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British rail stations on track for £300 million funding boost to improve disabled access

March 2019

In a great move for accessibility and inclusivity, disabled rail passengers in Britain will soon benefit from better access at train stations thanks to a £300 million government investment.

Transport Minister Nusrat Ghani has announced that over the next five years journeys will be opened up across the country as improvements (including footbridges and lifts) make it easier for disabled people to travel on the UK’s rail networks.

Ms Ghani said; “Transport is vital for connecting people with work, friends and family, but also to enable them to enjoy visiting some of the wonderful cultural, historical and natural sites across the UK. We want the 13.9 million disabled people in Britain to be empowered to travel independently, which is why I am delighted to announce this roll-out of upgrades across the rail network. Over the next five years these newly accessible stations will open up routes across the country, helping us move closer to a transport sector that is truly accessible.”

The Government announced a total of 73 train stations will benefit from a share of the £300 million Access for All funding in the latest move towards a fully inclusive transport network which will make it easier for disabled people to use more of the rail network. These improvements will form part of the Department for Transport’s Inclusive Transport Strategy which was published in 2018.

Other stations will also see smaller improvements such as the introduction of tactile paving on platform edges or adjustable ticket counters. These upgrades will help allow disabled passengers to travel more easily and with more confidence.

The Access for All programme was launched in 2006 and has so far delivered more than 200 accessible routes into selected stations. In addition, 1,500 stations have received smaller improvements such as accessible toilets, platform humps to reduce stepping distances and upgrades to help those with visual or hearing impairments.

Keith Richards, Chair of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, said; “The Access for All programme has already delivered significant improvements in access to rail travel for disabled people over the past 13 years. It’s crucial to continually build on that. The announcement is very welcome and must go hand-in-hand with clear and practical information to ensure that disabled people are aware of what improvements have been made, and that more travel options are now possible as a result.”

This announcement is fantastic news and is a very important step closer to creating a rail network in the UK that is more accessible for disabled people and wheelchair users. The Inclusive Transport Strategy in 2006 set an ambitious but exciting target for the transport system to offer equal access by 2030 and to make travel easier for disabled people. Recently we have seen many stories from wheelchair users who have experienced difficulty in accessibility and using public transport so hopefully this funding will soon bring an end to these issues. We look forward to seeing the upgrades at these stations across the UK soon.

Selma Blair Makes First Public Appearance Since Being Diagnosed with MS at the Oscars

February 2019

Actress Selma Blair walked the Oscars’ red carpet this week as her first public appearance since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) last year.

Last October, the actress famous for roles in films such as Cruel Intentions and Hellboy announced on Instagram that she has been suffering from chronic disease multiple sclerosis (MS) which affects the nervous system. Selma revealed that she thinks she may have been suffering from the neurological disease for at least 15 years but was only diagnosed last year when she fell in front of a doctor who was investigating a supposed pinched nerve.

The Oscars were Selma’s first public appearance since her diagnosis and she dazzled onlookers in her multi-coloured Ralph & Russo gown with matching cape. She also had her trusty cane – that is becoming a familiar addition on her Instagram account – as one of the symptoms of MS is a loss of balance and difficulty walking.

In her Instagram post, Selma wrote: “I am disabled. I fall sometimes. I drop things. My memory is foggy. And my left side is asking for directions from a broken GPS. But we are doing it. And I laugh and I don’t know exactly what I will do precisely but I will do my best.”

