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Communication, judgements, valentines and a rather mundane DNA result. A week in review.

So, the week began with Adult Safeguarding. Safeguarding is a course that has been reviewed yearly throughout my career. It can for some seem like ‘it is all obvious’, and ‘we know this already’ but it is essential in any role where you are working with people. It enables us to ensure we know what it means, and how you can use the knowledge to protect, prevent and act on safeguarding issues. I always come away a little more enlightened – as the law and definition around safeguarding do change.

Shortly after the lecture, I had to meet the Pro Vice-Chancellor for the Faculty of Health and Wellbeing of Sheffield Hallam. It was only to discuss my upcoming Council of Deans Leadership programme, and what the university can do to support me. For some reason, I was extremely nervous, and I am sure I spent twenty minutes just rambling about why I felt like it was valuable to me as a student, and a future professional. She was not imposing, or intimidating; I believe it was just upon seeing the title and doing the dangerous tactic of making predetermined ideas in my head to prepare myself. She was instead friendly, encouraging and enthusiastic.

One of the planned lectures on Tuesday was intended to focus on a form of communication called Makaton. It was due to be presented by the partners in learning group, but they were unfortunately not able to attend. We still discussed the importance of using the method of communication, and in adapting how we communicate with individuals in a way suitable to their needs and requests. The importance of using different communication styles fed nicely into the next lecture which focused on the APIE/R nursing and social work framework. The main focus of the lecture was being split up into different groups and expressing our knowledge of each step which could be presented to the rest of the group. The care planning frameworks do not work unless there is good communication with individuals.

The first half of the week was predominately taken up with university lectures, and self-study. Wednesday seemed to be the day when I rushed to complete the errands that I had unfortunately left to the last minute, and due to delays in completing these, I missed out on the opportunity to undertake a volunteering induction that I had expressed an interest in. It is horrible to feel like you are letting someone down, but other plans, unfortunately, have to take precedence. A key learning outcome with the university is that you cannot always please everyone, even yourself. On the latter half of the day, I offered to pick up a Valentine’s card for a relative, as she was not in a position to look for one herself. As I was looking for a ‘dear husband’ card, I had begun to acquire some looks of bemusement, and unfortunately disgust from some of the other people looking. It highlights that we can, at times, be a very judgemental species, regardless of the context of me looking at the cards there should not be a situation when people are judged on sexual orientation. Part of me wanted to challenge a particular individual, and perhaps educate her, but I know not every battle can be won and it is really important where those conversations take place. In a busy shop did not seem an appropriate place to be having the discussion.

Skipping ahead a little here, but today’s final session of the day had focused on how personal values can have an impact on how we work with other people. We all have values that impact all aspects of our daily life, but it is important that we acknowledge these to be able to work with others. If we dismiss them, we misrepresent who we are as individuals, and it makes it difficult to understand the values of others. The lecture made me think back to Wednesday and how my values were clashing with the person making judgements, without directly expressing them, but the situation meant I had to accept both sets of values and move on in that particular circumstance.

Moving on from that, Thursday was Valentine’s day. I am always amazed by how excited I get over the little things, even now; and I am still someone that complains about the commercialisation of any event/holiday. Three things made me smile on this day:

Abi

A cheesy little message that she found

Moreover, one of my gifts, which had been something I had mentioned in passing about regretting not picking up while we were on holiday.

Thursday also brought with it my long-awaited Ancestry DNA results. Which are very underwhelming, but are in line with what I expected. At the start of the year, I became a little obsessed with looking into my family tree and managed to trace back my ancestry to around 1600 on both my maternal and paternal line. All of whom lived around Doncaster, Shropshire and in varying places in Wales. My DNA result basically confirmed exactly that. It could be that they were just very homely people, or that their social mobility was limited as they predominately had jobs as servants, farm hands, or coal workers.

My DNA Report

Abi’s DNA profile, on the other hand, was a colourful little rainbow, and it also fits in perfectly with the ancestry I discovered with her having 4th Great Grandfather who was one of the earliest settlers of Singapore, and who received not one, but two knighthoods from the Queen of Portugal and the King of Spain.

