Month: Aug 2016

Disabled Daredevils

Disabled Daredevils airs on Channel 4 on Tuesday 30th August 2016 at 11.05pm and features one of our founders, Paula Moulton.  Here’s her story of how she got involved.

 

“If you’re told often enough you can’t do something you will start to believe it.  It’s time though we start to focus on ability and normalise disability”

Roll back to December 2014 when I had a random request to speak to someone about an upcoming documentary on extreme sports. This seemed a bit odd as I’ve never considered wheelchair dance sport “extreme”, other than the odd time you might fall out of your wheelchair from time to time or Gary has slipped and accidentally kicked me on the head – but you can hardly call that extreme!

I was then asked “if you were allowed to do any extreme sport what would you like to do?”.  My response was downhill mountain biking that was all, although there’s things that I know I wouldn’t be able to do like bungee jumping and skydiving as I’ve been told “you can’t” in the past.

Roll forward to August 2015 and suddenly I was meeting up with a group of strangers, all with various physical disabilities, for a week-long adventure doing extreme sports – but the scariest thing was, none of us had any idea what sports were going to be thrown at us!

The challenges

It was a challenge in itself getting 8 people all with different needs to the same location for the same time, complete with multiple wheelchairs, hoists, walkers, spare limbs and of course our Pas, never mind a film crew with all their kit!

The gang assembled were; a mouth painter called Bazza, actors Jenna and Kain, wheelchair fitness instructor Kris, model and campaigner Gemma, Motocross fanatic Billy, football and travel mad Caroline and me – a wheelchair dancer and campaigner.

So what did they have planned for us, how would we do these things, had our GPs and consultants signed our permissions?  So often there’s so much red tape and health and safety issues it’s not worth the pain of even attempting extreme sports.

Harnessed up for bungee jumpThe first day found us being swung on a giant swing over a quarry then zip wired over the flooded quarry to finish jumping (or being thrown) in for a swim!

Quickly we all realised that some things were becoming common…lots of body harnesses, wetsuits and the prospect of a week of early starts!

More sports followed throughout the week with water skiing, bungee jumping and the final big challenge – a freefall skydive!

Personally, for me, the challenge that terrified me the most was the bungee jump.  I didn’t in a million years expect that I’d be allowed or able to do it.  How wrong could I be!  My consultant signed me off with the message “Don’t worry if you break yourself we can mend you!”  Whilst giving me confidence that it wasn’t going to kill me I was still terrified being hoisted up in a cradle over Bristol Quayside to be dropped on a big rubber band!

But, I did it!  With lots of encouragement from the gang below I was bouncing around on the end of the bungee rope.  It was an awesome experience, and so happy I did it, but it’s one that I wouldn’t repeat, unlike the sky dive which I can’t wait to do again!

Despite the extreme sports and the efforts the teams went to so we could take part, we came down to earth with a bump when ironically we could not get in to a restaurant one night (even though it was booked as a party with several wheelchair users) – their idea of a ramp was a flimsy piece of wood with a step on the other side of the doorway!

Being Normal

Actually the whole week was pretty ’normal’.  We took part in adrenaline sports, made new friends, had a few drinks, danced, played silly games, shared stories and swapped tips dreams and desires.  All pretty normal things for time away on any break, the only difference was our bodies.  However, we all had something else in common, that we were beginning to feel we could conquer anything!

Sometimes the world can be unforgiving and you can get bogged down in the day to day things, whether it be issues with care or getting around and facing access needs.  This trip reinforced that we can do it.

It’s always a bit of a downer when people say you can’t do that or call you “inspirational” because you’ve got on a bus on your own – sorry, but I’ve been doing that for years, just like you.  I think you get blinkered by society treating you as an inspiration for the slightest little thing and you forget sometimes that you truly do do things that are inspirational.

Now being called inspirational because you’ve skydived or bungee jumped; I think we could all accept that.

What the week did make several of us realise, was not to let other people’s perceptions of what you can and can’t do define you.  And a simple thing that it is okay to need more support and that accepting that support does not make you less able, it helps you focus your energy on the things that matter.

The Future

SkydivingWould I be one of the “Disabled Daredevils” again?  Yes, in an instant!

Words cannot explain what this trip meant to me. I think we all went home and slept for a week and had bruises on bruises, but it was so worth it.

There are extreme activities I still want to do – including winter sports, even though I hate the cold!  I also like the idea of bigger zip wires and downhill adaptive mountain biking.  In honesty, I want to push my limits while I can!