View this post on Instagram

I was in this wardrobe fitting two days ago. And I am in the deepest gratitude. So profound, it is, I have decided to share. The brilliant costumer #Allisaswanson not only designs the pieces #harperglass will wear on this new #Netflix show , but she carefully gets my legs in my pants, pulls my tops over my head, buttons my coats and offers her shoulder to steady myself. I have #multiplesclerosis . I am in an exacerbation. By the grace of the lord, and will power and the understanding producers at Netflix , I have a job. A wonderful job. I am disabled. I fall sometimes. I drop things. My memory is foggy. And my left side is asking for directions from a broken gps. But we are doing it . And I laugh and I don’t know exactly what I will do precisely but I will do my best. Since my diagnosis at ten thirty pm on The night of August 16, I have had love and support from my friends , especially @jaime_king @sarahmgellar @realfreddieprinze @tarasubkoff . My producers #noreenhalpern who assured me that everyone has something. #chrisregina #aaronmartin and every crew member... thank you. I am in the thick of it but I hope to give some hope to others. And even to myself. You can’t get help unless you ask. It can be overwhelming in the beginning. You want to sleep. You always want to sleep. So I don’t have answers. You see, I want to sleep. But I am a forthcoming person and I want my life to be full somehow. I want to play with my son again. I want to walk down the street and ride my horse. I have MS and I am ok. But if you see me , dropping crap all over the street, feel free to help me pick it up. It takes a whole day for me alone. Thank you and may we all know good days amongst the challenges. And the biggest thanks to @elizberkley who forced me to see her brother #drjasonberkley who gave me this diagnosis after finding lesions on that mri. I have had symptoms for years but was never taken seriously until I fell down in front of him trying to sort out what I thought was a pinched nerve. I have probably had this incurable disease for 15 years at least. And I am relieved to at least know. And share.

Seeing Selma on the red carpet of such a highly publicised event helps to give a public platform to multiple sclerosis and will hopefully help to raise awareness of the chronic disease and to educate people on the symptoms and treatment available to them.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a disease that affects almost three times as many women as it does men. Around 100,000 people in the UK are known to have the illness and it is most commonly diagnosed between the ages of 30 and 60.

MS is a neurological disease that affects the brain, spinal cord and immune system. The incurable disease attacks a substance called myelin which coats and protects the nerve fibres in the central nervous system. Myelin helps messages to travel between the brain and the rest of the body. The damage caused by MS disrupts messages travelling along nerve fibres and can slow them down, distort them or prevent them from getting through entirely.

Once diagnosed, MS stays with you for life but treatment and specialists can help you to manage the condition and its symptoms.

Initial symptoms of multiple sclerosis includes:

-          Extreme fatigue

-          Numbness or tingling in arms, legs, hands or feet

-          Blurred eyesight or seeing double

-          Feeling dizzy and having issues with balance

-          Difficulty walking

-          Problems with talking or swallowing

For more information about MS, visit the NHS or the MS Society.

At Able2 Wear we offer a range of wheelchair clothing that be suitable for anyone suffering from MS.

New Inclusive Range of Barbies Released by Mattel

February 2019

A new range of the hugely popular Barbie dolls has just been released with exciting new additions including a doll who is in a wheelchair and another with a prosthetic leg.

US-based Mattel announced the new additions to its Fashionista line together with Barbies with different skin tones, body shapes and braided hairstyles. Over the past few years, Barbie’s creators have been adding to their world-renowned range to make the toys more inclusive and representative of different women but these new additions are the first dolls to portray visible disabilities. The toy manufacturing giant hopes this new range will help to normalise disability.

The first Barbie was originally launched in 1959 and in that time the range has developed to become more inclusive. In a press release, Mattel said; “As a brand, we can elevate the conversation around physical disabilities by including them into our fashion doll line to further showcase a multi-dimensional view of beauty and fashion. Over the years the line has evolved to be more reflective of the world girls see around them. We’re excited to expand our offerings as the most diverse and inclusive doll line in the world.”

Paralympian and wheelchair racing world champion, Hannah Cockcroft MBE, recently tweeted a photo of her as a child with the ‘Share a Smile Becky’ doll which was released in the US in 1997 as Barbie’s new wheelchair-using best friend. Hannah’s mum managed to source this doll and Hannah said it made her wheelchair acceptable to her for the first time.

Although the doll was very popular and sold out within the first two weeks of release, the doll was pulled from the shelves as consumers soon realised that Becky and her wheelchair didn’t fit inside Barbie’s dream house. However, with this recent re-release the doll isn’t a spin-off, she is part of the Barbie line.

