today (November 19) is UN World Toilet Day. i know it’s to promote sanitation and health but, with your indulgence, let me “hijack” it to discuss some of my concerns about accessible toilets. it may be crass and gross to most but to me it’s a microcosm of how disability is viewed/treated by society at large: a few do it for the sake of compliance and to merely adhere to the law, while most are well-meaning but “misunderstand” the issues because “designers” have no lived experience (whether personal or ancillary) or lack proper awareness.

doors. some doors are “too” heavy without a spare set of hands. another “pet peeve” of mine is when there is another set of doors: this is extra effort because i’s another “obstacle” and there usually isn’t enough space unless you close the first set. moreover, my wife or son sometimes need to hold the door open for me to get in and out. furthermore, a few open the “wrong” way so that i need to position my walker to the side in order to open it (i always wonder how people with wheelchairs manage).

locks. some people no longer or aren’t imbued with the necessary dexterity to operate locks: i’ve used the facilities a number of times without engaging the locks or spent several minutes to unlock it (and it’s really bad for me as i have claustrophobia and can get terribly anxious).

space. i understand there are costs involved but sometimes i can’t turn and need to exit “backwards”. i also encountered a few that requires you to “park” your mobility aid elsewhere to use the facilities – there was even one with a wall separating a toilet. in such cramped quarters, how can people using wheelchairs safely transfer to the toilet itself.

handrails. there are a few with “misplaced” handrails or items (usually toilet paper) placed atop where you are safely meant to grab. i’ve even encountered some without any handrails – they just assume that everyone will just sit down but you may need to hold on to something to adjust your seating or help you get up.

toilet paper dispensers. i’ve yet to find one that’s easy to use. i can understand the intention but you have to be adequately nimble to get any TP: sometimes your fingers need to navigate a “small” opening to either get the first square or because after you tear a few off it goes back “in”. These are often sharp and is problematic for me as i’ve got co-ordination issues and occasionally involuntarily movements – i can’t even imagine someone with “severe” movement disorders.

lights. a few have them have the switches behind the door. automated ones are usually handy but i find they don’t detect you when you’re on the throne and cut-out after a certain time – i have to “furiously” wave my arms to get the light back on and even tried moving various body parts to no avail.

smell. unfortunately, i’ve got a keen sense of smell and most do double duty as parents’ rooms with nappy (diapers to you American-English speakers) and when there is something in the bin (or trash can) it can get a bit “whiffy”. Alternatively, the bowl isn’t flushed because it was hard to do by a previous user; they forgot or don’t care; the flushing mechanism doesn’t work or doesn’t function well enough – whatever the case may be, the result is the same: it stinks.

i’m sure there are other things i’ve missed as the topic gets me worked up. on second thought, hotel bathrooms need a seperate entry as my family and i like to travel a lot. i need to say this because the country by far with, IMHO, the “best” accessible toilets is by far Australia.

there are even chairs in a few toilets. you might ask: isn’t this a good thing? yes and no. for people that need support, it’s wonderful thing but it’s a subliminal indication that persons with disabilities can’t or shouldn’t participate in the community independently.

ironic

October 2, 2019

it was “surreal” last night.  on ABC last night, it featured MoJo (an iconic advertising consultancy and, eventually, a “full-blown” agency)that influenced and shaped Australia.  For those that don’t know, ABC  is a national TV channel that’s mainly funded by the government and disallows all forms of commercialism (including ads) – you can’t even discuss (much less promote) any brands on their shows.

it was so meta.  Admittedly, they have a programme called Gruen that “humorously” critiques ads but this somehow felt different as it impacted Australian culture.  It can be argued that it was simply a mirror and a true insight into the Australian zeitgeist.

While prior to them “proper” American or British accents were used to voice over commercials, authentic Australian enunciation and expressions were instead  used (although they were considered “vulgar” by the “establishment”). i think this “honesty” was greatly appreciated by the Australian public. i now believe that you should never be ashamed of your actual heritage despite what you were “taught” and the constant stream of messages to put you down. i’ve got a feeling that’s why they dislike the old country so much – it is said that POME was originally an acronym for Prisoner Of Mother England.