Most importantly I want to do this for me.  I no longer feel the need to qualify to anyone else whether I’m an “inspiration” or not.

 

 

Main photo credit: Richard Ansett/C4

Train travel as a wheelchair user

Whether local or national, rail is a simple way to get from A to B without the stress of driving or flying and like all other travel it’s best if you do some preparation before your journey (but much less than flying!).  Here’s our tips on Wheelchair train travel.

Cost

Rail travel in the UK can be relatively inexpensive by combing offers and the use of rail cards. For example, the Disabled Adult Railcard firstly gives you a discount, and then allows for a second person to travel at the same rate.    This discount is currently 1/3 off. Booking online is easiest to get the best available fares and pick up tickets at the station.

 

If you are a wheelchair user and stay in your own chair for the journey you automatically qualify for a discount without having a railcard, but this is only on Anytime fares (these are the highest fares) and only available in person at the station.  So it is worth buying a Railcard if you travel more than 3-4 times a year.

Non Railcard Discounts available on adult Anytime fares*

First Class / Standard Single or Day Single or Return         34%

First Class / Standard Day Return                                             50%

*Sometimes it may be cheaper to buy an undiscounted Off-peak or Advance ticket.

*Correct at August 2016

Booking Assistance

Assistance can be arranged from the taxi rank to the train in one phone call, and at your destination they will make sure you are taken to the appropriate pickup point in the station.  Assistance, in theory, can be arranged for nearly every manned station and some unmanned stations within the UK, but in some rural stations the support can be more hit and miss.

If you are buying your tickets with Virgin Trains you can simply phone the Assistance Team direct and purchase your ticket and book assistance in one step.  With other companies, buy your ticket online and then phone and book assistance from the relevant train company’s Assistance Team.

What you need to know

They will ask you a series of questions such as how you plan to arrive and leave the station?  If you need assistance from the taxi rank/drop off point?  Will you need the ramp to board the train?  Will you be travelling in your wheelchair?  That’s really it.

When you arrive at the station you either meet the staff at the designated spot of make yourself known to a member of staff and they will make sure you get on the train.

On the train

Accessible train toiletIt’s always useful to get the train manger to phone ahead to your destination station to make sure that they know you are coming.  Mistakes do happen so it’s also useful to have a mobile phone on you. The accessible wheelchair spaces on the trains are usually by the accessible bathrooms.  These bathrooms are usually snug, not as tight as on a plane but certainly not big enough for a hoist or someone to be easily able to assist you, so plan ahead.  You can however easily get an average manual or power chair in.

Refreshments – bring your own unless you know there is a trolley service or you are travelling with a companion.  The buffet car can be far away and the aisles are not wheelchair accessible for you to get down the train.  Some train managers will be helpful enough and go for you.

 

 

Equipment

You can travel in manual, or most power wheelchairs or with most walking aids/frames.  It’s best to check with individual train companies about Scooters as they vary in size and don’t always fit in the wheelchair space or can be too big/heavy for the ramps.

Who you going to call?

Booking Assistance – Book online with Virgin or for all companies

Phone numbers for the train companies can be found here.

 

 

 

 

We are moving

This week Strictly Wheels move our weekly Wheelchair Dance Classes to the more modern facilities at Trinity Sports Centre.

The new facilities based at Trinity High School, just outside the city centre are larger to give our dancers the chance spread out and use a big floor area to improve their skills for dancing.

We’ll be using the “Gym”, a large purpose built sports hall but there are also dance studio facilities with mirrors at the venue for those important competition routines!

We are very excited to make Trinity Sports Centre the home for Wheelchair Dance Sport in Manchester and the training centre for our top Team GB athletes, Paula and Gary.

Paula said “It’s great to have a modern facility that is fully accessible and a great floor to dance on!”

Our Wheelchair Dance Classes run every Wednesday from 7.30pm – 9pm and are open to all abilities – most of our dancers are beginners who are learning to dance for fun and some are working towards their first competition – the UK National Championship in October.

Make sure you check our Events pages to see when the next class is on.

The address for classes is: Trinity Sports Centre, Cambridge Street, Manchester M15 6HP

Flying as a wheelchair user

Is flying as a wheelchair user really the horror that people say?

We’ve all heard the bad stories about flying when you use a wheelchair, however is it really that bad?  Can the horror of flying be avoided and how do you do your best to make sure you, and your wheelchair, arrive in one piece at your destination?