Hannah welcomes the new doll and in an article on the Metro said; “[The doll] can be active, it can be stylish, and it can be independent; it doesn’t have to be big, heavy wheelchairs or a lifetime of being pushed around. Her redesign has her showing off a blue and chrome, self-propelled, low backed, sporty wheelchair, making her fashionable and desirable, instead of resembling something from the dark ages.”

It's so encouraging to see this new range of dolls from Barbie and Mattel. We hope these dolls will help make children who use wheelchairs feel included as they see dolls with the same wheelchairs and prosthetics they have. We also hope that for children who don’t use wheelchairs, these dolls will help to educate and show them that some children do. Either way, it’s great to see disabled people more fairly and realistically represented in this way. Long may it continue!

New Emojis Include People With Disabilities

February 2019

Disability rights campaigners have welcomed the introduction of new accessibility-themed emojis.

The new emoji characters include hearing aids, wheelchairs, prosthetic limbs, white ‘probing’ canes and guide dogs.

The Unicode Consortium developed this new range of emojis for their most recent emoji roll-out following a number of complaints to technology giant Apple from people who were concerned there were no emojis portraying disabled people.

Phil Talbot from disability charity Scope, said: “Social media is hugely influential and it’s great to see these new disability-inclusive emojis.”

It also shows another great step forward in achieving greater representation of disabled people and disability in the popular mainstream media. One in seven people in the world have some form of disability so it’s great to see these people finally represented in this way.

In total 230 new emojis feature in the latest release from Unicode and, as well as the new accessibility-themed emojis, there are also new emojis depicting a rickshaw, a sari, a finger-pinching hand, and a parachutist, plus many more.

These new emojis should be available for most smartphone users later this year.

Accessibility Proves An Obstacle But Attitudes Are Changing

February 2019

A travel firm has recently announced plans to offer the first-ever wheelchair accessible tour of Machu Picchu. The Inca site in Peru has always been considered off-limits to traditional wheelchair users due to its rough terrain, steps and narrow walkways. However, tour operator, Wheel the World, have developed a way to visit the Unesco site by using a special foldable trekking-style wheelchair.

This exciting news comes the same week it was reported that a wheelchair user was unable to access an Ikea café in Reading. Nigel Brown who visited the store in January said the majority of the store was “fine and quite accessible” but he struggled to wheel himself in his manual wheelchair through the barriers in the café and his friend, who uses a powered wheelchair, could not get through at all. A spokesperson for Ikea said; “We are naturally disappointed that we have not lived up to Mr Brown’s needs as a wheelchair user. We will take Mr Brown’s feedback for the future as we continue to improve the accessibility of our stores.”

Unfortunately Mr Brown’s experience is not an anomaly and we regularly read articles about wheelchair users having difficulty accessing shops, transport or other buildings or areas, or sometimes being refused access altogether.

However, with the fantastic news from Wheel the World, it does appear that attitudes are changing around accessibility. Automotive leader Ford have recently reinvented its traditional car mat and transformed it into a lightweight, portable and smart ramp for disabled drivers to help tackle inaccessible public spaces. The ‘Accessibility Mat’ was initially developed in Brazil in an effort to help wheelchair users negotiate inaccessible areas such as pavements without drop curbs or potholed roads. This innovative product can easily be carried on the back of a wheelchair.

Not content with that, Ford also made the mat ‘smart’ by incorporating technology and allowing the mat to connect to the wheelchair user’s smartphone via Bluetooth. When the wheelchair user uses the device, the mat gathers data on the location and highlights places where disabled access needs to be improved and flags it to local authorities.

Although this revolutionary device is not yet available in the UK, the project shows that steps are being taken to improve accessibility for wheelchair users to help create a more accessible and inclusive society.

Find out more about the new Accessibility Mat from Ford in this short video:

Accessibility Mat from Vico Benevides on Vimeo.

British soaps lead the way in disability representation

January 2019

Over the past few years, there have been significant steps taken to make the world a more inclusive society but one area that has always struggled to fairly represent disability is the TV and film industry.

Earlier this month, directors of The Upside faced a backlash for casting Bryan Cranston as the lead actor playing a character in a wheelchair.

