special needs required. A positive move in terms of equality and inclusion for all.

Essential shopping for groceries etc has been made easier with many more slots for home delivery or click and collect being made available for people classed as ‘At risk’, ‘Vulnerable’ or ‘Shielded’. A doctor’s recommendation for inclusion on the list of patients considered vulnerable has resulted in supermarkets offering priority slots for online shopping. There is also provision for those without computer or Smartphone access to place orders by telephone although this can be an arduous process. Friends/relatives neighbours can and are helping and  communities have come together in a way not seen for many decades to help those needing it.

Pubs and restaurants have in many cases taken to offering take-away service or home deliveries as have bakeries, greengrocers and many other small businesses.

Virtual tours of stately homes and gardens are available on-line too, presenting a fantastic opportunity for ‘tours’ and exploration of our national heritage from the comfort of our armchairs.

What this means of course is that in a small way the lives of less able people are currently not so different from the rest of society, but I fear it will not last. As the lockdown restrictions ease society will seek a return to normality but wouldn’t it be good if a ‘new normal’ emerges with many of the better aspects retained.    

Businesses that survive these unprecedented circumstances could emerge leaner and less willing or able to provide the bespoke services currently on offer but if some features can be retained, both able and less able people will surely benefit and society be more inclusive as a result. With new trading practices and customers retained a genuine ‘bounce back +’ is a distinct possibility.

From the fears and horrors of the Covid-19 pandemic there could emerge a friendlier, more caring society with true community spirit in neighbourhoods where everyone looks out for one another. A pipedream perhaps but we have an opportunity to come out of lockdown as a more equal and inclusive society so let us not lose it.


             Written by Ian Westgate

January 2020
Blue Badge Parking

Our on-street parking charges are rising again. The county council have certainly discovered a steady and endless source of income in the form of the hapless motorist. The income local authorities raise from motorists is set to exceed £1 billion in 2019/2020 and despite the Department for Communities and Local Government statement that councils should not “use parking as a cash cow” we are left wondering where the money raised in this way is being spent. When originally introduced we were assured that  ‘Parking charges are there to manage traffic, not raise revenue, with any money left over after costs ring fenced for spending on transport, including extra parking provision’. What appears to have happened in Eastbourne is that the money is being spent on a prestigious project in the town centre which far from providing extra parking provision is actually reducing them in an attempt to encourage greater use of public transport, just as bus services are being reduced. With fewer parking provision comes the inevitable reduction in town centre Blue Badge parking places and this coincides with the increase in Blue Badge eligibility for those with hidden disabilities. But fear not.

Blue Badges allow those with severe disabilities to park in restricted areas. In Eastbourne Blue Badge holders may park free of charge and for any length of time at on-street parking meters except in spaces and bays designated for other users such as permit holders only and parking is not permitted in ‘No Loading’ areas there are still many areas where blue badge holders can park. Download the PDF leaflet Where Not To Park with a Blue Badge for full details.

For Blue Badge bays in the town centre there is usually a three hour time limit but this can vary so always read the signs to check parking time allowed.
Free parking is also available in the Council car parks but be aware there is a time limit of 2 hours in the Hyde Gardens off-street parking area.
The multi-storey car parks (Beacon, Junction Road, Trinity Place) do charge for all vehicles but the Beacon is free for all on Sundays but again in other car parks be sure to read the information signs and always place your blue badge and clock, set at the time of arrival, facing upwards on your dashboard so it can easily be seen and always remember to read the road signage and markings before parking and leaving your car.

That said it still leaves Blue Badge parking areas further from the town centre than they were and this will continue to be the case when phase II of the town’s redesign kicks in. The Eastbourne Access group is still deep in negotiation about this presenting the case of how it will disadvantage disabled people and the elderly especially those who have any form of impairment.

A final thought – What about our ever increasing crop of potholes? Is there any money left to repair them?

Written by Ian Westgate

Special December 2019 article
20-year town survey: let’s all get involved

Eastbourne’s up for renewal! Have you seen the plans for our town over the next 20 years? From now until Friday 10th January 2020 Eastbourne council is inviting every resident to have their say by means of a consultation either in writing by post or on line. All consultation responses should be received by 5pm on Friday 10th January 2020 so don’t delay, have your say about how you want your town to prepare for the future.

The title of the survey, ‘Eastbourne’s Direction of Travel: Issues and Options for the Eastbourne Local Planis enough to put anyone off but the importance of the consultation cannot be underestimated. Our town is precious and we must prepare its survival in an ever increasingly crowded, polluted and competitive part of the United Kingdom in the best way we can – by public opinion. That’s you, me and all of us letting the council know what we want, where we want it and ideally when.

The plan is far reaching and embraces diverse subjects from environmental quality, housing development, the local economy and the infrastructure needed but says little about creating a friendly environment for disabled people. Only one page of 137 addresses issues of disability and that barely touches the surface.

This consultation provides the opportunity for people with disabilities to make their case for improvements by designing out social and environmental barriers. A chance to say no to shared spaces where cars, buses and pedestrians merge. Your chance to ensure any new housing or commercial developments are fully accessible for all disabled people, physical or sensory. Accessible transport for all, accessible bus stops, good access for taxis and Blue Badge parking in town centre for the less mobile, more accessible beach and play areas with sensitively designed play equipment. Wider and easier doors, no steps, clearer signage, hearing loops – the list is endless but let us never forget disabled or not, a little thoughtfulness to help others now could be helping you or your kin in the future.

Surveys and their associated consultations have generally had poor response but when changes begin to happen, comments flood in. It is too easy to say “I’ll do it tomorrow” or “My opinion won’t be heard” but collectively, if enough of us get up and give our views then we could make a difference and the town be shaped a way that suits everyone.

All this begins by viewing the plans at the Council Offices, 1 Grove Road, Eastbourne and completing a survey response form. It is also possible to download this survey and response form from https://www.lewes-eastbourne.gov.uk/planning-policy/new-eastbourne-local-plan-2018-2038

By responding to this survey and completing the questionnaire you will be helping to shape the town’s future. Don’t be put off by the numerous documents attached to the survey, (you don’t have to read them all’) but be sure to submit your response by completing the survey on-line and sending it to the consultation portal or completing a paper copy and posting to Planning Policy, 1 Grove Road, Eastbourne, BN21 4TW by 5.00pm on 10th January 2020.

Not the most fun thing to do over the Christmas holiday period but a very important one nevertheless. Whatever your age, gender, ability or anything else for that matter your town needs your opinion. Let’s all get involved and keep our town ‘special’.

 Written by Ian Westgate

December 2019

Let’s all think and spread some festive cheer

Tuesday 12 November was Purple Tuesday, an international call to action, focused on improving the customer experience for disabled people. Across the UK, the Purple Pound – the consumer spending power of disabled people and their families – is worth £249 billion and is rising by an average of 14% per annum. Worldwide, the Purple Pound equates to a staggering £2.25 trillion, yet less than 10% of businesses have a targeted plan to access this disability market.

Tuesday 12th was the second time Eastbourne has seen Purple Tuesday celebrated. Did you go along to The Beacon and take part in our surveys regarding your customer service experiences and accessible toilets facilities. These are still available to do on our website or we can email them to you info@eastbourneaccessgroup.org.uk

The day is celebrated across the country with businesses large and small making changes for improvement in the awareness of the value and needs of disabled customers. It is about making the customer experience accessible.

Of course we all like to feel welcome when we visit shop and businesses but there is also the process of getting there. Whether it is by bus, taxi, train or car the travel experience and customer care here is an important factor too.

This feeling of well being is not exclusively the right of people with disability or impairment, it extends to all members of society but it is often the case that through no fault of their fellow citizens, disabled people can feel disadvantaged. A throng of customers around a market stall or a stampede of an audience leaving a cinema can be more of a challenge for those with a hidden disability. Dementia, autism, visual impairment and learning disability are but a few. In this ever-increasingly fast moving world can we not take time to consider the needs of our fellow shoppers? It costs nothing to allow someone extra time to get their money out. Perhaps an older person in the queue needs a little more time to move forward or a wheelchair user more space to manoeuvre or turn around. Spare a thought for how alarming it must be for a partially-sighted person to be surrounded by a fast moving crowd at the sales. Just pause for a moment and consider how you would like to be respected if you were unable to ‘keep up with the crowd’ especially with the start of the busy Christmas shopping period looming.

Businesses too could think about their stock placement especially at the end of aisles to ensure there is sufficient space for the less able customer to move freely.

As a society we are all too ready to label someone as lacking if they appear to have slower reactions than we expect. Just pause a moment and consider “That could be me in the future”, either by accident or illness, age or a degenerative condition we are all vulnerable. So let’s all spread Christmas cheer as we enter the season of Good Will.

Written by Ian Westgate

September 2019
Could you become a volunteer?

No one wakes up in the morning thinking “Today I could become disabled” and equally no one would think “Today I will become a carer” but it could happen. Neither of these are healthy thoughts to entertain but either could suddenly become a reality.  Illness or injury could befall any of us at any time resulting in an incapacity that could be temporary or more seriously become a permanent disability. Whatever the event, after the NHS thoughts will be to seek additional help and relatives or friends are most likely to be our first choice effectively turning them into carers.