Preparation is the key and starts before you book your flight – make sure you know the following:

  1. Dimensions of your wheelchair – height, width (and the same if it folds)
  2. Weight of your wheelchair
  3. If you use a power chair the type of batteries and how to disconnect them

 

Why do you need to know this before you fly – simply – if your wheelchair doesn’t fit in the luggage hold or allocated space in the cargo hold of the type of aircraft on that route, your chair cannot travel.  Be aware though that sometimes aircraft do get changed but the airline will be responsible here as that is out of your control.  The airline website should tell you the aircraft type generally used for that route and you can use websites such as FlightAware to check this too for all airlines.

Booking the flight is the easy part –  simply book your flight online or with travel agent as anyone else would.

Book Assistance

Some airlines ask during the booking process if you require Special Assistance and complete the details during your booking, others will prompt you to call a dedicated number to book assistance and it’s advisable to do this as soon as you book.  They will ask for the information about your chair that you have prepared and what type of assistance you need.

This is based on how much you can walk and ability to transfer.  All airlines use the same three codes and it’s worth knowing these and which you fit in to, if you are not sure, ask the airline.  There are also many other codes for other types of disability assistance.

WCHR – Passengers who can ascend and descend steps and move in the aircraft cabin but who require a wheelchair for distance to/from the aircraft.

WCHS – Passengers who cannot ascend and descend steps, where the wheelchair is required to/from the aircraft and the passenger must be carried up/down the steps but is able to make their own way to/from cabin seat.

WCHC – Passengers who are completely immobile and require a wheelchair to/from the aircraft and must be carried up/down the steps and to/from their cabin seat.

When you book assistance, this is also the time to tell the airline if you are taking an additional piece of mobility equipment, which you are entitled to in the EU, free of charge.  Again you will need to give them the dimensions and weight of the equipment to make sure if fits in the hold.

What if you need to take bulky medical equipment, feeds or lots of medication?

Advise the airline – they may ask for a letter from your GP or consultant.   They will need to know what you are taking, its dimensions, weight and how it needs to be transported (in the cabin or hold) and should give you a free baggage allowance to transport this.

If you are travelling for a longer period of time, speak to your supplier as they may be able to deliver direct to your destination but give them plenty of notice.

Top Tip: Always keep enough medication your hand luggage to cover you for at least a couple of days with a copy of your prescription just in case luggage goes missing.  Always keep medication in its original packaging.

Prepping your wheelchair for its journey

  • Top Tip: Photograph your chair – take a few snaps from different angles so that you can compare if the worst happens and your chair gets damaged. This includes taking photos of it in its “packaged” state.
  • Insure your chair – make sure your wheelchair is fully covered for flying and for worldwide travel. Specialist insurer Fish Insurance who sponsor all our insurances can help with this.
  • Pack it up – there are many travel bags out there that will hold your chair and wheels together and pad it, but otherwise simple things like pipe lagging taped onto frame to give some padding is just as effective.
  • Bits and bobs – make sure anything that comes off, comes off or is secured. Don’t risk the chance of losing a bit of your chair if it’s loose/removable – it could come off in the hold never to be seen again.  Top Tip: Take your cushion into the cabin too so it doesn’t get lost.
  • Some long haul flights on larger aircraft will accommodate your wheelchair in the cabin.

Cross Check

A week before your flight, give the airline assistance a call to confirm they have your correct assistance booked and ask for confirmation by email if possible (or note the exact date/time of the call as the airlines normally record calls).  Why? We’ve had a few times when assistance has been booked but on arrival at the airport there has been no record of it.  It will also help to speed up check in.

At the Airport

Airport securityCheck the airport website about assistance from the car park to check in – some airports offer this or have an assistance button at the drop off area.

At the airport head to check in as usual.  Confirm the assistance booked and always ask the airline for your wheelchair to be “Delivered to Aircraft” and if they have a tag for that to attach it to your wheelchair as well as the usual baggage tag.  This means your wheelchair should be waiting for you at the door of the aircraft when you arrive to transfer back in to.

Remember, you still have the same security checks and liquid rules to deal with.  Top Tip: Pack all your medication in a separate bag and have plenty of clear bags to put any liquid medication in to be scanned.  Don’t forget to check those under chair pouches for any random things you carry around that they aren’t left in there.

You will likely be “patted down” where possible as you can’t be x-rayed in your wheelchair!  Don’t be alarmed if they also take swabs around your wheelchair or even from around a leg bag just to check there is nothing untoward in there.