Many people were angry that an able-bodied man was chosen instead of a disabled actor when there are many talented disabled actors in the industry.

However, while this may be one case of the TV and film industry arguably not fairly representing disabled people, British soaps are leading the way in disability representation.

Over the past few years, there have been more and more disabled characters with interesting storylines and, better still, disabled actors are playing in these roles.

In Eastenders, Donna Yates was played by actress Lisa Hammond who suffers from pseudoachondroplasia and joint hypermobility. Donna was a regular on the show between 2014 and 2018 and was a popular character with complex storylines.

James Moore is an actor and disability rights activist with cerebral palsy who recently won a National Television Award for Best Newcomer for his portrayal of Ryan Stocks on Emmerdale, another popular British soap. Fans have been sharing their excitement of James winning the award with many calling him a ‘legend’ and an ‘inspiration’ on social media. James said; “For Emmerdale to take on someone with a disability shows the progression we need in this day and age.”

While moments like this show there is progress being made, the British TV industry still has a long way to go in becoming truly inclusive and making this more of a norm. In 2018, a report by the Creative Diversity Network showed that disabled people make up between just 5.6% and 6.5% of on-screen talent (depending on genre). With 13.9 million people living with a disability in the UK, these figures show they are not yet being fairly represented on screen.

How disabled people could be affected in the case of a No-Deal Brexit

January 2019

With the date the UK is scheduled to leave the EU (29th March 2019) ever-advancing, the Government has published a series of papers on how the UK will cope in the event of a no-deal.

While a potential deal is still being debated in parliament, there are fears the UK could leave the EU without a deal at the end of March. While many are happy with this scenario and would prefer a no-deal to a bad one, there is no doubt a no-deal Brexit could drastically affect the UK.

The Government has already announced it will set a new budget if it is unable to reach a Brexit deal with the EU and next March’s Spring Statement could be upgraded to a full Budget.

Disabled people make up one in five of the UK population and will be affected in specific ways by policy and legislative change following the UK’s decision to leave the EU – and yet disability has barely been mentioned in public and policy debate on the implications of Brexit.

A Brexit manifesto from Disability Rights UK outlines six main topics for discussion that will affect disabled people in the event of a no-deal Brexit – topics that need to be discussed now.

These topics include:

-          Disabled people’s priorities in society (including accessibility and funding)

-          EU disability law and policy

-          Embedding disability rights in the UK (and devolved) law and policy

-          Funding for research and services

-          Freedom of movement of people

-          Strategies for influence

The report from Disability Rights UK indicates a need for the disability sector, working with others, to re-frame the Brexit debate and put disability rights at its heart.

Read the full report here.

Inter-abled couple break down disability stigma with YouTube channel

January 2019

A disabled man and his non-disabled girlfriend have used their popular YouTube channel to help dispel the stigma surrounding their relationship.

Shane Burcaw who has Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) and uses a wheelchair, and Hannah Aylward have been together for three years.

The couple began their YouTube channel six months ago and have gained a huge following on the social media platform now broadcasting to more than 166,000 subscribers (and counting). The intro to their channel reads: ‘Once upon a time, a boy with no muscles fell madly in love with a beautiful girl who had plenty of muscle to spare. The townsfolk gasped with horror at the sight of their disgusting inter-abled relationship, but they didn’t care.’

In one of their popular videos, Shane said: “I just really want to dispel the idea that Hannah is locked here in the apartment with her nurse scrubs on taking care of me…it’s not like that. We both have our own lives and that’s what’s cool about our relationship. We are just supporting each other in our own lives and then doing stuff together as well.”

Hannah adds that when people see them in public, they assume she is Shane’s carer. She said: “Strangers assume I’m not his girlfriend. When people at a restaurant see us acting like a couple, people have come up and been like ‘this just warms my heart, this is so beautiful.’”

When asked about the motivation for setting up their YouTube channel, Shane said; “It came from the annoyance at how people out in the public are so rude about my disability and our relationship. People will talk slowly to me – they always assume I’m a child, and even when they learn that I’m an adult that can talk, they still direct everything to Hannah as if I can’t make decisions.”