I make no apologies for such a blunt introduction to this article; I am merely illustrating how suddenly circumstances can change and how we could all need help should this happen. In addition to the obvious immediate help, we could need advice and assistance to a greater extent from further afield long before the statutory authorities can react. I am talking about the voluntary sector and all the good people who willingly give their time to help others. Without volunteers there would be a huge hole in care provision for those in need. Volunteers cover all the services we rely on from the friendly neighbour who waters our plants to the heroic RNLI crews and from hospital visitors to the Samaritans. But volunteers don’t grow on trees. The majority of volunteers are ordinary people who want to help others in any way they can and find time in their otherwise busy lives to make this possible. Imagine what life would be like without volunteers. Imagine what difference you could make to other people’s lives if you were a volunteer. In this busy world there is an ever increasing need for volunteers and many good training programmes exist to equip them for any role they may choose. I began my volunteering by simply reading a newspaper to a man suffering the consequences of a stroke. It cost me nothing apart from an hour or two of my time and his gratitude was reward enough that encouraged me to explore other options after his passing. That was over 50 years ago and I’ve enjoyed every moment of it. Seeing the joy on people’s faces and knowing you’ve helped in some way no matter how small is a great feeling and the occasional cup of tea or slice of cake is always welcome. I am now seriously disabled by Multiple Sclerosis and need help from volunteers myself but I continue to volunteer in any way I can. So next time you ask someone to help you for even the smallest of reasons think of the bigger picture. Could you help someone in need? Do you have or can you acquire skills that would benefit others? It may never happen and we all hope it won’t but if misfortune strikes you could find yourself grateful for the help of a volunteer. None of us knows what the future holds.

For more information about volunteering contact Eastbourne Volunteers 01323 381811 or email eastbournevolunteers@gmail.com

Written by Ian Westgate

July 2019
An enjoyable bus trip

I caught a bus last week. Not a particularly remarkable thing for most people, but for me a partially sighted wheelchair user, it was a new experience. I have travelled by bus in my wheelchair before but only as a tourist on hop-on hop-off city tour buses where there is one bus and one route involved. This was different. I was in the town centre and needed to get to Langney. My first action was to check my Smartphone Stagecoach app which told me the next bus would be stopping in Ashford Road. Not knowing where the bus stop is in Ashford Road, I ignored this and set off for Gildredge Road where I know many buses stop but where should I wait? Peering up at the very high signs above the shelters didn’t help because the lettering was too small for me to focus on. When I asked a lady queuing she said she couldn’t read it either but just knew where to wait. Eventually I established that I was in the wrong road as the bus I needed to catch for Langney sets off from Cornfield Road. Easier for me with my electric chariot but quite a hike for a pedestrian. In Cornfield Road at the memorial roundabout end I couldn’t see any signs for me to read so I chose the easiest of options, I asked a person standing in the queue. Great news, I was in the right place so bus pass and competence permit in hand I joined the line. When the bus arrive I held back to allow ambulant passengers to board and before I could say anything the driver had raised the bus suspension and lowered the ramp for me. It was a totally silent and effortless exercise for me as I proceeded to the fortunately unoccupied space designed for wheelchair users, demonstrating my manoeuvring skill as I took my place. My ability to safely get in the right position had previously been tested at the bus depot in Birch Road and I had a card to verify the fact. That said the card was not required by the driver so I parked my chair and we set off. Like a child going on an outing I found the experience highly enjoyable. I didn’t realise there were so many bus stops between the town centre and Langney and I had totally forgotten the skill bus drivers need to squeeze 121/2 tonnes of bus between badly parked cars and queues of traffic. We arrived at Langney shopping centre 30 minutes later where I alighted and thanked the driver. Bus travel may seem uninteresting and boring for those who have to do it on a regular basis but for me it is a way to extend the range of my usual wheelchair journeys in a simple and safe way. Having been part of the Disabled Access Day in March encouraging disabled people to try something new, I had practiced what I preached and caught a bus. Well done Stagecoach, you make it so easy. Next time I’ll go further afield with a new found confidence. Hailsham, Hastings or Brighton, the world is my oyster, almost.

Written by Ian Westgate

June 2019
                                             Getting Out this Summer.

Summer is officially here although not in the way many of us would like with long hot days and warm balmy evenings. Maybe those days are ahead as we move towards our traditional summer holiday season. Have you made plans for a staycation here in Eastbourne? Will you be welcoming guests to our beautiful town and what will you show them particularly if you or your guests have a disability or are less able than they once were?

Worry no more, the 2019 Eastbourne Guide for Disabled People will help you decide with pages crammed with information about the accessibility of many of our attractions and some of those nearby. Are there places to eat where I won’t encounter awkward steps or difficulty getting seated? What holiday attractions are suitable for disabled people? The Eastbourne Guide for Disabled People will help you decide. Many of our tourist guides are very good at promoting what the town has to offer and individual attractions publicise themselves as ‘Must see’ venues or ‘Do not miss’ places of entertainment but does that apply to everyone? I have visited places in other towns where easy access for my wheelchair was assured “With “just a small step”. It is all too easy to overlook the fact that a small step for the ambulant is like a cliff face to the wheelchair user. The Eastbourne Guide for Disabled People overcomes this dilemma by detailing accessibility issues where they exist in our major attractions and clearly stating where there are no obstacles awaiting the less able. Grab yourself a copy of this free informative booklet at the Tourist Information Centre in Cornfield Road, libraries, council offices and many mobility outlets. Seafront hotels also have copies available for their guests.

All this information and much more is available on our website www.eastbourneaccessgroup.org.uk, accessible by laptop, tablet and Smartphone. You can even download a copy of the guide and some useful information sheets before you set off but the handy pocket sized guide is the easiest one to take with you. We also can make large print and audio versions available on request at info@eastbourneaccessgroup.org.uk so give us a call on on 07810 317185 or email if an alternative version would help.

Written by Ian Westgate

May 2019
Why do I say sorry?

‘You are so brave’ the stranger at the bus stop said. ‘Sorry, not sure what you mean’ I replied ‘I am just waiting for a bus like you!’. But of course I knew what she meant as I use a wheelchair and I was making a faint attempt at humour. I have always observed that many disabled people, including me often feel they need to apologize for getting in people’s way.  The response to our saying sorry is also somehow constructed for us all by our understanding of what disability means in our society. I live with a progressive impairment which means I need to adjust to getting around barriers every day. The barriers are usually physical for me, such as steps, lack of access.  My partially sighted friends face the barrier of a lack of information in large print, such as with restaurant menus.  Somehow though the most difficult barrier to get over is my own emotional response, or feeling that I need a positive attitude to each challenge I face. Some years ago I started viewing disability in a new way when I came across what is known as the ‘social model of disability’. The social model is a positive way of viewing disability differently, where it becomes all the barriers around us that disable us, not ourselves as individual disabled people. If I can see that I am disabled by an inaccessible environment, an inflexible attitude, or a policy that needs changing I no longer need to feel that I am the ‘problem’.  It would be brilliant if this approach could be really taken on board and someone’s impairment or condition would then be viewed as simply part of life and being human.  We could then all together focus our energies instead on challenging the barriers around us. I can make no apology for that.

Written by Liz Trethewey

March 2019


(Disabled Access Day should be everyday)

The first ever Disabled Access Day to be held in Eastbourne on March 16th, proved to be a success beyond the expectations of the organisers. Disabled people came with their families, carers and friends to learn what is on offer to them and how inclusive Eastbourne really is. Retailers in the Beacon and other service providers welcomed the influx of new faces with open arms and ensured the day was a fun filled and informative experience with a powerful message of welcome to everyone.

The concept of Disabled Access Day began four years ago in Glasgow when Paul Ralph, a powerchair user, went on a ‘Try It Out Day’ with a local bus company. Held in January 2015, the First Disabled Access Day was so popular it was decided to expand nationwide with an event every two years. 2017 saw Sussex’s involvement when Brighton and Hove staged events including free bus rides for disabled people who thought bus travel was too difficult for them. This year Eastbourne joined in as the national event sponsored by Euan’s Guide, a guide to accessible places around Britain, grew even bigger and better.

The Eastbourne celebration was very well supported, not least by The Beacon who generously hosted the event and many positive feedback comments from all quarters have been received. Already the question is being asked “What next?” This thought has already passed through the minds of the local organisers but it is too big an undertaking for this year’s organising group to repeat and potentially expand on. Because Disabled Access Day is a biennial event that does suggest a long lead-in period is possible but if we reflect on the purpose of the day which is to encourage disabled people and their families, friends and carers to try something new, why is it only one day every two years?  Giving disabled people the confidence to explore new places in welcoming settings and highlighting accessible venues across the UK should be an everyday occurrence and we should all strive to make every day a Disabled Access Day. To educate the wider public on the access issues faced by disabled people is essential if true equality and inclusion for all is to be achieved. Disability is an all-day everyday experience for so many in our community that it would be wrong to recognise it only once every two years.

Having demonstrated the enthusiasm for the theme of ‘Go Somewhere New’ and ‘Try Something Different’ we must raise awareness of the importance of disabled access  and give venues an opportunity to showcase the services and facilities they provide to disabled people and reflect on how they can improve. We have made a start in Eastbourne and now we are on the map as a town that embraces disability, let’s keep it this way. Make everyday a Disabled Access Day in Eastbourne. New volunteers are always welcome and if you would like to see more Disabled Access Days in Eastbourne and wouldlike to help, please contact the Eastbourne Access Group on 0781 0317 185 or visit our website www.eastbourneaccessgroup.org.uk. Visit our Facebook page and join us in our quest to make Eastbourne Britain’s premiere resort for equality and inclusion.

                                                                                                            Written by Ian Westgate

February 2019
 Campaigning for more community toilets during Disabled Access Day


Have you ever been ‘caught short’ needing a toilet when out and about?  This is a common experience for everyone at times but it’s a fact that concern about finding a suitable loo may put some of us off going out at all.  Eastbourne has about 73 public toilets serving more than 100,000 people – that’s about 1,370 people for each public WC (and that’s not counting our nearly 5 million annual visitors!)  A serious issue is that only 17 public toilets are suitable for people who have mobility issues or depend on a wheelchair – when Eastbourne has about 20,000 people living with disabilities.  This can present a major obstacle to people trying new things, a problem that relates to the theme of this year’s Disabled Access Day at the Beacon on Saturday 16th March.