Abi’s DNA Report

I recommend that everyone takes a few minutes out of the day to research their tree. Now it might not spring up a few knighted members of your family, but it is interesting to have an opportunity and insight into how you came to be.

The week was rounded up by much more studying. I might have forgotten to turn the sound on for my alarm, but I still managed to spend five hours in the library researching and refining a plan for my next assignment. I am finding that I am gradually branching out into more and more sources. A little tip is to look into the reference lists of books, they often offer up more avenues of information that you can begin to delve further into a particular subject area.

I could leave my workspace a little more organised.

If you get the chance, check out Abi’s new blog https://yoocanfind.com/Story/1798/feelin-wheel-good

I am maybe a little too pushy at times, in trying to encourage her to make her voice heard, as I believe she has a lot of personal experience and knowledge to share with others. The stories and experiences of individuals with a disability are the ones that need greater light shining upon; in all kinds of media. It is the best source of education and on developing peoples understanding of what it is like to live with a disability. If there was more coverage, and education using these personal experience it may enable us to live in a more inclusive and understanding society.

The last thing, I promise. If you have a spare five minutes sign up to the Anthony Nolan register to potentially give someone the opportunity for a lifesaving stem cell transplant. It is something I signed up for around 10 years ago, and only remembered I was on the register when I received a cute little card from them in the mail to update my details. You may never be called upon to donate, but if you do you could potentially save a life.

https://www.anthonynolan.org/

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I will hopefully post again soon.

Preparing to run a half marathon.

Writing that title out was more than a little worrying. It was terrifying. I am not currently in a position to even be jogging to the shops. My fitness has certainly taken a nose dive lately. I have also definitely gained a little extra padding due to the lovely cake displays, on the university campus.

So I have talked about the charity that I am running for briefly before, and I will provide links at the bottom of this post so you can read more about them. But to give you a brief overview, they provide support for individuals with muscle-wasting conditions while campaigning for better support and educating other individuals such as families, carers, and other professionals. The charity was amazing in helping me to understand my girlfriend’s condition in the early days of our relationship.

I will be running the Great North Run 2019, which is a half marathon in the north east of England. It has been a while since I have run any type of distance, so it may just be that I end up walking across as the finish line, but I am determined to pass that finishing line. During my training, I will be posting updates on this blog in the hope to keep myself motivated and monitor the change and hopefully increase in running ability. I am essentially starting back from square one.

You can text donate with the above code. The amount is just a suggested donation amount and you can donate as little, or as much as you like.

https://www.justgiving.com/Evan-Howle?utm_source=Sharethis&utm_medium=fundraisingpage&utm_content=Evan-Howle&utm_campaign=pfp-email&utm_term=GjDyjKby7

The run is due to take place on the 08 September 2019. I will be mixing life, work, study and university with running, but I do believe I can achieve the task of completing the half-marathon.

Any support that you can give would be appreciated, and even the smallest donation can make a big difference to the work the charity does. 

Thank you for your time, and have a great day. Evan.

https://www.musculardystrophyuk.org/

What is it like dating a disabled person?

I should begin this by discussing the choice of language used here. It is presented in a way that represents how the question was recently put to me. Language, when describing disabilities, or just about anyone, can either limit the individual or empower them. I have worked with people who feel placing emphasis on the disability before the person is failing to recognise that they are, first and foremost, a person just like everyone else. But I also understand that for a lot of people their disability can be something that defines them, and is a major part of their identity.

It is how we historically view the word ‘disabled’ that judges the context of its use. Unfortunately, it has a history of being used to segregate a part of society as different from ‘the norm’ when viewed through the medical model. So, it has almost become a dirty word, and it is tarnished with a poor history of acceptance in society. In reality, it should be embraced. Not only does it allow the law to be written that challenges discrimination, and it clearly defines the additional support or adjustments that must be made to support. It also enables us to acknowledge their individuality. I do see the person before the disability, so it is how I will use it from here on. I know it is a topic that is ideally debated by people with a disability.

Anyway, I digress. I don’t see Abi any differently to anyone else I have dated, but I do (now) recognise that there are additional challenges in dating someone with a disability; they just don’t change the way I feel about her. Every relationship faces different challenges that others may not encounter.