Hogs (Paul Hogan better known by some Americans as Mick “Crocodile” Dundee) was the human face of a former tourism campaign – i challenge anyone to say it wasn’t effective as Australia moved from the 78th preferred holiday destination by Americans to the 7th.  Prior to him, it was all wildlife (like koalas and kangaroos) and he was even recognised, arguably, as Australian of the Year for its success.  The catchphrase was even adapted to the Yanks: “put another shrimp on the barbie” – as no one Down Under referred to them as “shrimp” but as “prawns”.  They say a real measure of a tourism campaign isn’t just about the foreign visits but also abut how good the locals feel about their country.

both sides now

September 25, 2019

i started with a “bottom-up” approach hoping it solidly grounds “learners” on the “basics” – hoping that they can build upon the “fundamentals” (as “constructivist theory espouses).  However (and i could be wrong), certain topics seem to me “better” suited for “top-down” pedagogical design as this focuses on a particular concept not only to build confidence but, also, to encourage interest  (like they do in music by giving students a piece to practice).  This not only provides them the expected output (allowing them to validate their work or check if they are on the “right” track) but help identify which topics  (and the “order” in which they are introduced)  they need to learn (as it’s not practical to cover everything about a programming language – how long is a pice of string?  Certain “minutiae”  may be interesting but must be omitted for the sake of “practicality).

This may result in longer times between releases but if there’s anything i’ve verified through my own experience with project (software development in particular) that “front-loading” is more cost-effective as it’s ‘cheaper” to make changes “earlier” in a product’s lifecyvle

 

 

(sliding) doors

January 24, 2019

as a pragmatist, I’m conscious that automated doors can be expensive or impractical for disability toilets but i don’t understand why some doors are really heavy and require at least two people to open it (and keep it open).  Some of them aren’t designed properly:  there are doors that open the wrong way, there are quite a few doors where you’ve got to form a plan in order to open a door with a walking aid or wheelchair, and there was even one where you couldn’t close the door with a walker inside.  Moreover, there are locks that are problematic as well: some don’t indicate when they’re locked (or are not that obvious to the occupant), there are a few double locks so you’re not sure which to use (and sometimes you need to use both as the engaged indicator is seperate), and few locks require fine, manual dexterity to operate.  It underscores how compliance isn’t a substitute about thinking about the practicalities of actual use.

stranger in a strange land

November 9, 2018

we were recently in Japan for my wife’s conference.  she usually doesn’t bring me and my son but my in-laws were also overseas – while I can manage on my own (admittedly, with some difficulty), I can’t look after my son and all his needs.  It was a holiday tacked on to a business trip.  There’s a lot to unpack so where do I begin.

language problems were common so my wife had great difficulty arranging for an accessible room for me.  Once she said “accessible” and got “accessi” as a clarification. Another time, she mentioned with enough space to accommodate a “wheelchair” she was told that there was no “chair” in the room only a “sofa”.  Apparently, they refer to it as “barrier-free” over there but knowing that fact didn’t really help.  Thankfully, she had a relative there that could speak the language.  She facilitated the search but some things were still lost in translation.  We managed to get a room that fit all three of us (instead of the two rooms that seemed at one time, the only option for us).  However, they could only manage a short, plastic stool instead of a shower chair so my wife helped me to sit down so I could shower by myself (and not have to get her wet in the process). To some extent, this reminded me of a few of the challenges that we faced in US hotels.  One of the “accessible” rooms was on the ground floor but there were only stairs entering the hotel – luckily there was a rail i could use to go up and down.  Moreover, my wife had to help me shower.  There was another room were the bathroom was suitable but getting there on my own was problematic: a bed effectively blocked my path.  There too was no ramp at the hotel’s entrance but there were also steps and a rail for me to hold onto.