Eastbourne Access Group and the community interest company Inclusive Eastbourne has been trying to improve this situation for some years, and they will be there at The Beacon on Disabled Access Day.  Inclusive Eastbourne will be asking visitors about their experience of Eastbourne’s public toilets, as they need to understand the local situation more deeply.  It’s important to campaign so that there are as many toilets available to the public as possible all around Eastbourne. One solution is the “Community Toilet Scheme” where businesses who have customer toilets are encouraged to welcome people who are not customers at that time, to use their toilets. This increases footfall and possible future business, as it shows a company’s positive attitude and community spirit.  We all know how a nice loo impresses us about a company.

More accessible toilets are directly related to community health according to the Bladder and Bowel Foundation.  Increased awareness of our need to drink more water (many of us don’t drink enough water) relates to the need for more toilets too.  In the UK 100,000 people each year suffer Acute Kidney Injury through dehydration – this kills more people per year than cancer, and costs the NHS up to £620 million per year.

Because many activities that actually support health and wellbeing take place outside people’s homes, insufficient community toilets is costly in terms of reduced long-term physical health and mental well-being.  Help the Aged found that nationally, 80% of older people find it difficult to find a public toilet, which can lead to social isolation and reduced participation, major causes of health decline as reported in the Herald recently.

The negative consequences of lack of toilets are experienced even more by people who have special needs, and one in five of us experience toilet ‘issues’ such as frequency, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and a need to go in a hurry.  Parents with children can face a similar situation.

Joining the Community Toilet Scheme involves agreeing to let the public use toilets in their time of need.  A small sign is placed on the outside of premises.  There is no need to be concerned that there will be a sudden ‘rush’ of requests.  The perception of more freedom to go to the toilet when away from home is the central issue, and should be seen as a basic right.

On a positive note, Eastbourne should be proud that there are now two “Changing Places” toilets in the town, one in The Beacon, the other on the middle promenade by the bandstand and we are soon to get another in the refurbished Congress Theatre.  These toilets are designed for people who need a bigger space, an adult sized bench and hoist.

Another positive action people can do is send for a “You Just Can’t Wait” card from the Bladder and Bowel Community – these can be shown to premises with customer toilets to ask if they will let you use their premises immediately.

Written by Gaynor Sadlow.


December 2018
Improving access and choice on airlines

It certainly felt I was on a high when I took my first flight as a wheelchair user to Italy back in 1981. In those days there was no Disability Discrimination Act or right to receive special assistance as a person with reduced mobility.  Nowadays the right to special assistance is stipulated in EU law and applies when you fly on any airline from an EU airport or you fly on an EU registered airline to an EU airport. Watch this space for what this may mean after Brexit.

Back in 1981 I recall being carried up the steps to the plane and having brittle bones the whole experience seemed very scary. Even today there is still no access on the majority of flights to a toilet on board for people who use a wheelchair or need help because of restricted mobility.  This adds to the stress of the experience if flights are delayed on the tarmac and I always avoid drinking tea or coffee!

Despite greater awareness and legal requirements flying is still a struggle for many disabled people and not just for wheelchair users. The recent tragic death of a young girl on board a flight following an allergic reaction to sesame seeds highlighted how serious many allergies are for people affected by them, living in fear of exposure to environmental triggers such as chemicals, food and air pollution.

The airline I fly with confirm on their website that they are unable to guarantee an allergy free environment onboard.  They advise passengers with allergies to carry antihistamines or an ’Epi-pen’ in their Hand luggage so that medication can be easily accessed. People living with allergies might be able to expect more responsibility to be taken for their safety and welfare by a range of service providers in the future, including airlines, should the current legal challenges on behalf of individuals result in a positive change to the law.

There are now a range of pressure groups challenging the right to equal access for disabled people who wish to fly. Chris Wood, a parent of 2 disabled children set up ‘Flying Disabled’ after continually seeing his daughter struggle to access the aircraft, only to sit in discomfort in an airplane seat.  ‘Flying disabled’ seeks to work alongside the airlines with the aims of creating inclusion, dignity and increasing safety.

The National Autistic Society have useful advice available for parents travelling with their children who are living with autism. Some airports and airlines now have far more autism awareness and have produced procedures and guides for customers living with autism. Gatwick airport for example has an autism friendly visual guide for customers.

Some of the UK’s regional airports are also holders of the Autism friendly award.

Improving choice, access and safety for disabled people with all impairments, including ‘hidden disabilities’ makes very sound business sense as greater access simply means more paying customers.

   Written by Liz Trethewey

October 2018
Mini adventure with Disabled Ramblers

As a wheelchair user for many years I had accepted that many things I enjoyed in the past were confined to memory never to be experienced again. One thing I hold fond memories of is walking on our glorious downland so it was a joy to accept the offer of a mini adventure with the Disabled Ramblers Association (reported in the Herald 5th October). Using all-terrain mobility scooters called Trampers, two of which were kindly provided by the company’s distribution agent and funded by Eastbourne Borough Council, we set off from the kiosk at the end of King Edwards Parade to explore Whitbread Hollow and surrounding pathways. It was a gloriously sunny September afternoon with a cloudless sky and warm sunshine. What could be better? With six scooters accompanied by as many helpers/carers we ventured along Foyle’s Way to the ridge above the hollow and drank in the first of many spectacular views of the seascape, the entire Eastbourne coastline and beyond with the manicured grass and sports pitches nestling in the Hollow below us.  Our guide was Antonia Lucas and she guided us along the track down into Whitbread Hollow and along the pathway surrounding it, stopping at each memorial bench we encountered and giving us the story behind the memory where known and a glimpse into the history of the downland, it’s management, wildlife and future as part of the South Downs National Park. I thought I knew our downs pretty well as a local for over 60 years but Antonia, a more recent arrival in our town, put my knowledge to shame explaining much more about our spectacular hills and coastline than I’m sure many local people know. The Trampers negotiated the uneven pathway with ease coping with mounds and large rabbit holes effortlessly. As we progressed drinking in the glorious vista before us my confidence in the Tramper grew and I became certain that my nerve on the tricky parts would fail long before the Tramper’s grip faltered. This was put to the test on a cross-camber sloped section of path between Whitbread Hollow and the nearby cliff edge but I need not have worried. The tyres gripped the grass pathway as our convoy carefully negotiated the undulations completely without drama although perhaps a few hearts were beating faster than at the outset. Antonia explained the importance of this area to migrating birds as they stock up their energy levels on seeds and insects ready for their next stage of migration whether it be their inbound or outbound leg of a marathon journey. We were reminded of the oft forgotten Battle of Beachy Head and that the area of land we were travelling on had once been known as France during the time of William and Mary. The importance of this area during both world wars was discussed and as if by magic a WW2 Spitfire flew overhead, probably returning from a display along the coast. Learning of the annual bird ringing and land management by our forebears gave an insight into the past and present activities on the downs together with the South Downs National Park Commission’s plans for the future management of this geographical jewel on our doorstep. The ramble lasted 2½ hours and I could have happily gone round again or ventured further afield. Perhaps that’s one for the future. Huge thanks to all who made this possible and helped me relive an experience I thought I’d never have again.

Written by Ian Westgate

September 2018
My love affair with train travel

As a wheelchair user from 5 years old, I am a life time rail traveller.  Long before modern trains all wheelchair users, including disabled children were forced to travel in the guard’s van, along with bikes, piles of goods and often drunk people thrown off the main part of the train! When I started working and commuting I travelled daily to London with my briefcase and learned to smile at the astonishment of guards who were not used to helping disabled people onto trains whose destination was to go to their place of work just like everyone else.

I travel on Southern trains and in recent years the controversy surrounding Driver Only Operations (DOO) has caused great concern and anxiety for disabled people. The government introduced an ‘inclusive transport strategy’ in 2018, which signals improved access for rail travelers, excuse the pun there! However, it would appear there are no specific extra resources to accompany the strategy. Rail franchise operators though are required to produce a ‘Disabled People’s Protection Policy’ which should set out its commitment to access for disabled rail users.  The government also offers the opportunity for local operators to apply for funding to improve access to stations, through the ‘Access for All’ fund.  A current example of this in East Sussex is the lack of access to Battle station for people with limited mobility.  It is hoped that another attempt to apply for funding in November 2018 will result in a grant to make these vital improvements.  Disabled people with sensory and mobility impairments are even more isolated in rural areas, where there are limited bus services and wheelchair accessible taxis are often not available as well as being very expensive.

I travel these days either on my own or with a friend with sight impairment.  Negotiating the rail network in a wheelchair is challenging enough, but I have learned so much more about the challenges people with sight impairment face.  On Southern trains the on board supervisors (OBS) make announcements as often as they can, but often it is too difficult to understand due to the poor PA system.  The information displays are not readable if you have sight loss and they are sometimes inaccurate and misleading for those with hearing loss who may not hear any announcements.

It is that it is now easier to book assistance 24 hours in advance and generally it is possible to just ‘turn up and go’ on major railway stations. Problems arise with the unexpected, where trains are cancelled or engineering works are taking place. Southern currently does not offer wheelchair access to rail replacement buses, a problem other rail franchises have put right.  Many barriers remain for disabled people who need to use the rail network such as access to non- staffed and rural stations, and the Driver only trains where there is no 2nd member of staff on board to assist those needing to get on and off the train.