Dating – The early days

When I first started talking to Abi, it was before she was diagnosed with Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy so the topic of disability never really came up. It was only when I asked her out on a date that I learnt more about the diagnosis, and because we had always gotten on so well, I gave it little thought. I did not know much about the condition and only looked into it very briefly before we met. It was naive of me to think that I should put it to one side and focus on her, as it does affect what she can and cannot do. The irony is, on trying to treat her as I would anyone else, I failed to take into account the one thing that would provide an obstacle in doing this realistically. Anyway, despite this, the first date went amazingly, and I realised that I would be doing her an injustice if I did not learn more about the condition.

When dating anyone with a disability, it is really important to educate yourself on just what the disability is and what it means to them. I spoke to Abi, as she has always been candid about how it affects her, and I also talked to the charity Muscular Dystrophy UK about the condition. It did impact how dates where planned, or the types of activities we did, but not negatively. I still spent them getting to know Abi more, and they provided us with some very memorable memories that we still laugh about to this day. Sometimes it just meant that we had to be a little more creative in what we chose to do, but it also meant we communicated more.

A healthy relationship

I believe there are many important aspects of any kind of relationship. To me, the ones that matter to me the most are communication, honesty, trust, empathy, and patience.  

Communication is a vital part of any relationship. It is especially important in a relationship with someone with a disability. You need to be able to communicate just what you are thinking to each other. It helps to limit misunderstandings and helps to nurture that empathy and trust in each other. Abi and I rely on humour for dealing with any difficulties; things don’t always go well, and activities can sometimes be frustrating when faced with barriers. You need to have the confidence to make light of an issue. Well, when it is appropriate. My sense of humour is going to end up with Abi choking, or her eyes are just going to roll right out of her head. There are many hits and misses.

You need to be honest with each other, and it goes hand in hand with communication and trust. I know for Abi there was an initial fear of inadequacy and the thought that she could not be loved with a disability. It is a fear that fundamentally haunts everyone, the feeling that they do not deserve anything better than the hand that they have been dealt; it is one I have felt myself. Without honesty in the relationship, these thoughts and feelings would only go unchecked and would be unhealthy for any relationship. It is my only hope that I have ensured these ideas have turned around and she now sees herself as the loveable and equal partner that she is.

It is the communication and honesty that harbours trust in a healthy relationship. You need to be able to trust each other that you are enough for each other.

Now it is impossible to fully understand how a disability can impact someone if you do not face the same obstacles in daily life, but with empathy, you can understand how to be there to support. And equally, it allows Abi to understand how it also impacts on me. It can be a frustrating experience because you want the best for the people that you care about the most, and you gradually start to realise how the world is designed in such a way that it makes it difficult to achieve this fully.

Patience is important. Things will not always be easy and straightforward. There needs to be patience to allow that understanding to develop each other’s needs in the relationship. I am sure in the early days of the relationship I made silly mistakes, which may have arisen from simple misunderstandings of needs. One particular area I know where Abi needed a lot of patience with was me learning just how to push a wheelchair. There were many moments of me catching strangers, walls, chairs or just anything that happened to be around. I forever forgot that she had footrests. People are going to make mistakes.

Challenging views

So possibly the most difficult part of dating someone with a disability is challenging some very peculiar views. I love to talk about Abi to people; she is, after all, a significant part of my life. And it has in the past been met with “Awww’s”, or “she’s lucky to have someone like you”. It is almost like the able-bodied person deserves some admiration for facing the challenge! Which devalues the importance of the other person in the relationship. I believe that I am the lucky one to have Abi in my life, and not because of her disability but because of the person that she is. I am in a relationship that is full of all those healthy factors described above. I have yet to have one argument, or falling out, with Abi in the almost two and a half years we have been together. That is not to say we agree on everything, we have many healthy discussions and share very different opinions on lots of things, but we accept these. Abi is a much more realistic and pessimistic person, and I’m more optimistic and positive, but we balance each other out. It should be mentioned that it does not represent everyone spoke to, but it does happen.

I would like to think that we are lucky to have each other.


Thanks again for taking the time to read.

Almost placement ready!

So, it has now been around 137 days, or just over four months, since my first day at university. But who’s counting? With approximately three weeks to go before my first day on placement, I thought it would be useful to reflect on the experience. Maybe I’ll enjoy myself so much I’ll completely forget how I got there.

