Staying at Douglas House in Oxford last week was the perfect opportunity for me to attend Naidex, at The NEC in Birmingham (just over an hours drive away), Europes biggest disability trade show for professionals and consumers.
Somehow (shamefully) I had never heard of or come across Naidex before, until a fellow wheeler introduced me. How about we take a trip to Naidex while you’re in Oxford during March, she said to me. Sending me a link via social media (how did we humans communicate before this?!), I had a little peruse. It promised to be a show dedicated to the care, rehabilitation, and lifestyle of people with a disability or impairment. There would be talks, demonstrations, and advice from disability experts (people themselves with wheels).
So this is how my day went…
Parking right outside the main entrance, I arrived just after the doors opened, ready for a jam packed day of gadgets, talks and, dare I say the word ‘inspiration’.
The first thing I notice when entering Naidex and having my badge swiped is how many people with disabilities I can see. I am no longer the minority, never before have I even considered or really thought about what it’s like being a minority. Being around people that have very little insight in to what it’s like to be me. I’m aware that there aren’t always that many wheels around (just far too many pushchairs!), but I’m usually too busy getting on with my day to really stop and consider this. Here I am the majority, or at least I am an equal. There must be more disabled people in this massive exhibition hall than there were abled people. More wheels than there were working legs! Naidex is in no way limited to wheels, I must highlight that although mobility and physical disability was a large aspect of what I explored at the show, and what I’m about to share with you, this is probably due to the fact that this was what I was drawn to. I only had a day, and there was so much to see. My eyes ears and wheels were expectedly drawn to things that would enhance and change my life. There were also stands exhibiting products to assist and enable people with sight or hearing problems, those with learning disabilities, adults and children.
Upon entering the main exhibition hall I am bombarded with information excitement and fascination. I can see stands in all directions, displaying wheelchairs, sensory equipment, hoists and even a horse riding simulator! (RDA).
One of the first stands I pass are Barclays, they are here to promote a gadget called BPay (you don’t need to be a Barclays customer to own and use a BPay device, I’m not). Having a browse I was promptly asked if I wanted to know more, of course I did! BPay is a contactless device that can be used to pay for goods and services in any store that accepts normal contactless card payment. But with BPay you don’t need your card! Today they were giving away 2 types of contactless device, a keyring, and a bracelet. Usually these retail at around £25. Would I like one for free they ask? Yes I would! So I choose the keyring as I think this would suit my needs better. The bracelet would be ideal for some, however I can’t lift my arm enough to reach most card machines anyway, so would still need assistance. It was set up within minutes via an app on my smartphone being linked to a chip in the keyring. I then use this app to load money on to the keyring as and when required.
I know the whole chip and pin, and then contactless worry some people (the thieves will steal our money!), however I see BPay gadgets enhancing many lives. You can only make the usual maximum purchase of £30 per transaction. But you can now do this without rummaging through your bag and purse. A keyring attached to a wheelchair or bracelet on your wrist can just be swiped with ease for those with mobility, sight or other disabilities. I realise this is starting to sound like a sales pitch… I swear I’m not working for BPay! I just love the potential this gadget has.
I head to a talk in Theatre 4 by Martyn Sibley (who happens to have SMA, same as moi), co-founder of Disability Horizons and many other projects! Initially a blogger like myself, jotting down his adventures he now gets requests and invitations to partake in activities all over the world. In his presentation Martyn talked us through videos and photos demonstrating how even with SMA and very little strength he has flown a plane, scuba dived, been skiing, tree climbing and wheeled from John O’Groats to Lands End. With highly trained teams of instructors and specialist equipment almost all activities, however extreme, are available to people with wheels (and other disabilities).
My next discovery is something I’m still in two minds about, extremely exciting yet highly terrifying… a wheelchair that climbs stairs. Not yet available for purchase (I think it needs a little more work) there was a demonstration of this wheelchair and you could give it a test drive/climb.