Written by Liz Trethewey

August 2018
Riding the WAV – and a suggestion for taxis

No, it’s not a misspelling; WAV is the acronym for a Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle and a very useful thing it is too! Always a keen driver it saddened me when my eyesight deteriorated below the minimum level for drivers. Being a front seat passenger was acceptable but when getting into and out of the car became difficult (and dangerous – I fell between the car and kerb a few times), the time had come to try something easier. I chose a WAV from the range available on the Motability scheme. This scheme can provide contract hire of a new vehicle in exchange for your higher rate mobility allowance (DLA or PIP) with an advance payment when a more expensive vehicle is selected. I chose a Volkswagen Caddy with five seats and room for an occupied wheelchair where the boot would be. This was of course for the odd occasions when transfer to the passenger seat presented problems because of my varying mobility condition. Now I am carried in the back every time. The advantages are obvious. My wheelchair is driven, winched or pushed into the rear of the vehicle, anchored securely and the rear door closed. I am in no danger of falling and getting into the car is quick and simple an essential feature in the rain. I never have to worry about servicing bills, buying new tyres, tax and insurance. These are all covered by the monthly payment my mobility allowance provides. The disadvantages are a lumpier ride than in a car seat, difficulty in communicating with the driver and inability to open the door and get out of the car unaided. It’s not for everybody but in my case does permit me to travel to places not served by public transport; travel with friends and family but most of all have my wheelchair with me on arrival. It’s not everyone’s choice but it suits me and before getting the WAV I enjoyed the benefit of saloon cars, also available through the scheme but using a hoist to load my chair while I travelled up front.

In recent years the criteria for eligibility has changed and there are fewer disabled people receiving the necessary level of mobility allowance but if you think the Motability scheme could help you call 0300 456 4566 or go on line to www.motability.co.uk. You can check eligibility by contacting the Department for Work and Pensions on 0800 121 4600 or go online.

Here’s a thought, – many WAVs are converted people carriers. Developed on van chassis for load carrying strength, the third row of seats is removed and the rear floor lowered to allow easy ramp access for a wheelchair leaving a full five seat vehicle with room for a wheelchair what a versatile vehicle for a taxi. A wheelchair carrying taxi one minute and a car with a large luggage space the next. Much cheaper to buy and run than some traditional taxis, is this a solution to our lack of wheelchair accessible taxis?

Written by Ian Westgate

July 2018

Shared spaces – or scary places?

There is ever increasing pressure to improve the general fitness of our population in this country. Government money has been set aside for local authorities who embrace this idea to help with basic improvement to local infrastructure.

The addition of new and improvement of our paths and cycleways is just such an example but with these a new conflict can arise. Is it a cycleway or a footpath? Who has priority? Pedestrian or cyclist? Where does the mobility scooter or wheelchair user fit in?

Acting on advice from Cycling UK, a new guidance note from the Department for Transport on shared use routes for pedestrians and cyclists is being drawn up but will it be an improvement? The previous guidelines, drawn up in 2012, made reference to the Equality Act 2010 recognising that disabled and older people can be particularly affected by shared use routes but rather weakly said “Ultimately, it will depend on the quality of the design”. The new draft guidelines include recommendations that disabled people be consulted and fully involved with the planning, conception, design, implementation and evaluation of any new shared space scheme but East Sussex County Council are disregarding comments and concerns from many local and national disability groups and carrying on to their own standard.

So there we have it, left in the hands of the local authority with no hard and fast standards to adhere to, merely guidelines what will we get?

We are encouraged to get out and about for health and wellbeing, 10 minutes a day at least and we are lucky to have the walk/cycleways we do. The new part of the Horsey walk/cycleway is delightful. Consideration for others is essential on all these routes, possibly more so than other rights of way because the combining of wheeled and pedestrian traffic and the extreme speed differential is a recipe for disaster without extra precaution being taken. Many people have hidden disabilities so a pedestrian with hearing impairment may not be able to hear a cyclist approaching from behind. Speeding cyclists and electric scooter riders travelling at 8 mph could encounter a pedestrian with impaired mobility unable to step out of the way and a person startled in this way could lose their balance, fall and suffer injury. On roads where cars are king the cyclist and pedestrians are the most vulnerable, on a walk/cycleway the pedestrian is the most vulnerable but on all rights of way including footpaths the disabled person is the most vulnerable.

Towns and rural areas are very different and present their own problems to each vulnerable group as described above and there is one simple answer to minimise the risks to all. Think of other road/cycleway/footpath users, respect their right to be there and take regard of the consequences that could result from excessive speed or lack of concentration. Thoughtfulness and regard for others by respecting their means of travel costs nothing and can mean so much to all of us in so many ways. Shared spaces don’t have to be scary places. It’s up to us!

Written by Ian Westgate

May 2018

2018 Eastbourne Guide for Disabled People

Have you got your free copy of the 2018 Eastbourne Guide for Disabled People? Available from the Tourist Information Centre in Cornfield Road, The Town Hall, Council Offices Grove Road, libraries, Shopmobility, mobility shops and many other locations in the town, it has a wealth of information for everyone disabled or not. Accessible places to visit, where to eat, bus and taxi contact numbers and of course our Wheelchair Routes now including Sovereign Harbour that are so useful to wheelchair and scooter users showing where to safely cross roads and much more. The guide now in its 8th year is available in handy A5 booklet, downloadable in PDF format from the Access Group’s website www.eastbourneaccessgroup.org.uk and many other internet locations. Just type Eastbourne access guide into your computer or Smartphone search engine (Google it) and you’ll find our website with a very clear link to the latest advertisement free edition. The website is packed with information to help disabled people or those with impairment get the most out of Eastbourne whether they are residents or visitors. Carers too will find the guide useful when planning to accompany a disabled relative or friend to a venue or event in the town. Using the guide in conjunction with our Facebook page will keep you up-to-date with the latest news and events together with details of accessibility for wheelchair/scooter users, if hearing loops are present and other invaluable information.  The Eastbourne Guide for Disabled People is produced and published by the Eastbourne Access Group, a small group of volunteers with a passion for making Eastbourne more disabled friendly. The group is an active member of the Eastbourne Disability Involvement Group (EDIG), a forum of organisations focussed on disability issues that keeps a watchful eye on circumstances that could adversely affect people with a disability. EDIG takes particular interest in new developments to ensure accommodating disability is in the forefront of developers, architects and contractors minds at all times. Facilities in the Devonshire Park redevelopment and extension to the Arndale Centre are just two of the new developments where EDIG is involved and the redesign of Terminus Road is an example of local authority and community groups working together to achieve the best result for everyone. There is still a long way to go before Eastbourne can truly be called a disabled friendly town but by working together, not withstanding financial constraints, Eastbourne can become an example of what is achievable. Disabled Access Day on 16th March 2019 will be a great opportunity for service providers, businesses and the disabled community to come together to show just how Disabled Friendly and inclusive Eastbourne is.

Written by Ian Westgate

April 2018

Danger Beneath our Feet

Our roads and pavements are in disarray with holes and trenches everywhere as work on town centre improvement progresses. With these works comes the inevitable forest of cones, barriers and signs. Avoiding these is difficult enough but often the remaining pavement surface is damaged and pedestrian diversions are difficult to negotiate with a mobility scooter or wheelchair. For people with impaired vision the situation is close to being a nightmare. Add to this inclement weather with slippery surfaces and we have a disaster waiting to happen. The work has to take place but there is a duty of care imposed on the repair teams to ensure free, unobstructed passage is maintained at all timew unless a road/path closure order is in place. More often than not if there is a gang working at a particular site they will do their best to assist but much of the time there are holes that appear abandoned. The law is quite clear. The Equality Act 2010 requires service providers (the contractor) to ensure that a disabled person shall not be prevented from having free passage to pass an obstruction as any non-disabled person. If you find the opposite to be the case it is your right to the company causing the restriction or the local authority. In the case of Eastbourne this would be East Sussex County Council County, Phone: 0345 60 80 193 to report anything you find unacceptable or email:  customer@eastsussexhighways.com. An alternative could be to contact your local councillor who can make an enquiry/complaint on your behalf. Be sure to note the exact location of the problem encountered and state the time and exact nature of the difficulty in order to speed the process of investigation by the highways inspectorate. When the work is done we still cannot take our eyes off the ball. Pavements might have a longer life span than roadways but are still subject to utility companies digging them up for access to cables etc. The same criteria apply in these instances too and how many times have we seen poorly repaired macadam paths where a shovelful of macadam has been thrown over a hole and appears to have been lightly tapped with a shovel? “That’ll do” is not good enough! All taxpayers disabled or not, need safe pathways to walk on and not a patchwork of differing levels where multiple excavations or surface repairs have been poorly executed. The County Council are obliged to spend all the revenue from parking charges and fines on improvements to roads and pavements. Much of this is going into the changes around the Congress Theatre and Terminus Road but not to the detriment of other much needed works. In Eastbourne the maintenance list is huge. We all know areas in urgent need of repair so we must keep pressure on the authorities to address the concerns of the town as a whole and not just the prestigious new development areas.

Written by Ian Westgate

March 2018

A few words of advice on mobility scooters

Spring is in the air and thoughts of getting out and about are high on everyone’s agenda at this time but before you dust off your mobility scooter or even buy a new one there are rules of use that need to be remembered. The obvious first rule is who can ride a mobility scooter and that’s not anyone as is commonly believed to be the case. The law says you can only drive a mobility scooter or powered wheelchair if you: have trouble walking because of an injury, physical disability or medical condition, are demonstrating the vehicle before it’s sold, are training a disabled user or are taking the vehicle to or from maintenance or repair. A surprise for many who think a scooter is a convenient way of going shopping without having to carry heavy bags but the law is the law!

Before setting off to enjoy a springtime drive remember – if you have a class 2 scooter you must remain on footways or cycle paths only taking to the road to avoid obstructions. A  class 3 scooter with two speed settings must be set to 4mph on footpaths but can travel at 8mph on roads as long as it has front and rear lights, a rear-view mirror and horn in working order. Don’t even think about using a dual carriageway unless you’ve got a large orange flashing beacon and nerves of steel!