My first week at the university was preceded by a pre-course day which allowed me the opportunity to meet some of my cohorts, and to receive a brief overview of what was coming up over the three years of study; with the inclusion of health checks and the lovely Hep-B jabs.

Now I remember my first day of university vividly. I remember arriving an hour early and scanning the room repeatedly for a familiar face. I remember the coffee machine spurting coffee at me after forgetting to leave my mocha there for the coffee shot. I remember then spilling this drink all over my hands as I struggled to attach a simple lid. I remember time gradually moving slower and slower as the start time seemed to move further and further away. And most of all, I remember walking into the lecture room and thinking “what am I doing”.

During the introductions to the other students, my introduction had fixated on the fact that I had left my job. Now, it wasn’t useful information to the rest of the group, but I was still coming to the realisation that I had left, and I was entering the unknown. No day made me realise this more than that first day. I should point out, that I do not in any way have any regrets over this choice. The first week was filled to the rafters with meeting various lecturers and learning about their individual roles. While also told what was expected of us as students, and future professionals. It also gave me an opportunity to see how the learning experience could be expanded outside of the classroom, with encouragement to engage with social media positively. I have found it aids in connections with other professionals and gain further insight into what is happening within health and social care. I do highly recommend this. The most enjoyable part of the week was meeting with the partners in learning group on the final day.

The partners in learning group is a group of service users that help to shape the course content and delivery. They are a group of individuals with learning disabilities that have a positive impact on all aspects of the course by ensuring the lives of people with learning disabilities are heard. On the final day, we all played a game of people’s bingo. It not only allowed me to learn more about the other students but also them. I discovered just how much passion they had to ensure their voice was heard. Not just by us, but also a wider society with the roles they have in their communities. As I was not able to meet them during my interview process – a process they usually play an important role in – I found it a wonderful experience.

My first year consists of 6 modules:

  • Public Health
  • Essential Sciences of Nursing and Social Work
  • Essential Nursing and Social Work Science and Practice
  • Collaborative Practice
  • Person-Centred Approach
  • Relationship Centred Care

I have included a little diagram of how these relate to each other. And they do they relate to each other. It can be easy to see them as individual teaching, and there are parts talked about in one module that may not directly impact another. But it has quickly become evident to me just how much crossover there is between each module.

Just a small snapshot of the learning of a Learning Disability Nurse and Social Worker.

Alongside these modules there has been the first ten days of my Social Work skills days. I was initially a little apprehensive around the skills days, after prereading about them; they covered skills that I used within practice before starting the course. I will admit that I was wrong. The skills taught within the skills days may initially seem like basic skills everyone should have, such as admin skills. Instead, they were challenging and engaging and reinforced the idea that we are always learning, irrespective of our prior experience and knowledge. The skills days split my cohort up and gave me my first insight into collaborative working as a student, even if it was just with other Social Workers.

As part of the collaborative practice module, we were assigned a group of other health professionals to work with. My group included Adult and Children Nurses, Occupational Health, Paramedics, Social Workers and ODP’s. It was a fascinating insight into how people quickly assign themselves into their groups, based on their professional title. They had strong, and protected ideas of their role and how this related to individuals. I should say that I found them all fascinating, friendly and engaging. But it highlighted just how important educating on collaborative working is. We can sometimes forget that we have all chosen the career due to a desire to prevent, help or protect other individuals from harm. We share the same inherent goal. But too often professionals fall into the practice of assuming knowledge superiority, without sharing and communicating with those around them. Having a clear identity is important, but it is equally important to understand the roles others have.

The last two weeks have started to focus on the technical preparation as I move closer to my placement date. It is about giving us the knowledge base to be able to perform tasks safely with our service user group. It has included moving and handling, blood pressure checks, observations, medicine management, injections, epilepsy, PMVA, Aseptic techniques and infection control; amongst others. All skills that some associate with being a ‘real nurse’, and also the misconception of why some believe that LD nurses are not real nurses as we don’t practice these skills daily. When they are skills that anyone can learn. In reality, it is the skills of empathy, compassion, concern, integrity, honesty and patience that make a nurse.