most of their street cuts were too “high” – so my son and I had to help my wife get me on the pavement as my combination, “lighter”. travel walker/wheelchair doesn’t allow for “self-propel”-tion. And, most lifts could only hold me and my family (did I mention I’m claustrophobic and try to avoid elevators if possible – I know, ironic for someone who has difficulty walking and can’t use escalators or travelators) as well as difficulty getting me out of typically-narrow hallways.  That said, we took trains most of the time (as taxis were really much more expensive but occasionally depending on the destination we didn’t have much choice ) because all platforms were (eventually) reachable via lift(s) (granted some were outside the station, some times you had to take more than one, some escalators could be made wheelchair-friendly with the assistance of staff (a first for me) and it’s not for people who are easily lost/poor at directions) and there were prominent “gaps” on to and off a few trains.  But this was better than our prior experience, as we learned first-hand, there were only a few elevators (only select stations had them and they weren’t always working) on the New York subway.

In 2020, Tokyo will host the Paralympics.  In my mind, that’s both good and necessary.  Usually, hotels have only one or two barrier-free rooms despite UN WHO stating that about 10% of the world’s population identifying as disabled.  Sure, not all of them require mobility or sensory aids but that’s still grossly disproportionate.   We missed the mad-rush for hotels in making rooms more accessible by a month.  Like America, the intention is there.  It only goes to show that it’s only not just an issue of wealth or access to technology but about education.  Originally I was upset  (admittedly, i still sometimes do in very extreme cases but you shouldn’t hold it against people for their ignorance but inform them of the proper “etiquette” (and the often unintended consequences of their actions).  Say what you will about Australia’s shortcomings when it comes to disability but i’m yet to find another country that does it better.

 

TBC

 

we recently came back from an interstate trip.   we watched a concert, ate somewhere I wanted to go and caught up with good friends while we were there.  I don’t say it enough but I had a wonderful time with my family. I reflected on what I have (hopefully I’ll be more conscious of the things I need to be grateful for).

In some ways it’a blessing that my condition is unknown – that way I don’t have a set expiry date and are encouraged to make the most of each day.  I don’t know when “my last good day is” so I should try to make the most while I still am able to.

It’s true what they say:  something just clicks.  It’s not about when other people prescribe  you should be “ready” but when you realise it for yourself (for some it’s about “hitting rock bottom”).  It’s about others facilitating but not dictating.

I’ve made a deliberate choice to try to make hay of the resources given to me while I still can (but still remaining pragmatic – I’ve a son and wife after all).

last Sunday, we took my wife’s cousin and her husband for lunch at Stamps in Mitcham.  It was to treat them for staying at our house while we were away.  Also, it was an excuse for us to eat out. I’m thrifty but I don’t mind spending on food.  The way I view food is not purely utilitarian: you eat just not to live. It’s okay not to like things if you’ve at least tried them.  That said, certain things are an acquired taste so you need to exercise some judgement.

I think delayed gratification can pay dividends.  I save so that I can afford what I want.  Little things eventually add up.  I draw distinctions on pure needs versus mere wants. I set aside funds for the future and for a rainy day – not just hoping the present will go on without some hitch.  You can’t only think of the here and now but also consider the long-term.  We are not as invincible as we think so we better be prepared.

It’s partly who I am but I think my parents and grandparents helped imbue fiscal responsibility.  Even at a tender age I was taught to use money wisely and to not just look for bargains but real value.  My life experiences also help.  In school, I saw some of my classmates practically “throw” money away.  At home, I was fortunate enough to see our financial standing improve – without the earlier days, I would be hard-pressed to be “grounded”.  I’ve heard of stories in Ayala Alabang of individuals who found it hard to adjust to “diminished” fiscal resources.

I always used to wonder why I was given a “lump sum” for uni while my other siblings received weekly allowances.  I guess it can be viewed as vote of confidence – they knew I would have a go at making the money last.  In the end, I managed the funds well enough last for my entire stay at college.  Moreover, I “stretched” my meager student’s stipend to help subsidise local trips with my now wife during breaks.  There is a method to my madness.

I’m also learing hot to “cheat” in oder to bring balance.  As with most things. moderation seems to be the key.