Unable to transfer into the chair myself I enjoyed watching others have a go. It was clever I must say, if a little wobbly! The chair easily climbs steps of a 35 degree angle or lower, but am I meant to carry around with me a device to measure angles? What if all the steps were not the at the same angle? What if one step about halfway up is at 40 degrees? What if I get stuck mid flight? I have many questions, but like I say this is still in the questions process, it is a peek into the possibilities of the future. Technology is ever developing. A step climbing facility that climbs just 2-3 steps is life enhancing.
The second wheelchair I spy is slightly more in my budget at just £2000 more than my current one (yes, wheelchairs are incredibly expensive, it is likely that my wheels cost more than your car!). This is the Quickie Jive.
The model that I have my eyes on as a serious contender for my next set of wheels reclines completely flat with the legs raised so that you are in a laying position. Quickie also create wheelchairs that transform into a standing position. Great for physiotherapy and rehabilitation, but also just to feel like your peers and look them in the eye during conversation.
Speaking of eyes (clever aren’t I?!), eye gaze by Smartbox Assistive Technology Ltd was next on my list to try out.
Tablets and computers that know what you’re thinking! By simply moving your eyes, looking and then focusing you can click on screen. Type a document or email, search the internet, take photos, play games, use social media. Just a few minutes of calibration the device is set up to each individual, the more you use it, the more it gets to know you, and the easier it is to control. Complete independence.
Eye gaze technology is something of great interest to me. As somebody who is glued to their phone and tablet, I use them for so much of my life, texting friends, searching google, shopping, reading, drawing, YouTubing crochet instructions (yes you read correctly), writing this blog, I rely on these things. If ever there came a day when my movement got so weak that I could not have a text chat with a friend, or turn the page of a book independently, eye gaze would be my highest priority and first investment. Tablets and phones are our keys to communication these days.
I rounded the corner and what did I see but a row of giant porta-loos. On closer inspection I realised these were accessible porta-loos with giant ramps up to them. Not only this but the largest of these loos (the size of an average bedroom) was a porta-hoist-a-loo! Yes I made that title up, well I assume I did anyway. It’s a Changing Place.
So the first 3 of these accessible loos were of decent size, roughly the same as or slightly bigger than your average accessible toilet in any given venue. Adequate size for a wheelchair user and PA, just enough room to transfer if you are able. However if you require a hoist and/or bed look no further than the 4th loo, aptly named by myself as porta-hoist-a-loo, better known as a portable Changing Place. This bathroom has plenty of space for a wheelchair and 2-3 PAs (or a party!) and is kitted out with a height adjustable bed and hoist! You’re sure to know I have a fascination with toilets if you’ve read some of my previous posts, so obviously I took advantage of my situation and Goldilocks style checked them out. I’ve rated and described them in a little more detail here.
Ive used many a porta-loo before at festivals and other outdoor events, claiming to be accessible. But I’ve never come across any of these before. The ones I’ve used have been merely a few inches bigger than a normal porta-loo, with a wider door, my wheelchair just about fits in with my PA standing squished in the corner. But these are a revelation! There’s is no reason why these toilets can’t be standard at all outdoor events where other toilets are supplied. I can’t see why this porta-hoist-a-loo can’t be placed more permanently in towns and cities where there isn’t a Changing Place within reasonable distance. Having a wee easily and conveniently can change somebody’s life more than most people realise.
The second talk on my itinerary is with Srin Madipalli (another fellow SMAer I discovered later) CEO of Accomable. He talks about his love of travel and how his frustrations of finding accessible holidays and accommodation led to him starting up the website Accomable, their mission ‘to enable anyone to go anywhere’. Accomable is a website that assists people with physical disabilities to find accommodation all around the world. It lists in detail the access, facilities and services available. Thousands of properties all in one place.
I have since had a rummage on the Accomable website and it really does list the finer details of accessibility that many other travel website don’t even consider. Things that are only considered because the people that run the website have experience of disability. Are there steps? If so where and how many? Is there a lift? How big is the lift? How big is the room? How big is the bathroom? Is there a hoist? A roll in shower? How big is the gap under the bed? (For hoists). Emergency cord? Enough turning space for a wheelchair? And much more, these people really have done their job well.