It is interesting to think that at the start of the course I had little idea of what reflection in practice is, but it is something that I now find myself doing weekly, sometimes daily. As a student, I have learnt it is important not to compare your ability to those around you and accept your individuality. We are all unique, and this is evidenced in the classroom and individual learning styles. You may be a visual, aural, verbal, physical, logical, social or solitary learner. And that is ok. It is ok to be just one of them or a combination of all of them. My best advice so far is just to be you. Take the opportunities that are suitable for yourself and enjoy your time; it will go quickly. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, or to seek the support of your peers.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

The Journey Begins

After spending some time reading a few fantastic, inspirational and interesting blogs, I felt like to was time to bite the bullet and write my own. It has been a long time since I have done any kind of writing, but it is such an essential skill to possess as a student. Practice makes perfect. Right?

Well, my name is Evan, and I am from an old mining village called Woodlands. It is part of a town called Doncaster, but when I think of where home is I often think of there. It’s where the majority of the experiences that shaped my life originate, and it’s still where plenty of my great family remain. I believe it was around the 1990s when the mine finally closed, so I was still fairly young and remember the impact it gradually had on the village as a whole. Looking back it was my first experience of how people’s employment opportunities can create social imbalances, and led to the exclusion of some social groups.

My early life is predominantly filled with fond memories of a real community spirit. As I grew up in the original houses built for the miners called the ‘squares’. There was a real sense that your neighbours became your extended family. The church had a huge impact on many peoples life’s, and to begin with I rarely remember a time when it went empty. My mother was responsible for opening up the church hall with my aunt. They were responsible for cleaning and making the meals for the elderly community (well I believed they volunteered). Many afternoons and weekends were spent creating havoc with my cousins and brother within the church hall. You would be surprised at the number of objects laying about in these old church halls.

When the vicar left the church, the great Michael Godfrey, the community spirit seemed to falter and break down. There didn’t exist that social support that had existed for families, and I remember it being especially impactful on mine. It is a sociologist dream. I am sure there are numerous opinions on what the tipping point to the village as a whole was. Be it the close of the mines, the limited work opportunities, the rise in crime, the breakdown of a religious/social group. I think each played an impact on the other.

I remember that as I reached secondary school the financial situation for most people within the village gradually took a turn for the worse. There was more of a reliance on social support, and milk/food vouchers. With that, there came an inherited stigma that you was part of a sub-normal part of society which did make life as a student difficult. It became less about who you are, and more about the shopping bag that you had been spotted with; Netto cursed so many children with their bright yellow bags. When you look at how societies views have shifted, it has almost become trendy to shop within a budget and to be seen shopping at the budget stores such as Lidl and Aldi.

I always enjoyed primary school, I felt a real sense of joy when I passed a milestone, and although I did have negative experiences in early childhood, I still remember it as a positive one. It changed when I reached secondary school. As I have said, the bullying and isolation felt in school was a real problem. I didn’t struggle with the work, just the individuals who also went to the school. There was no encouragement from the teachers, and I felt a real lack of motivation to excel as it was felt they had limited expectations of anyone’s achievements. So what was the point in trying to achieve? I remember reading since leaving a special measures report, from OFSTED, that recognised their circumstances limited the life chances of the students. Bleak reading.

I would do anything, and everything not to go to school. I would often wake up in the middle of the night to crawl into my mothers’ room to switch the alarm off. Such was my determination not to go. Much of my education came from books, and Channel Fours educational programming. Such a shame this doesn’t exist anymore, as it taught so much. I do feel a deep sense of regret and embarrassment of not only allowing a few narrow-minded individuals limit my experience of secondary school but more the added stress I had placed upon my mum from my utter refusal to go. I left school with a few GCSEs, less than what was expected of me at the time and settled into College.

Considering the course I am now studying; you would wonder what I was thinking when choosing my initial course: Advanced ICT, and computer science. I enjoyed the subject. I still do. I didn’t enjoy the work that came with it. It wasn’t long after starting college that I was offered an apprenticeship, which then progressed into an offer of a warehouse/computer system manager. Having a paycheck was a nice experience. It was a lot for an 18yr old, I had more money than I knew what to do with. And coming from an upbringing with very little, it felt like it was too much. I lasted about a year before it just became hard work enjoying any aspect of the role. It always felt like something was missing. So I applied for a position as a support worker.