“So I think our purpose…was to just show the world that having a relationship with someone that has a physical disability is not like this bizarre impossible thing. It’s very normal.”

Following their successful YouTube channel, the couple have been inundated with positive comments and in particular they’ve received solidarity from other inter-abled couples who identify with the issues they discuss in their videos.

See Shane and Hannah’s YouTube channel, Squirmy and Grubs, here.

Wedding dress shop praised for featuring mannequin in wheelchair

January 2019

A disabled woman has praised a wedding dress shop in Portishead, Bristol for featuring a mannequin in a wheelchair in its shop window.

Beth Wilson, who has used a wheelchair for the past five years, spotted the window display at The White Collection Bridal Boutique while out shopping and shared a photo on Twitter which has since gone viral. Social media users and news outlets across the world have praised the wedding dress shop for its inclusive display which is not often seen on the high street.

While there have been many moves in recent years to make society more inclusive for disabled people and wheelchair users, there is still a long way to go but shops such as The White Collection Bridal Boutique are showing how simple it is to do.

Beth said; “I think most disabled people experience inaccessibility often when they go out – I know I do. Pretty much every time I go anywhere. The world isn’t designed for us.”

“This is the first time I’ve seen a wheelchair in a shop window like this (mobility shops not included) and it was so surprising to see and made me feel represented.”

According to disability charity Scope, there are approximately 13.9 million people in the UK who are disabled. Unfortunately many may feel they are ignored by many brands and the media as they don’t often see themselves represented.

Laura Allen co-owns The White Collection Bridal Boutique with her sister Sarah Parker. They said the decision to include a wheelchair in their window display was a simple one – “we didn’t really think too much about it.”

“We are delighted that our window display is getting such positive feedback.”

To date, Beth’s tweet has had more than 8,100 retweets and 36,000 likes and has been picked up by media outlets across the world.

It’s fantastic to see the reaction this has had and we are delighted to see The White Collection Bridal Boutique are leading the way in providing an inclusive experience for wheelchair users and disabled people. We hope to see this becoming the norm rather than the exception in the not too distant future.

Councils failing to tackle blue badge abuse as number of thefts rise

January 2019

In a report published at the end of last year, it has been revealed there has been a significant rise in blue badge theft and worryingly most councils are failing to prosecute motorists for misusing these permits.

Of the 152 English local authorities surveyed, 94 (62%) did not pursue anyone for abusing the blue badge scheme. Similar research conducted two years ago found 40% of councils were failing to clamp down on this issue suggesting blue badge abuse is getting worse. Sadly, almost every case involving the 1,215 prosecutions that were investigated last year involved drivers using someone else’s blue badge. Shockingly, the number of blue badges reportedly stolen has increased by 45% in the past year.

Phil Talbot of disability charity Scope said; “Stealing blue badges isn’t a crime without consequences. They are a vital lifeline for those who genuinely need them.”

Blue badges are available to adults who are disabled or have a health condition that affects their mobility (or for those who care for a child with these conditions). The scheme allows blue badge holders to park free of charge in pay and display bays and for up to three hours on yellow lines. Blue badge holders driving in London are also exempt from the congestion charge. Blue badges are used by approximately 2.4 million disabled people in England. Those who are convicted of misusing a blue badge face fines of up to £1,000.

The reasons for the disparity in convictions and prosecutions from councils can be due to the different levels of pressure on parking in the area but is also as a result of councils’ tight budgets. Following various spending cuts, councils are finding their available budgets are significantly lower than in previous years. Councils have tough decisions to make when it comes to effectively allocating their budgets every year. This, coupled with the time-consuming and expensive nature of pursuing these perpetrators, sadly leads to many going unchallenged.

Last year, the blue badge scheme was adapted to allow people with hidden disabilities to be eligible for blue badges. These changes mean people with conditions such as autism and dementia could be entitled to parking permits. Approximately 75% of blue badge holders say they would go out less frequently if they did not have their blue badge.

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