I have had a fair few emails back and forth to the RSN this week, but before I get in to that, I just have to tell you about Thursday’s trip to Hobbycraft. Then, when you have read that bit, you can all get up, dash over to Hobbycraft, grab a stash of embroidery threads for next to nothing, then come back, sit down and read the rest.
So, hobbycraft. I had something to take back and exchange, so I popped in to the Oxford branch, picked up the rotary blade I needed, a couple of packs of needles and went to the checkout. While I was there, I chatted to the cashier, whose name was Katherine (lovely lady!). she pricked up he ears when she heard me say embroidery, and then she dived under the counter and surfaced with a huge box of Anchor stranded cottons, all pristine and brand new in their little boxes, untouched and neatly skeined. They were all marked 25 pence, which is a big saving on the usual 85 pence anyway, but then she told me that they were 10 for £1. I had to get her to say it three times. I don’t actually need stranded cotton – I have a large collection (Anchor) passed to me that belonged to my church warden’s mother as well as my own stash (DMC). But this was too good to pass up, and I spent 15 min sorting out 20 skeins of loveliness for the princely sum of £2! Katherine told me to pass on the message to anyone who might be interested, so this is me doing just that. Happy hunting!
Now the other thing. Having paid my deposit and started getting excited about my RSN course, we hit a Snag. The disability. Ah yes, I was going to write something about EDS, wasn’t I? must get around to that. Anyway, I have difficulty and pain with walking, and problems with the most revolting fatigue that kind of closes a thick fog around your thought processes, makes you feel sick when you move, and seems to multiply the gravity around you, making it hard to get up and easy to fall over. I use a wheelchair, which means I can function more or less like a human being. For me, using a wheelchair is much more about victory than it is about defeat. It’s simple, tailored to my needs, beautifully engineered, comfortable and rather swish.
As you can see, it’s a nice bit of kit, and very practical. Except were it comes to stairs. You see, the RSN’s apartment in Hampton Court Palace is on the second floor. There is a lift, then it gets a bit narrow and windy, then once you get into the apartment itself, there is another small flight of steps up into the studio. I knew about all of this in advance, and I was confident that this would be fine, because although walking hurts, and it’s tiring, with repercussions the next few days in terms of flare up, I can walk as well as wheel. I can even do stairs, providing there aren’t too many and I don’t have to do them lots of times. On my visit, I satisfied myself that the access arrangements were commensurate with my level of function/level of determination (caveat: they probably wouldn’t work for someone with less lower limb function than I have, best check it out for yourself if you are thinking of going). All was well until the course leader mentioned it to someone from the health and safety department at the palace. Unfortunately, that person had not met or spoken to me, which led to a couple of unfortunate assumptions. firstly, that I was a wheelchair, and secondly, that I was a problem that required solving (this does happen quite a lot). So when this person heard of someone planning to come to the RSN who was a wheelchair user, what they imagined was an inanimate wheelchair. And of course, in the event of a fire, lifts are out of bounds. If you only imagine an inanimate wheelchair (rather than a person with a mobility impairment and plenty of their own ingenuity), you tend to end up thinking “crikey, how are we going to get that chair down a winding narrow stair case when the fire alarm goes off?” almost as if the person is a piece of furniture. The stair well doesn’t have a wheelchair refuge, and is not suitable for an “evac chair” arrangements. This little chain of thoughts basically wound up with the H&S person telling the course leader that it wasn’t a suitable venue for me. I then received an email telling me about other places (satellite centres) I could go to instead, the comparative driving distances from Oxford, and the fact that I wouldn’t be able to go to them on my day off. Would I be able to change my day off? because the satellite centres at Bristol and Rugby don’t run sessions of a Thursday… Whoah there! go back a bit… this is all because you can’t carry me down the stairs when the fire alarm goes off? But you don’t need to carry me! I can walk!
All this was quite easily sorted out, as it happens. Most wheelchair users and others with impaired mobility, particularly those of us that work, have encountered the whole “how do you get out in a fire” thing. I even have a personal emergency evacuation plan, which comes along with me, and which I adapt for the venue. I give it to the fire officer so they know what to expect, and can train the marshals if required. The RSN apartment situation fitted perfectly with one of the three possible alternative plans I have in place already, and all they needed to do was ask.
I think it is safe to assume I am the first wheelchair user they have had on the certificate course. I think we all learned something here. Hopefully, Hampton Court have learned that disabilities are as individual as the people that bear them, and that if you need to know what adaptations or precautions are required, the best expert is the person who actually lives with the impairment. I have learned (again) that you can’t expect people to know what you need or don’t need if you don’t tell them. Because this is old hat to me, I tend to forget that it is is weird and new for others. Another lesson is this: people usually mean well. I could choose to be upset that I was being discussed as a “problem” or being thought of as a piece of furniture. Or I could be happy that people wanted to spend their time and effort trying to make sure I was safe, and that in the end everything was fine and I had a chance to be an ambassador for any mobility-impaired people who may come after me. Let’s make it a better day. I choose happy.
For more tips on how to handle able bodied people, or to grab a humorous insight into living as “differently normal”, please see my good friend Hannah Ensor’s Stickman Communications site. In particular, her blog entry 12 tips for dealing with able bodied people, is just perfect.
I’m going to the Royal School of Needlework! Wheeeeeeee!
(did I already mention that? I’m sorry)