I should explain why I went for this choice. I was lucky to have experienced a very diverse family background, with a mixture of people from different ethnic backgrounds and people with different disabilities, people with addictions, or a criminal history being in the family. I believe these people were valuable in shaping my own personal values. Ones which believe we should accept everyone’s individuality and differences while recognising what unites us. And for me, it was a family bond. I firmly believe we cannot judge people by our own expectations. Especially when we lack the ability to understand their experiences or life.

I was lucky to secure the position and spent 11+ years with the company that were enjoyable, educational and a highlight of my life experience. I no longer felt like an outsider or imposter in an environment. I had found an environment where I could be myself, and use my life experience and knowledge to make a positive impact in other people’s life. I made a great social group of friends, who I still believe are some of the greatest and were an invaluable source of support during some very challenging and tough times. They were a source of encouragement when I chose to go back to college to do my access course so I could apply for university. Powerful emotional support when my mum was going through treatment for cervical cancer, and supportive when I made the difficult decision to leave and focus on university. The individuals I worked with and helped to support, are still missed even now.

Challenging my own risk avoidance attitude continues to be a difficult one. I can stand up and advocate for another individual, and fight for their rights. But when it comes to my own, I still struggle to make myself heard. I have made, and continue to make strides. Within my working life, I showed my commitment and work ethic, having miminal time off (my longest running total was 6 years without a sick day – no rewards were given). Which is such a change when I look back on how I would fake illness on a weekly basis. Applying for college was such a nerve-wracking experience, I was putting myself back into an environment where those positive memories had slowly become eroded and replaced by negative ones. I had to study my GCSE subjects again in my first year alongside the college course full time with work, it was a stressful time but it was a success and meant I was one step closer to my dream.

I took a year out from college when my mum was diagnosed with Cancer, so I could still work and support her in her treatment and recovery. During this time I met my current girlfriend, and only long term stable relationship. That risk avoidance meant I just tempted to steer away from relationships due to bad experiences. She was and continues to be, such a positive spark in my life. She is not only a partner but a best friend. I can always rely on her support when I challenge myself to break those boundaries I have placed upon myself, and never complains when my focus may be elsewhere on studies.

Completing the second year of my college course meant I had to study long distance, which also meant I had to study without that peer support or direct support from the tutors. It was difficult and very stressful! Yet, somehow I passed with distinctions and even more surprisingly I was offered a place on my current course. It was the only course I had ever wanted to do.

And here we are. I’m a mature university student, studying a dual practitioner course in Learning Disability Nursing and Social Work. Taking every opportunity that comes my way, continuously trying to push my own boundaries and break my own barriers. I have discovered lecturers who are informative, knowledgeable, friendly and yet most importantly, passionate. It has been the highlight of my current teaching that I have lecturers who genuinely care about the inequalities in society and the lives of people with a learning disability. I have also made some great friends on the course, who are an excellent source of peer support. I wouldn’t have gotten through the first exam without them to bounce off.

Since starting university I have taken part in the University of Lifesavers. I have an upcoming place on the Council of Deans Leadership program, and I am hard at work creating accessible maps for people with a disability to use.

I believe we all have life experiences that shape who we are, these are just a snapshot of some of mine.

I am sure there are many errors in this writing; it was typed quickly on my phone. But I do thank you for taking the time to read, and I hope you have a great day. I will get around to spending a little longer proofreading as soon as I get the opportunity.

This is a photo of my first ever holiday. It remains one of my favourite photos.

An Un-Accessible Route

We live in a country with many different barriers, and despite working in the health sector for ten years, supporting adults with learning disabilities and physical disabilities, I failed to notice just how many barriers there are to people simply moving about in their communities; this was until I met my girlfriend.

She has Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy, which means she now requires the use of a wheelchair to get around. When I plan to do anything with her I have always taken the time to look into how accessible the place is that we plan to visit. It may just be checking there is an accessible toilet, a ramp into the building, or a lift. While also booking any transport assistance we may need; ensuring there are ramps onto the train, and that the train station is accessible. I never imagined that I would need to see the state of the footpath or if there were misplaced street signs (there are many just placed centre path, and one local that blocks the dropped kerb).