AmbuliftYou should be boarded first so be at the gate in plenty of time, if assistance are taking you there they will make sure you are on time.  You may be boarded using an Ambulift if the aircraft is not at an actual air bridge at the gate – simply a big lift that can drive around the airport and take you to the airplane.  You will have to transfer to an aisle chair – a narrow wheelchair with strapping that fits down the aisle of an airplane.  When you are in our seat, keep an eye out down below as you may be able to see you chair being loaded in to the hold.  This will reassure you that your wheelchair is on the plane and will be with you at the other end.  Always a good feeling.

On arrival hopefully your chair will arrive at the plane door undamaged and you will be able to remove the packaging and get on and enjoy your holiday.

If the worst happens and your chair arrives looking like a clown car with wonky wheels inform the airline immediately – take photos of the damage too.  It will be reported through the baggage handlers.  Unfortunately, it does happen from time to time but rarely is a chair damaged that badly that it cannot be used on a temporary basis.  If the worst happens try and hire a chair, or for minor damage often a local bike shop can help!  Try not to panic. I once survived ten days, having broken my frame on the first day of the holiday by bumping down a curb, by the use of two spanners as splints and lots of duct tape!

The airline should cover any damage through its insurers and would usually pay the repair company/manufacturer direct.  If the worst happens and your chair is beyond repair, the airline should replace it like for like.  There is a loophole with a cap on compensation, however, you should fight against this as it’s not just a piece of baggage, it is your means of mobility.  I’ve never had an issue in getting expensive custom chairs replaced.

Remember, problems can happen but deal with them calmly, there is no point getting angry and the more you travel the more routine it will become.  Hopefully, these simple tips will help you be prepared and most of all – Enjoy your trip!

 

 

Hotels as a wheelchair user

We continue our travel blog season with information about staying in hotels as a wheelchair user.

You fancy a break away, a countryside hotel a city break or maybe a trip to the sun but you need accessible accommodation, what questions should you ask to make sure what they are saying is true.

Firstly, check the location – do you really want to have to navigate a steep hill in order to access the hotel we all know it’s not too bad going one way but the other can be anything from exhausting to downright impossible!  If the whole area is hilly is that going to be an issue, could you or your chair cope and how are your fitness levels?  You are going on a break after all, not boot camp!

So, you’ve found the area, now the hotel.  What is it that you absolutely need and what is that you would like. Make a list – for example, if an accessible bathroom and step free access is a must there are several ways you can check this.  Do they provide a shower chair and what sort is it? It pays to check as it removes some of the stress when you get there. Googling or searching TripAdvisor for images for the outside and inside of the hotel can be useful.

Do you require a hoist, if so, check that it can go under the bed and check the height of the bed is suitable for your needs too.

As a rule of thumb always contact the hotel direct to ask questions. If using a travel agent that doesn’t specialist in accessible holidays, ask them to check the gazetteer but still phone or email the hotel direct yourself.

Once you have checked that the essential things are okay then you can go for the ‘likes!’ – the infinity pool, spa treatments or the best in-house dining experience.

Remember you can take two pieces of mobility equipment with you if you are flying with European airlines, but it is worthwhile knowing that in many places you can hire equipment such as hoists and just taking your own slings with you.  Similarly, if you use feeds and catheter supplies these can sometimes be delivered to a hotel abroad for you by your supply company depending on location. Speak to you delivery company for further information,

It can be daunting choosing a hotel for the first time but it does get easier. Mistakes can be made however there are always little hacks that can help such as:

  • if your wheelchair won’t fit through bathroom door – ask hotel to take the door off!
  • a plastic garden chair is a great substitute shower chair
  • always ask for extra towels and pillows on arrival so it’s not last thing at night when you realise you need more -let’s face it – we go through more towels than average!
  • don’t be afraid to ask the hotel move furniture take it out of the room completely so you can manoeuvre around the room.
  • Ask the local hotel staff for advice about local accessibility

Remember the more homework you do the more informed you will be. As you become more experienced in travel planning you will do things automatically. For example, while travelling solo there are certain hotel chains we would not stay in as the fire doors are too heavy to open. On the other hand, there are others that we would stay in worldwide that we wouldn’t feel the need to even ask questions as we know they have a universal room plan. This knowledge comes with time and it’s different for each person due to individual access needs.

The most important thing though is when you get there to be able to finally enjoy yourself and relax.