Do you have valid insurance? It’s not compulsory but strongly advised. Curiously the Department of Transport says that scooters do not need insurance but issues a reminder that scooter users can be prosecuted for any damage they may cause to others or their property. It is of course important that you can see where you are going so the DVLA have set a standard that requires a scooter rider to be able to read a car number plate at a distance of 12.5 metres. That’s just over half the distance of the car driving requirement and it may seem odd if you are only travelling at 4 – 8 mph but the need to see other traffic is the essential factor. Just like any other vehicle you must observe parking restrictions and not block pavements if you get off to enter a shop. You can still get a ticket if you cause an obstruction. All class 3 scooters need to be registered and carry a tax disc. There is no charge levied but you must have a valid registration document. Applications for registration can be made at a post office or on-line.

Most reputable mobility shops can sell you a new scooter from a huge range of types and styles and they are all good enough to last many years so choose carefully. Comfort and ease of control are important considerations as is of course where you can store it and charge the batteries. Second-hand scooters abound but beware. Their plastic bodywork may look pristine but could hide years of abuse and neglect of the electric motors. Buy new if possible is preferable and remember the Motability Scheme for cars can also help higher rate mobility recipients buy a scooter that is exactly right for their needs. All major retailers can advise you about this scheme. Happy scootering!

 Written by Ian Westgate

February 2018

More Blue Badges

The Department of Transport is developing plans to make it easier for people with conditions such as dementia and autism to travel more and to participate in everyday activities like working, shopping, visiting places of entertainment etc. more easily by widening the criteria governing the issue of blue badge parking permits to include persons with hidden disabilities. At present councils have different interpretations of existing rules with only some recognising hidden disabilities. It is hoped the move – which would be the biggest change to the blue badge scheme since it was introduced in 1970 – would help create parity in the treatment of physical and mental health. The new policy is designed to provide clear and consistent guidelines. In September last year I wrote about hidden disability and how without obvious external indication such as a wheelchair, hearing aids or white canes, hidden disabilities can remain hidden and subsequently ignored by many. This is often the case when it comes to the issue of blue badge parking permits.

A Department of Transport survey revealed that around three out of four blue badge holders say they would go out less often if they did not have a blue badge and it is recognised that blue badges give people with disabilities the freedom to get out and about with much greater ease. Transport minister Jesse Norman said: “We want to try to extend this to people with invisible disabilities, so they can enjoy the freedom to get out and about, where and when they want.” This is just an idea at present and will be put to an eight-week public consultation but if implemented could prove to be a lifeline to many people with hidden disabilities like autism or dementia who often do not qualify under current regulations. You don’t have to be a driver to get a blue badge, they can be used by a passenger and so a change in regulation could be beneficial for many relatives and friends helping with transportation. There are currently around 2.4 million disabled people in England with blue badges so the question must be asked “Will there be an increase in blue badge bay provision”?

December 2017

Becoming a Carer

Becoming a carer for a family member or friend can have a considerable effect on the lives of those who take on this role. Other family members and health professionals are likely to focus their attention and concern on the person who is ill, so the carer is often left feeling they are being overlooked and left in the shadow.

Caring can be hard physical work depending on the support needs of the cared for person and can often involve lifting, cleaning, personal care including the use of specialised equipment, dressing and chauffeuring to a variety of locations for outpatient appointments etc. Add to this the possibility of disrupted sleep and we have a job that few if any would apply for but for many millions of people it is the harsh reality of their lives. Many carers talk about being exhausted most of the time and for most, caring is a round the clock responsibility.

In most caring situations it is the life partner who assumes the role of unpaid carer and although the NHS benefits hugely from this in terms of both manpower and financially, the government assesses the value of a full-time care as £62.70 a week (max) whilst saving themselves billions. Even this meagre recognition of the carer’s worth comes with strict criteria for qualifying: You must be looking after someone who gets a qualifying disability benefit for at least 35 hours a week, be aged 16 or over and not in full-time education. Furthermore you must not be earning over £116 a week (after deductions) and satisfy UK presence and residence conditions. But that’s not all! Receipt of State Pension, contributory Employment and Support Allowance, Incapacity Benefit, Maternity Allowance, Bereavement or widow’s benefits, contribution-based Jobseeker’s Allowance or Severe Disablement Allowance would disqualify you under the ‘overlapping benefits’ rules.

Similar rules apply to carers looking after a sick parent either after having moved in with the sick parent or having brought the parent into their own home. While close proximity to their relative or friend may make some aspects of caring easier, it also meant that there is little opportunity to ‘get out’ or ‘switch off’ from the caring role.

In many instances caring for a loved one can be seen as a treadmill you cannot get off and therefore must keep going but carers must be careful and not neglect their own health. Finding time to get away and have some ‘Me time’ is essential if only for an hour or two a week. The support of friends and paid care can help enormously in this situation assisting management of the caring role and easing feelings of loneliness experienced by so many carers. Taking on a caring role frequently triggers changes in family relationships, particularly that between the carer and the sick person. Some who care for a sick spouse said they felt guilty about having normal arguments about normal things when the other person was so ill and constantly having to make allowances is difficult, but caring for a relative or friend can also enable many people to become closer.
Coordinating looking after an ill relative or friend within everyday life can be challenging and should not be disregarded by those fortunate enough not to be in such circumstances. None of us know what the future holds or if we could be the giver or receiver of care anytime in the future.

Help can be obtained from Care for the Carers: Phone: 01323 738390 www.cftc.org.uk


Written by Ian Westgate

November 2017

‘You’re Looking Well’

 “You’re looking well”. How many times have we heard that when all that’s really wanted to do is go home, curl up and let the day carry on without us. Appearances can be deceptive and it’s true to say no-one really wants to hear how things actually are when illness is dragging you into depths of pain and misery. The usual response is “I’m fine” and the world goes on. We live such busy lives these days that we don’t have the time or inclination to hear tales of woe from others and why should we? I probably did think that way years ago before illness struck but now I appreciate how seemingly crass and uncaring those few words can feel to a person who is trying their best to cope with debilitating pain or a hidden impairment or disability. They sound uncaring and insensitive at best but unless we’re up front and honest who’s to know how we are really feeling?

The simple truth is that just because we look good it doesn’t mean we feel good. When we feel awful and someone tells us we look good it makes us feel like our struggle is being minimized.

We have a love-hate relationship with our invisible illnesses. We try our best to blend in and be selective about who we share our lack of health with, but sometimes it makes it harder to accept that for us, things are different. Photographs and mirrors show us as the same person we always were and we see someone who used to work, run and dance – (maybe not dance) – perhaps even sing and cook. We could have been sports stars, champions in whatever active discipline we chose, and then the disappointment strikes as we remember we can’t do those things anymore. We can only dream what could have been.

Not only can we not do the things we want to do, but our bodies don’t even do all of the everyday things they are supposed to do.

My body doesn’t even do standing up unless I’m supported and for many of us it seems like our bodies are defying our wishes, letting us down quite literally. So we accept the betrayal and seek alternatives.

All around us we see people doing these everyday things without thinking twice while we’re just struggling to stay on our feet figuratively and often very literally.

Because we often didn’t understand that struggle ourselves until our own illnesses hit, we know unless other people are touched by illness they can’t fully understand that while we look fine on the outside, on the inside we are falling apart at the seams. So we feel isolated and since we look fine it’s also hard for other people to comprehend our limitations. Even if they do understand them, not being able to see them makes it easy for other people to forget they exist. We often have to provide multiple explanations or reminders, and then we worry about being a downer and holding other people back. So we feel guilty and just say “I’m fine thanks”.

                                                                                                                     Written by Ian Westgate

October 2017

Living with MND By Mick D

In 2010, I was diagnosed with a Motor Neuron condition called Kennedys Disease, an illness that causes slow progressive weakening and wasting of muscles, for which there is currently no known cure.  I have discovered that the challenges of living with Motor Neuron Disease (MND) can feel overwhelming. Knowing that in a relatively short space of time I will have to live with a mentally alert brain that will become trapped within a failing body, causes me considerable anxiety and stress which leads to bouts of depression.

As time has progressed, my ability to walk has increasingly become impaired. Not only do I have to manage the problems of getting around, but the disease also has an impact on my ability to communicate and to eat and drink as I have developed swallowing difficulties, which at times causes me to choke.  I have had to adjust my diet, eating foods that I can easily manage.  This situation has caused me to be reluctant to use cafes and restaurants as I do not wish the possibility of my symptoms becoming apparent to other customers and causing embarrassment.

I began to realise that the public’s perception of me when walking out and about in town, was at best that I was unsteady on my feet and at worst that I was intoxicated.  Out of pure vanity, I refused to use a walking stick until my sixtieth birthday and then a few months later progressed to two sticks on the advice of my neurophysiotherapist.  As my ability to walk any distance declined fairly swiftly, opportunities to enjoy the outside world were becoming restricted.

It was during April this year that I took delivery of a powered wheelchair, which I immediately found to be a very liberating piece of equipment.  I have used the chair throughout the summer months to explore Eastbourne and beyond.  Two or three times a week I venture along the seafront as far west as Hollywell and east to Sovereign Harbour.  These routes are well served for the disabled with flat well maintained pathways and assessable RADAR toilet facilities.                                However, I was left feeling somewhat embarrassed as a resident on the late summer Bank Holiday Monday.  I offered my assistance to a lady wheelchair user who was visiting the town and who was having difficulty accessing the disabled toilets on the Middle Prom on the west side of the Bandstand.  Although she was in possession of a RADAR key, she could not get it to work.  I used my key and found that although the RADAR lock was functioning, a second door lock was preventing access.  I was unable to find any members of the Seafront Team to assist.  The lady visitor may well have qualified to use the newly installed Changing Place toilet facility situated to the east of the Bandstand.  However, as she was unaware of the facility prior to arriving in the town, she was not registered to use it.