Srin also offered his top tips on traveling with wheels. What it’s like flying with a wheelchair (leave clear instructions on how you want your chair to be handled when you leave it!). He gave a list of handy items he never travels without, compact foldable hoist, foldable shower chair, and bed risers (4 plastic or wooden feet that go under the corners of a bed to allow it to be lifted enough to slide the portable hoist under).
This was a very inspiring speech, I don’t mean that it’s inspirational that disabled man is travelling and achieving, he should be, I mean that it made me want to travel.
Later I came across the foldable hoist in question. The Ardoo. Sorry I don’t have any photos to show, excitement took over, but here is a link to their website for more information.
I was given a demonstration of the Ardoo hoist and my PA had a fiddle and a lift. It really was very simple to fold down or set up, the battery was rechargeable and always attached to the frame, yet it was still light enough to carry in its bag (I wouldn’t recommend long distance, but to a car, taxi, plane or train would be fine) or it could be wheeled around easily folded up as the handles and wheels folded into the perfect position.
Next on the clever invention list is the beach/all terrain wheelchair by Adventure Mobility.
There are other beach chairs available for purchase and hire, but the difference with this design is that the creator has also built a version that can attach to and carry almost all power and manual wheelchairs. This makes it easy to use by almost anyone, you don’t need to be able to transfer from your wheelchair and possibly be uncomfortable in an unsupportive seat. You just unfold the included ramp, drive on and get attached! With wheels designed for almost any terrain you can wheel on sand, snow, mud, fields and bumpy roads with ease. Maybe not something that every wheelchair user wants to purchase (unless they live by the sea or in the snow), I think this set of wheels could be purchased by local councils or venues and be available to hire by visitors and local residents at beaches, forests, and on snowy days (not that we seem to get many of those lately!).
Being an avid festival goer I also had a chat with the creator as he was considering contacting some outdoor festival sites. This chair could make the perfect assistant at a muddy Glastonbury!
This big wheeler can be easily deconstructed and carried around in your average sized travel bag.
My final stop of the day was to the Ram Mounts UK‘s stand. For someone who relies on tablets, kindles and smartphones (me) these guys offer a wide selection of wheelchair mounts, as in industrial strength poles which attach to almost any wheelchair and allows something to be mounted on to it. With a variety of poles and attachments you can customise Ram Mounts to suit your needs. From a basic cup holder to a pole to supporting a camera at eye level with connected tablet underneath, alongside the team you could probably create any mount you wanted. For myself while travelling in the WAV I find holding my Kindle or iPad difficult. I make quite a lot of long journeys, so being able to read my Kindle with ease, just a small thing, would make a huge difference to my day.
There are so many more things I can talk about, the segway wheelchair, the ReWalk robotic exoskeleton, the multiple accessible holiday lodges, all the WAVs (wheelchair accessible vehicles) on display, those where the wheeler is the passenger or the driver. This blog could go on for days. One thing is for sure, I will be attending Naidex again. Such a positive day full of ideas and possibilities.
As well as users and consumers I would highly recommend that professionals attend future Naidex shows. It would give so many people a different perspective on disability. Carers, Doctors, Physios could become more open minded, think outside the box of how and what people can achieve. And also expand their knowledge of what facilities and gadgets are out there. I certainly hadn’t imagined half of what I saw at Naidex. Many of these things may be out of reach now, but the more people know what’s out there, the more demand there is, the more the norm it becomes. Eventually every chair may have a step climbing ability. Every computer an eye gaze facility. And every event a porta-hoist-a-loo.
Limits are being stretched, technologies are quickly developing. Nothing is unreachable if only you have the determination, knowledge and an ‘I’ll find my own way’ attitude.
On the way back to my parked WAV I detoured to Starbucks and purchased a caramel macchiato using my shiny new BPay keyring!
Sometimes it’s the small things.