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When Being Able-Bodied Becomes The Biggest Disability Of All (Or - Why I Always Feel I Am At The Wrong End Of A Design Process)
I have seen a video which has made me lose the will to live.  This video also reminded me (as if I had actually forgotten) of exactly how easy it is to serve the mainstream population - at the expense of those of us who may need a little more consideration.

Please don't misunderstand me - I realise that there is no way on Planet Earth to incorporate the needs of every single Disabled person when designing a building or a train.  However, I also realise there is no way of incorporating the needs of any Disabled people in the design of a building or train if no Disabled people are involved at the beginning of the design process.

Yes - Ladies and Gentlemen - I am getting slightly fatigued and nauseated by people doing the minimum amount legally permissible to incorporate the needs of Disabled people at the beginning of a design project - then wondering why someone like me complains when I cannot access either the building (be it a static brick structure or a mobile metal one on wheels) or the goods or services provided within it.

I didn't really want to give you an exact breakdown (pun intended) of my sight problems and how they affect me all in one go but - in order for you to understand why I am so upset about this subject - I think I am going to have to.

As you know I am Registered Partially Sighted.  I will now attempt to break down my sight problems into easy-to-understand bite-sized chunks.

I am severely shortsighted (Myopic).  Yes I wear glasses but they are not able to give me 20/20 vision.

I suffer from a condition called "Photophobia" which means my eyes don't like bright lights.

My eyes are next to useless in the dark as well.  Due to my level of sight my eyes don't "see" dark spaces - I get Technicolour spots in front of my eyes instead.  (Put it this way - me and power cuts don't exactly mix too well.)

I can only compute three "angles" correctly.  These are flat floor, sheer drop, and your average household staircase.  If you want to buy me an analogue watch - make sure it has an enormous face with numbers all the way around the edge.  (Better idea is to make it a digital one!)

I have no ability to judge the ratio of speed to distance.  If you point a car at me I will be able to tell you three things about it - which way it is facing (especially if it has its headlights on), which direction it is travelling in, and the colour of it.  Unless I can see its wheels I will not be able to tell you how fast it is going.

Finally - my "spatial awareness" can sometimes go haywire (especially if I am tired or in a place which is either too bright or too dark for my eyes to see clearly in - or if I am holding a tray, for example).

Even I know that there is no way that people can incorporate all of those difficulties into the design of a building.  The same can be said for any other "complex" Disability.  Disabilities - unfortunately - do not come in a "one size fits all" format.  Nor do they come in a "one solution fits all" format.  However - and this may surprise you - seemingly unrelated Disabilities can actually have the same "solution" when it comes to making places accessible for them.

Take for example - someone in a wheelchair and me;

Wheelchairs need ramps or other access methods of getting between different levels other than stairs.  I will (usually) quite happily go up a staircase but I refuse to attempt to come down a staircase which is at an angle steeper than your average household staircase if I can help it.  I use ramps and lifts where provided.

Wheelchairs need lots of room to manouvre.  Wide aisles and very few sharp corners are useful things for both them and me.  I hate shops which are cluttered with racks and furniture which - to me at least - ressembles a "Berlin Wall" effect when I am attempting to either find a way in or a way around a shop or cafe.

But what sparked this blog post off was this video which someone took of the inside of a new Thameslink train - youtu.be/nSZocztDSLY.

I am not sure how those people with other Disabilities would feel when they boarded that train (when it comes into service) but I just felt poorly as a result of watching the video.

As far as I am concerned - there are three major flaws with the design (which could have been ironed out if someone with a severe sight problem had been consulted at the beginning of the Design phase).

Ignore the usual "stumbling blocks" on the floor near the concertina walls (the rubber bits) in the carriage.  They are present in every English train.

The things which are dangerous (as far as I am concerned) are the following;

The fluorescent lights in the ceiling.  Is there no other way of lighting a train carriage???  These are especially bad when I go from a dark space.

The fact I just about tell you that the destination of the train is Brighton (but I would really need to be standing almost underneath the sign to read that - the font is too small to see from any kind of distance) but I haven't got a cat in Hell's chance of reading the names of the intermediate stations - because the contrast between the blue of the background and the blue of the moving letters is almost non exisitent.  I shouldn't have to strain my eyes to read any information - even from close distance.

The final thing is the shadows under the seats almost merge with the seats (not much colour contrast).  In fact - I am not sure if there is a carpet or painted wide line under the seats.  This has a double effect on my eyes.  It makes the sitting part of the seats look like they could actually be on the floor - as well as making it difficult to distinguish the gap between the edge of one seat and the back of the one in front of it.

Before you say that there are organisations like the RNIB, RNID, Scope, etc, who have got experience in dealing with major companies - I am sorry but I feel these are the wrong people for Train Companies, Building Companies, etc, to deal with.  The people who the organisations in charge of designing buildings, transport, etc, should be dealing with are the Disabled people ourselves.  We can tell you what works for us and why - instead of being given some generic ideas which do not suit everybody.

Yes - I am aware this turned into slightly more of a rant (or tirade) than I had intended.  However, I am fed up with feeling like I have been "designed out of things" merely because I am not "Normal" and nobody has bothered to consult someone like me during the Design stage of projects.

Can you imagine the uproar which would ensue if some of my lefthanded friends suddenly decided that the world would be designed soley to meet their needs???  After all, the majority of the world is right-handed.

Now imagine how Disabled people feel - knowing the world is designed for the Mainstream population - and there is very little we can do to change it.

You may them start to understand why we get a little upset at times.



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