[NB. the Changing Places facility is not an additional accessible toilet. It is specifically designed for disabled people, requiring additional assistance from a carer or carers when using the facility.  With ceiling tracking and hoist, height adjustable adult size changing plinth. http://www.eastbourne.gov.uk/residents/leisure-and-events/eastbourne-seafront/changing-places

September 2017

Being disabled

We all know about disability – or do we? There can be obvious signs and I have written about disabilities that cannot be seen but what is it like to be disabled? A huge topic I can only scratch the surface of from personal experience and those of friends and acquaintances. Disability is not a lifestyle choice. It can be forced upon anyone by congenital irregularity, accident or disease. Whatever the reason we have one thing in common and that is quite simply – we have to live with it. People with a disability are mostly able to make their own decisions and have their own opinions so why is there still so much inequality in everyday life with decisions made by others without consultation, understanding or even knowledge of a disabled individual’s situation? Disabled people who can work and who want to work face myriad barriers. They have fewer opportunities to develop skills and experience, face practical obstacles, such as inaccessible transport, and often experience negative attitudes from employers. Data from 2014/15 shows that 30% of working-age adults in families where at least one member is disabled were living in households with below 60% of average income compared with 18% for those living in families with no disabled members but being disabled has a greater effect on family budgets too regardless of income. There are hidden costs of being disabled often unrecognised by their non-disabled peers. From expensive equipment to higher energy bills, disabled people and their families pay over the odds for essentials. These costs add up to an average of £550 a month. This compares with average welfare payments of £360 per month – leaving a substantial gap that disabled people have to finance. The natures of the extra costs of disability vary enormously across different conditions and from individual to individual. Examples include the costs of specialist equipment, such as wheelchairs, additional clothing, higher transport costs and higher energy bills, due to increased needs for heating caused by immobility. Winter fuel allowance is not available to disabled people below state pension age. Whereas it is true that some concessions are available to disabled people they often focus on an accompanying carer one example being a cinema ticket for a partially sighted or blind person. The person with disability pays full price, the carer goes free. Without a carer full price is paid even though enjoyment of the movie is severely limited and before raising questions why shouldn’t a person with impaired vision visit a cinema or a hearing impaired person attend the theatre? There has been much media coverage of perceived ‘benefit scroungers’ such that many genuine recipients of welfare are being closely observed and disrespected through ignorance of their circumstances. Contract hire ‘Motability’ cars are being taken away from people with impaired mobility if they are deemed to be capable of walking a mere 20 metres, the length of a bus! Buses cannot offer door-to-door service so an expensive taxi is often the only alternative for essential travel so before viewing disabled people receiving welfare as scroungers, consider what impact these additional costs would have on your lifestyle.

                                                                                                           Written by Ian Westgate

August 2017

Overhanging Vegetation

Last autumn I wrote about the hazards of autumn as experienced by disabled people and many others with age-related impairment. As we hurtle through summer towards another autumn we are confronted with the same issues. Rather than wait until the traditional tidy up session that all gardeners undertake can I ask through this column that pro-active action be taken before overhanging trees and shrubs become a problem to passersby. My focus was returned to this message recently when a short journey in my wheelchair left me bleeding from a lacerated hand and arm. I was using my power chair on a narrow pavement with no drop kerbs when I encountered a huge growth of foliage protruding onto the pathway. The restricted width meant I couldn’t avoid the obstruction without toppling into the road so I proceeded carefully. My wheelchair control is on the right and I had no option but to allow the leaves and branches to drag across my arm as I moved forwards. Unbeknown to me there was a mature bramble hidden within the leaves which duly punctured my skin as it dragged painfully up my arm. Fortunately the bleeding stopped quite quickly but for a haemophiliac or person taking a blood thinning medication like Warfarn the consequence could have been much more dramatic. A partially sighted or blind person could have experienced a facial wound. Children and babies in buggies are also vulnerable. Vegetation which overhangs roads can also cause a danger to motorists, especially to drivers of high-sided vehicles such as lorries or buses.

In 2015 the County Council started a CUT IT BACK campaign encouraging people to take positive action to avoid upset, distress or possible injury to others. They urged Landowners responsible for hedges and trees which overhang the road or pavement check regularly and if necessary cut it back. They reminded us that maintenance of trees and hedges growing on private land are the responsibility of the property or landowner. East Sussex County Council head of highways, said: “People who have property bordering the road or footway may not realise it’s their responsibility to ensure vegetation is not causing a danger or obstruction, or blocking off light from a street lamp. We would strongly encourage people to maintain their trees and hedges responsibly and to inspect them regularly during the growing season.” “People are advised to ensure the footway is clear of vegetation to a height of 8ft (2.5m) and the road is clear to a height of 17ft (5.1m) and 1.8ft (0.5m) from the edge of the road towards their property. If made aware of any problems caused by overhanging vegetation, the council’s highways team will write to the landowner asking them to cut it back. If no action is taken, the council may get its own staff to cut back the tree or hedge and bill the landowner”. More Information about cutting of hedges and trees is available online at; https://news.eastsussex.gov.uk/2016/12/12/cut-back-hedges-and-trees-and-protect-the-public/

July 2017

Changing Places toilets help change lives

No one likes talking about toilets many of us avoiding the subject for fear of embarrassment but why? Everyone has need of a toilet and for some the need can be quite urgent. There is no statutory obligation for local authorities to provide public toilet facilities but many of us are grateful that Eastbourne does. We can also be glad that Eastbourne has embraced the modern thinking about Changing Places by not only having one in the Arndale Centre but a second very important seafront location has received planning permission and the facility will be in place later this summer. Changing Places toilets are not like standard disabled toilets – they are much more than that. They have a height-adjustable, adult-sized changing bench, a hoist and space either side for two carers. Without Changing Places toilets in public spaces, people who have severe disabilities have to choose between: going out for just a short while (so they can get back to use their own toilet), going out for longer but having to change on a dirty public toilet floor or not going out at all. Changing Places differ from other accessible toilets in that they have: adequate space for a disabled person when they are not in their wheelchair, their wheelchair and one or two carers, an adult sized, height adjustable changing bench, wall mounted or free standing, a ceiling tracking or a mobile hoist facility, a peninsular (centrally placed) toilet accessible from both all conforming to British Standards: BS8300:2009. This is certainly something townsfolk of Eastbourne should be proud of as it puts Eastbourne in the premier league of resorts when considering equality and inclusivity for all issues. Changing Places toilets are in addition to standard accessible toilets of which we have a few in the town but with an increasing and aging population together with an increasing visitor count I would urge proprietors of commercial premises to open their minds to offering their facilities to both customers and non-customers alike. I am not suggesting changing places but where premises have toilet facilities and in particular wheelchair accessible toilets they should consider making these available to anyone in need. Of course objections will be numerous and widely ranging but I ask everyone with premises that contain such facilities “How would you feel if you were in need of a toilet when in unfamiliar territory?” Perhaps if you were a visitor exploring a new town where public toilets are few, would you be happy to be refused a basic need? Show some compassion and understanding. By making your facilities available in such circumstances you may gain a new customer and remember that people are always ready to tell others of their experiences so to be seen as kind and considerate may result in an increased customer base with a consequential increase in business. Good news travels fast as do accounts of bad experiences so if such a request should come your way consider role reversal and imagine it were you doing the asking. The Eastbourne Community Toilet Scheme exists to facilitate the development of this idea.

Visit www.changing-places.org or email info@eastbourneaccessgroup.org.uk  for details

June 2017

Strain of the train

Remembering the old slogan British Rail used “Let The Train Take The Strain”, it would appear that we have entered a time when the train actually causes the strain, at least as far as disabled passengers are concerned. Today I heard of repeated incidents where a wheelchair user was left helpless on an unmanned platform to watch as the train arrived and departed with no-one there to assist with ramps. The station was Hamden Park which is unmanned much of the day and the trains were driver only operated – an exceptional circumstance according to Southern but one that is becoming increasingly frequent. The Equality Act of 2010 specifically mentions ‘Duty of Care’ that service providers must offer service users. In other words if an individual buys or uses a service offered by a supplier then the supplier has a duty to ensure the transaction is honest, fair and safe. With that in mind it is a woeful neglect of duty for a public service like the railway to fail to accommodate a fare paying customer simply because the customer is disabled and requires assistance. Interestingly enough this us one element of the ongoing dispute between Southern and the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers Union (RMT). I have in my possession a letter from the Department of Transport who actually control Southern Rail unlike other franchises, and in response to an enquiry by another disabled passenger wherein it states that Southern Rail is required by law to comply with Disabled Person’s Protection Policy which sets out the level of service and facilities available to disabled passengers and those with reduced mobility. The letter goes on; “We take accessibility extremely seriously and we expect our industry partners to fulfil their obligations”. With many of the stations in our region being unmanned, onboard supervisors (OBS) formerly called guards, are surely there in part to assist the disabled and vulnerable should their journey involve access to such stations. The driver cannot be expected to leave his cab to help with ramps etc. so what happens when an OBS is not present? The OBS is there for safety reasons and able to conduct safe evacuation of the train should the need arise but Southern’s exceptional circumstances are not clearly defined. One must assume it means when only one member of staff is available so it must also be assumed this will be an unannounced situation thereby depriving the mobility impaired passenger the right to travel. No-one other than a Southern employee has keys for or permission to use the official ramps to access the train, so where is the duty of care in these circumstances? The Equality Act of 2010 is known to be weak and it proves to be totally worthless for mobility impaired passengers on Southern, I fear there will be many more instances where wheelchair passengers look on forlornly as their chosen train leaves without them or worse if they are on board, find it impossible to get off as happened to me once, but that’s another story!