We have visited so many wonderful places and some truly beautiful cities, despite having issues with the kerbs and footpaths. It all came to a head when we visited Leeds and decided to visit the Medical Museum. The museum was great. The journey there, not so great. Although we could have taken a bus to our destination, waiting for a bus to be told there are no available wheelchair spots can be a disheartening experience. So we decided to skip the bus and wander there. And Google Maps had informed that it was only a short 10-minute journey away. So why not? And I let it plot a route for us both. So of we went.

After 10 minutes we just assumed we were maybe moving a little slower then Google expected, we were following the map after all. Then we hit our first snag, a footpath that ended with a dropped kerb. Unfortunately, the following path had no dropped kerb to get onto the footpath. We had to walk into the road to follow the path to a point which we could get back onto the footpath. It was not a great experience, and not one I could imagine anyone in a wheelchair doing alone. We honestly believed it could not get any worse. We were obviously very wrong. The route took us past a working garage, with all the cars parked on the footpath. Back onto the road we went! We had six more footpaths that had no dropped kerb, or dropped kerbs that are impassable as the road around them is broken. In total, it took almost an hour to get where we wanted to. We obviously decided to try and get a bus back – no wheelchair spaces available. So we walked (and rolled) back, taking a completely different route, with ZERO issues.

How come this route had not been offered up as an option initially. It was accessible. The issue puzzled and annoyed me for the rest of the week. Google does not have a solution to offer people accessible routes, and only determines the route based on a projected time the journey would take. It makes the presumption that you have no disability. As we move to be a more equal society, it is not something I am not comfortable with. Things need to change.

It is the negative experiences we have in life that have the most impact on our wellbeing. It is something that I feel has a massive impact on a large part of society. I have talked to other people who have had similar experiences. These experiences can only lead to an increased sense of isolation for any individual with a disability, and they should have the same confidence, and support, to access their communities or explore new ones as anyone else. I believe that technology can be a powerful tool in creating a more accessible world and it is why I have been working on the accessible maps in my spare time.

Working on an accessible map has not been an easy task. There is a very limited toolset available to support their creation natively within Google Maps. I also have very limited experience of using any of the tools that are available, so it has been a steep learning curve. Ideally, I could create an app that allowed a community developed map. One which took into account the experiences people with disabilities have in navigating their community. Again, just no current knowledge of how to do this. But the five main features would be:

  1. Location of all pedestrian crossings.
  2. Location of all dropped kerbs with tactile paving.
  3. Location of all dropped kerbs.
  4. Location of any common obstacles.
  5. An option to use these plotting points to create an accessible route.

So far I have plotted over 16000 map points in Sheffield. It includes around 90% of the dropped kerbs, and pedestrian crossings in the Sheffield District; with some overlapping into Rotherham/Derbyshire districts. The data has taken some time to record, as I have had to either visit the street or use Google Street View to discover where the lowered kerbs and crossings are.

Ideally, the map pointers would be hidden to create a seamless system to create an accessible route.
This is where Google Maps has reached its limit with the map pointers that it allows.
I had to create a crossings icon to ensure I could easily spot the difference between a dropped kerb, and pedestrian crossing point.
The PEDS Icon.
It is by far the largest spreadsheet I have ever created, and it keeps on growing.

I have requested the information of dropped kerbs and pedestrian crossings using freedom of information requests. Unfortunately, no council has been able to respond with the location of dropped kerbs, and the data on pedestrian crossings is limited and taking time to sort through to ensure it is correct and complete.

There is a major issue with plotting this data onto Google Maps, as I have reached the limit of map pointers that the map allows. I have been in contact with the Google Access team on ways this could be managed.

As part of the project, I have taken the time to email a few charities about taking the idea on and further its impact. The time should be taken to say thank you to the amazing Kiera at Muscular Dystrophy UK and Kara at AccessAble. They have both supported the idea and helped to forward the project on so it could progress further.

Hopefully, I will be able to provide a part 2 at some point in the future. Thank you for reading and please take the time to check out the map below. Any help is always welcome.

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1sWPjwyKwByhOSWefyihmDusc5w_N-CBA&usp=sharing