May 2017

Riding in th WAV (wheelchair accessible vehicle)

For many people with a mobility impairing disability, using a wheelchair is often the only option. There are manually propelled wheelchairs for people with strong upper limbs or a willing helper to push and battery powered wheelchairs for greater independence. All very fine for pottering about the home and garden but even with electric chairs that offer easier travelling, visiting local shops and other nearby attractions can be quite arduous. With limited range even on level surfaces and travelling at 4mph, simply nipping down the shops can be very time consuming. Transferring to a carer’s car or a taxi as a passenger is an option but for a car owner who wants to drive – what do you do with the wheelchair once you’ve transferred? What do you do when your destination is reached? One answer could be a Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle or WAV. Available either through the Motability Scheme for higher rate mobility benefit recipients or available new or used from a number of manufacturers and specialist dealers these vehicles offer a mobility option worth considering. In their simplest form they are based on a commercial vehicle chassis with the load floor lowered and folding ramped access provided at the rear through an enlarged tailgate. In many instances rear seating is adapted to permit a wheelchair user to travel alongside the back seat passenger(s) but some retain their original seating and can still accommodate a wheelchair passenger. There are a multitude of adaptations that can be made to these vehicles suiting many diverse requirements users may have. Driving from a wheelchair is one option but the majority are built with wheelchair passengers in mind. I chose a Volkswagen Caddy Maxi that offers full seating for driver and four passengers plus a wheelchair passenger. Originally chosen with a view to me riding up front with my chair in the rear, it soon became the norm for me to travel in my wheelchair with ease of loading using the integral ramp being a major factor. The positives for this type of travel are easy to see but there are negatives the biggest being communication between driver and wheelchair passenger the difficulty being the level of road noise but there are other WAVs where the wheelchair is situated next to rear seat passengers further away from the tailgate and closer to the driver. These vehicles do not afford as much space as my Caddy but are arguably more comfortable over our increasingly potholed roads but it must be remembered that they are all commercial vehicles at heart and so employ stronger, less absorbent suspension. In summary WAVs are a way of getting out and about with or without your family as opposed to staying at home and not participating in everyday family life. With my electric wheelchair and WAV I am able to continue my passion for exploring stately homes, parks and gardens wherever they may be and it makes nipping to the shops just that, a nip rather than an expedition.

Written by Ian Westgate

April 2017

Safer road crossing …

“In today’s age there are so many pressure groups each pressuring Government and councils for their own special needs and requirements. How about for once we all look at our town and simply say “we are all people” we all need to rub along together in harmony, there, it’s that simple. Or, is it?  Eastbourne has a target of delivering a “quality environment”; most of us would assume that this applies to air quality and delivery of clean open spaces. What, however if we said that our urban environment is only any good if we can all access it freely without obstacles, hindrance or risk of injury (or perhaps even worse?). Within this environment do councils have a duty of care to ensure our walkways are retained as safe walkways? Are our crossings especially dropped kerbs well laid out, clearly marked and visible for all people to use in comfort and safety? Very few people would think that crossing a road is a problem or an issue. We can normally find a spot to cross or run across the road if required. What if you use a dropped kerb though? Many residents use dropped kerbs as a safe comfortable place to cross their local roads however there is a growing concern that many of these kerbs are so poorly laid out that they present a formidable danger to pedestrians in terms of potential injury or death. Dropped kerb sites are also of course essential for people that use wheelchairs, mobility scooters and other mobility aids. They are a preferred site for young children and parents to cross the roads. Yet astonishingly many of our dropped kerb sites in Eastbourne enable vehicles to be parked against the right hand side of the kerb. This practice robs pedestrians of their view to oncoming traffic (right hand side) completely. Pedestrians have to walk without full sight into the carriageway. Such a design also means drivers have little to no warning that pedestrians are entering the carriageway behind parked vehicles. This unsatisfactory situation is worsened when vehicles park across dropped kerbs thereby making safe road crossing impossible for mobility impaired pavement users but in defence of motorists it must be accepted that many dropped kerbs cannot easily be seen. Without the presence of coloured tactile paving from a vehicle a dropped kerb appears the same as a standard kerb. The difference in height is not immediately obvious and when the driver alights the vehicle the dropped kerb is on the passenger side and goes unseen. A simple and inexpensive option to assist both drivers and those crossing roads could be to paint a yellow line on the road immediately across the kerb and continuing about 1 metre to the side from which the traffic is approaching. Usually to the right as one stands facing the road but this idea would work equally well in one-way streets where traffic comes from the left. With £1m plus funding for walking and cycling just announced, set against the huge imbalance of funding EBC have provided to cycling surely some of this money could be spent ensuring dropped kerbs in Eastbourne are made safe for all residents, young or older that want to use them as a safe space to cross our busy road network.”

Written by Ray Blakebrough and Ian Westgate

February 2017

Living with an Incurable Disease

To be diagnosed with an incurable disease doesn’t necessarily mean you have a life threatening or terminal condition. There are many illnesses that have no cure, from life limiting cancers to the common cold. The very word incurable can strike dread into the minds of many receiving such a diagnosis but it need not because with careful management and positivity of mind in many cases life can continue virtually unaffected. It is often the attitude of others that can have the most profound effect. My personal circumstances were quite ordinary 30 years ago. I had a full time career, house and family just like millions of others but I did have something extra, a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. Initially, with no physical changes to my person I was stunned that the honest declaration of my ‘incurable’ should have such a dramatic effect on a thing like travel insurance and the like. Worse was to come though when a new manager made me redundant. Life was becoming a living hell, wholly unfair carrying label everywhere I went. It appeared I was being judged by what I had and not who I was and how I managed the symptoms. At that time even the Job Centre declared they couldn’t find a job because of my diagnosis so drawing a blank searching for a job myself and not wishing to deceive, I launched out in a new direction in the voluntary sector. Although financially difficult the redundancy package proved helpful in smoothing the transition from paid employment to voluntary work and I quickly began to realise why society needs volunteers. My MS was slowly worsening but I felt I still had something to offer and with support and encouragement from family and friends my confidence began to grow. I looked to the positives in my life, one of which is my stubbornness or determination as I like to call it. MS will not defeat me. It may affect my life necessitating adjustments large or small but with help I will overcome them if I can or learn to accommodate them if I cannot. I determined to manage my condition rather than be managed by it. It is often said “When one door closes another opens” and my opportunity came ten years ago when I was elected Chair of the Eastbourne Access Group, a community group of volunteers promoting Equality for All and helping to remove the barriers that disabled people encounter every day. I felt rejuvenated and began a personal mission to develop the Access Group from a re-active body reporting overhanging hedges and potholes in pavements to a proactive community group with a voice speaking on behalf of the estimated 10,000 people with impairment who live within the borough boundary. Ten years on I am delighted with progress and our Eastbourne Guide for Disabled People, website and Facebook page are becoming increasingly well received. There is more to do but my MS is slowing me down now. It has not defeated me but I recognise it is time to pass the baton. Are there any potential volunteers out there who share my passion? If so please get in touch at info@eastbourneaccessgroup.org.uk or give me a call on 0781 0317 185.

Written by Ian Westgate

January 2017

Invisible Disabilities

Generally seeing a person in a wheelchair, wearing a hearing aid, or carrying a white cane tells us a person may be disabled. But what about invisible disabilities that make daily living a bit more difficult for many people worldwide. Invisible Disability, or Hidden Disability, is an umbrella term that covers a whole spectrum of hidden disabilities or challenges that are primarily neurological in nature. People sometimes have difficulty understanding how symptoms such as extreme fatigue, dizziness, pain, and cognitive impairments can be so debilitating to anyone and can be met with hostility by society at large. Invisible disabilities can include chronic illnesses such as renal failure, diabetes, and sleep disorders if those diseases significantly impair normal activities of daily living. For example there are people with visual or auditory impairments who do not wear hearing aids or glasses so they may not seem to be obviously impaired. Those with joint conditions or problems who suffer chronic pain may not use any type of mobility aids on good days, or ever. Another example is Fibromyalgia which is now understood to be one of the most common causes of chronic musculoskeletal pain. Chronic pain can be experienced from a variety of conditions and some of these could be back problems, bone disease, physical injuries or any of other numerous reasons. Chronic pain may not be noticeable to people who do not understand the victim’s specific medical condition. Chronic Fatigue is a type of disability referring to an individual who constantly feels tired. This can be extremely debilitating and affect every aspect of a person’s everyday life. There are many mental illnesses that are regarded as disabilities; Examples including depression, attention deficit disorder, schizophrenia, agoraphobia, and many more. These diseases can also be completely debilitating to the victim, and can make performing everyday tasks extremely difficult, if not impossible.

Chronic Dizziness or vertigo, often associated with problems of the inner ear and can lead to impairment when walking, driving, working, sleeping, and other common tasks. Invisible disabilities can also include chronic illnesses such as renal failure, diabetes, and sleep disorders if those diseases significantly impair normal activities of daily living. If a medical condition does not impair normal activities, then it is not considered a disability. Approximately 96% of people with chronic medical conditions live with an illness that is invisible. Many people living with a hidden physical disability or mental challenge are still able to be active in their hobbies and work and also be active in sports. On the other hand, some struggle just to get through their day at work and some cannot work at all. People with some kinds of invisible disabilities, such as chronic pain or a sleep disorder, are often accused of faking or imagining their disabilities so please remember  that just because a disability isn’t visible that doesn’t mean it’s not real.

Written by Ian Westgate

November 2016

Spare a thought for the disabled this Christmas

The festive season is rapidly approaching, time is running out, there is so much to do and a diminishing amount of time available to do it. What is the usual human response to this? We speed up everything we do. Less downtime more haste on the roads and on pavements. It is noticeable that the faster we seek to move, the more obstacles and people we encounter that get in our way and hinder our progress. Why can’t everybody move at the same pace thereby preventing frustration, irritation and even anger? If this applies to you try taking a step back, let your blood pressure ease a little and ask yourself ‘Why are these people in my way?’ are they lost, confused, elderly or disabled in any way? Then imagine if it were you, how would you feel if you were experiencing uncertainty of any kind and everything around appeared to be happening on fast-forward. Spare a thought this Christmas for those less fortunate than yourself. People with arthritic joints or rheumatism who may be moving as quickly as they can but are still thought of as dawdling. Those with impaired vision uncertain of the speed and trajectory of others. Consider the pedestrian in front who might have impaired hearing and be unaware of your presence behind them. Using a stick for balance while negotiating the numerous pavement problems we have will slow progress massively as does trying to stand at a checkout with walking stick in one hand, paying and receiving change plus goods with the other. This is difficult enough but in a busy shopping environment momentary hesitation while deciding which direction to turn after being served to avoid walking straight into a fellow shopper is a great concern and can often be misinterpreted as obstructive dithering. Wheelchair shoppers need a little more space to turn as do folk with wheeled walking frames and mums with buggies. Save your toes – give them some room to manoeuvre. To those in a hurry I would remind them no one sets out to be obstructive and deliberately get in anyone’s way. Simply remember that any pne or a combination of a myriad of physical or medical conditions can happen to anyone at any time. Whether it is by injury, disease or congenital degeneration, impairment or disability is not a lifestyle choice. In many cases it just happens!  Spare a thought for those who in the face of adversity do their best to integrate in an unfair world and live their lives as anyone else does. There used to be places to sit and take a breather without having to buy a coffee or muffin but there are few left now. And a final thought – we should all be Disability Aware and not let haste become impatience, especially when driving home with our gifts and goodies.

Written by Ian Westgate

October 2016

The work of Eastbourne Disability Involvement Group EDIG

Eastbourne’s Disability Involvement Group (EDIG) was formed in February 2007 with representation invited local community groups focussing on a similar purpose, namely to help Eastbourne become and be recognised as, a ‘Disabled Friendly Town ‘ where equality and inclusion are integral with everything Eastbourne represents. EDIG members help Eastbourne Borough Council with their disability equality work and provide advice and guidance around access and what life is like in Eastbourne if you are a disabled person.  Their feedback and commitment is invaluable. Currently EDIG has representation from: Eastbourne Blind Society, Sussex Oakleaf, Eastbourne Access Group, JPK Project (Learning Disabilities) , British Limbless Ex-Servicemen Association (BLESMA), The Chaseley Trust, Eastbourne Shopmobility, DeafCOG , Hearing Link, and Multiple Sclerosis Society – Eastbourne and South Wealden Branch.  It also has a number of disabled people representing themselves. EDIG members provide advice to other agencies and recently have been consulted on a wide range of issues including: Shared spaces and surfaces in the town centre and along the seafront, disabled access to public rights of way and Sussex Countryside. The redevelopment of the town centre and Devonshire Park are projects where EDIG is currently liaising with developers and architects to ensure people with impairment are not excluded by man-made obstacles physical or sensory. East Sussex Better Together – the merger of Adult Social Care and public health is another area where EDIG members are actively pursuing a policy of equality and inclusion. DIG members also organise events marking particular days such as the International Day of Disabled Persons and wider events such as the Disability Roadshow, which is now incorporated into the Good Life Show in September at the Winter Gardens. The practical knowledge and experience brought to EDIG by it’s members is extensive. The knowledge of difficulties and obstacles experienced by disabled people or those with impairment is in the majority of cases, from firsthand experience. The concept of EDIG in having both disabled and non-disabled people works tremendously well in practice bringing strong, well informed comment into Eastbourne’s mission to be a premier resort when it comes to ‘Disabled friendly’ facilities and features. There is still a long way to go but with EDIG, one of the first disability/local council forums in the south, Eastbourne is well set to become an accessible Victorian resort. EDIG’; mission to represent the views of disabled people in Eastbourne and obtain equality for all disabled people by sharing information in the spirit of education and learning and advising on improved access to services in Eastbourne is being realised. EDIG is determined to help shape future service delivery in Eastbourne – not to make the mistakes of the past in relation to disabled people. If you are a disabled person living in Eastbourne, or are a member of an organisation that you think should be represented at this group, please contact equality@eastbourne.gov.uk or 01323 415694 for further information.                                                                                 Written by Ian Westgate

September 2016

Pitfalls of autumn for people with disabilities

Autumn is here and the leaves on the trees and bushes are changing colour, soon to fall to the ground.” So what” you may say, “It happens every year” and in most cases they are harmless. It’s on pathways and parkland where dog walkers frequent that the problems arise. Most dog owners are responsible and clean up after their dogs on pavements where pedestrians walk and children cycle, but in parks they tend not to. Imagine for a moment you are partially sighted or worse. Can you distinguish between a few dead leaves and a pile of dog poo! Probably not until you’ve trodden in it. How would you know if you’ve wiped it off completely? Imagine further what it must be like for a wheelchair user whose wheels cannot be removed before they go indoors. How will they clean their wheels without a helper present and what happens to their carpets? Dog owners please think of others when walking your dog and always take a scoop and bag for use not only on paved areas but also on grass paths where people walk. If you have forgotten your pooper-scooper then please move your dog off the pathway before the event occurs. Of course leaves don’t only mask unpleasant things like dog faeces they can lodge in a void where a paving brick or slab is broken or missing and where a visually impaired or frail person’s walking cane could catch causing a stumble or fall. These should be reported before an injury occurs.

Autumn is also a time for tidying hedges and shrubs before winter but in many cases the outside face of hedges are allowed to encroach upon an adjacent pathway. Left unchecked this can seriously affect everyone walking past especially disabled people using walking canes or wheelchairs/mobility scooters. Having to take to the road to pass overgrown hedges or branches overhanging walls is never a safe option and can be particularly frustrating if there are no dropped kerbs nearby. The situation can be even worse for a blind or visually impaired person who may unwittingly walk into a tangle of branches at head height. I remember being told an alarming tale by a blind friend whose guide dog walked harmlessly under some overhanging vegetation leaving my friend to discover their presence only as a heavy bramble dragged across his face. Autumn brings gloomier afternoons and darker evenings to so there is a lot to be said in favour of high-viz waistcoats, they are very cheap and can save your life. Either worn when walking or slipped over the backrest of a scooter/wheelchair seat it will give motorists a chance of seeing you should obstructions cause a diversion into the road. Motorists please help too by not parking on pavements or obstructing a dropped kerb. Both actions are traffic offences and you risk prosecution if you do.                                                                                  Written by Ian Westgate

August 2016

There Is Still a Long Way To Go

Nearly everyone faces hardships and difficulties at one time or another but for people with disabilities barriers can be more frequent and have greater impact. Barriers can be more than just physical obstacles. There are many factors in a person’s environment that through their absence or presence can create disability. These include physical barriers such as steps and kerbs that block a person with mobility impairment from entering a building or using a footway. A physical environment that is not accessible with lack of relevant assistive feature or adaptations like hearing loops, clear signage and other rehabilitative features can be equally frustrating. Access to public toilets, as covered in Disability Today March 18th 2016, is a huge consideration for everyone, young or old, disabled or not, we all need them sometimes.

Negative attitudes of people towards disability can be as much of an obstacle as a brick wall to a disabled person but in most cases the simplest of solutions can be found by open-mindedness and acceptance of everyone’s personal right to fairness and inclusion in society. People with disabilities are sometimes stereotyped with the assumption that their quality of life is poor or that they are unhealthy because of their impairments. Attitudinal barriers are the most basic and contribute to other barriers for example, some people may not be aware that difficulties in getting to or into a place can limit a person with a disability from participating in everyday life and common daily activities. Some people may see disability as a personal tragedy, as something that needs to be cured or even as a punishment for wrongdoing.

Today, society’s understanding of disability is improving as we recognize ‘disability’ as what occurs when a person’s functional needs are not addressed in his or her physical and social environment. By not considering disability a personal deficit or shortcoming and instead thinking of it as a social responsibility in which all people can be supported to live independent and full lives, it becomes easier to recognise and address challenges that all people – including those with disabilities – experience.

Communication barriers are experienced by people who have disabilities that affect hearing, speaking, reading, writing, and/or understanding, and who use different ways to communicate such as Braille. Written messages with barriers that prevent people with vision impairments accessing can easily be avoided by not using small print or by having large print copies available. Auditory messages may be inaccessible to people with hearing impairments and videos that do not include captioning, and a reduction of technical language, long sentences, and words with many syllables will help overcome significant barriers to understanding for people with cognitive impairments.

Service providers and the services they offer can often hinder the involvement of disabled people by presenting multiple barriers that can make it extremely difficult or even impossible for people with disabilities to use. Policy barriers are frequently related to a lack of awareness or enforcement of existing laws and regulations that require programmes and activities be accessible to people with disabilities.

Transport barriers are often due to a lack of adequate transport that can accommodate a person’s impairment whether it be mobility, visual or hearing affecting their ability to be independent. Lack of access to accessible or convenient transport for people who are not able to drive and public transport being unavailable or at inconvenient locations can severely affect social interaction for a disabled person.

As previously stated, today’s society is improving but there is still a long way to go. We can all help hasten this improvement by adopting an ‘Equality and Inclusion for All’ attitude in everything we do.

                                                                                                       Written by Ian Westgate