The Wheelchair Accessible Hy-Pee-Thetical Universical Supposition.

Sunday 28 June, 2015

Before you even ask: Yes, I did struggle with a title for this one. But let us go forth, regardless!

Feminism, which I’m sure you will agree, is a wonderful thing. Without feminism, we women wouldn’t have the vote. We wouldn’t even be allowed to wear trousers. The worth of a woman would still be dependent on, and used in, the property contracts between male family members and would-be husbands. We would, without a doubt, be passed between father to new-husband as nothing more than a valuable object to solidify an agreement.

So, yes, feminism is good. And it is needed. Sadly, oh how it is still needed…

And it is in that regard that I also say the fight for disabled rights is needed. Now, it feels, more than anything.

And here i will use a comparison to feminism to explain why:

Let’s say you were a woman (and if you’re already are a woman, please bear with me…) and that you lived in a world where everything was controlled by a credit card-esque pass key.

That card is what opens all doors, starts cars, pays for items, flushes toilets, sharpens your pencil at work, makes fold up seats unfold, everything. You name it, this card gives you access to it. In theory.

And let’s say there was a cited capacity as to how many women could get on a bus, work in workplace, learn in a classroom and sit in a cinema, to give a few examples. Now, let’s say, to get to the crux of my comparison, that in this futuristic alternative universe of a world, you needed to use the toilet.

In theory, you swipe it over the box, the light changes, the door opens, you’re good to go (if you’ll pardon the pun). But in this world, which is very much a Man’s world, there is one toilet to every five of a Man’s. And, even worse, men will use the women’s toilets if they feel the men’s queue is too long. After all, it was empty. And hey! They’ll only be a minute!

But oh no. You’re bursting for the loo! Your card won’t give you access to the men’s, there’s a man in the women’s! The queue is going down for the men’s, and you’re just stood there like a lemon. A lemon that really, really needs to pee.

You’ve argued to the local council about the lack of women’s toilets, but the only response was from a man who told you there wasn’t enough money for any more.

He says If you’d have called ahead, an attendant could have kept it free for you. But, who schedules their peeing times? Men don’t have to schedule their peeing times! Men can just go to the loo whenever they want (bodily requirements withstanding, of course). It’s hard enough to find a woman’s toilets in the first place, and sometimes the card scanner has been broken, sometimes they toilets have not been cleaned. Because men believe they’re hardly used anyway. You, understandably, don’t want men to use the only working clean toilet you can use.

You’ve argued with men over this time and time again. They say it was empty at the time, that there’s no sign saying that they can’t use the toilet. If the card works, then Men must be allowed to use it, right?

And as for being broken and lack of cleaning, you’re met with a shrug. Who can prove who was responsible for that? And scanners are expensive to replace, and it’s not the council’s fault the general public don’t treat the facilities right.

The bottom line is, Men don’t have to put up with any of that. And they have Five times the amount of toilets.

Most men, and some women, think that if you have that much of a problem with “being a woman”, maybe you’re just not cut out for this world. Some even think that maybe you should just undergo a “sex change”.

Except in this hypothetical world, it wouldn’t be called a sex change, it’d be called a “sex correction”.

As in, the problem lies with you for being a woman, not with society and it’s attitude to women. In their men’s minds, it’s not how they treat you that’s wrong, it’s the fact you exist in the first place. So they will help you fix the problem and turn you into a man. Then you’ll be free to get the bus anytime you like, you don’t have to ask someone to open the door for you when you enter a shop, and even better you can pretty much go anywhere you like! Your card can work everywhere! What’s not to like about that?

Because of course, you’ve spent your life complaining about those things! Trains stop letting women on them passed ten o clock at night, because there’s no attendant on the station to let them through the men only doorways. Some shops won’t even sell to you unless you have a man present at the point of sale!

Instead of agreeing that these things are easy to change, that these shops could just remove or disable the card activated doorways, everywhere says it would cost too much money. Some of those doorways have been up for 200 years! They’re part of history. How selfish are you that you want to destroy a relic of history just to get home at night?
Yes, it’s a shame that you can’t use the train past ten or clock, but that’s what taxis are for. Besides, nobody else has complained! All the other women are home before 10 o’clock. The male station manager can’t conceive why a woman would even be out past ten o clock, anyway. Don’t women get tired easier and have to go to bed earlier?

So, it’s just so much easier if you became a man.

And then you can go the toilet and travel on the train whenever you like!

But of course, you don’t want to become a man. You want the world to accept you as you are. A woman. You don’t need to be fixed and corrected. You certainly don’t need the government’s suggestion that you undergo the therapy and operation to become a so called respectable member of society, or their awfully high fines for “acts of uncooperation”.

It’s society that needs to change, accept and adapt.

If society got rid of those doors and the card system, nobody would need to employ anyone extra to open the ancient Men Only doorways whenever a woman wishes to use the same service. It’s society that needs to stop saying “but this is how it’s always been”.

That alternative universe’s society clearly isn’t working. Not for the women. Just like our society is failing the disabled.
Every time we get something, after fighting and fighting, the ignorant majority think they are well within their rights to use it. Like disabled toilets and changing rooms and bus spaces.

And the reason is always “nobody was using it at the time”.

But that lies on the assumption that, like the men in that alternative universe think, nobody Will need it. The majority of able-bodied people assume, just like those men assume about the women, disabled people are so few and far between that you’re not actually going to inconvenience anyone, and if you did, it’s not that big of an inconvenience. Except that’s blatantly not true. If able bodied people registered the amount of times their misuse of disabled facilities actually inconvenienced disabled people, and how much of a negative impact that inconvenience was, just like us disabled people do, you’d (hopefully) find the regularity shocking.

There is an attitude in this world that if disabled people just underwent the right surgery, more physio, see better doctors, did this, did that, they wouldn’t live such difficult lives. Instead of accepting that disabled people exist and require equality, this society says THIS is our society and, although sympathetic to the plight, why change something when it’s needed less than the way it already is?

And as for the Listed buildings problem, which is a time honoured excuse for not even bothering with adaptations; I say this as a fan of history, does anyone think that our ancestors, who gave us language, paper, everything that came out of the industrial revolution, vaccinations, medications, democracy, would want our progress stagnated for the sake of what is an over appreciation for what has been?

There are ways to preserve things, and there are ways to adapt. These things are not mutually exclusive. I will give you an example.

I live in Liverpool, and we have The Albert Dock. Most of the Albert Dock is paved with cobblestone, and it’s absolute murder on my back. I have friends who have it worse, some not even in wheelchairs. When I asked why they couldn’t be changed, being such a health hazard, I was told that actually, the cobblestones are part of the Listed/Graded system. They are a piece of history. They are to be preserved for as long as possible. I’m not  exactly sure how that’s going to work with people walking and rolling and driving and whatever else-ing over them, but either way, the cobblestones are there to stay. For the sake of history!

And fair enough, they are a wonderful, beautiful piece of history.

But why then, can’t textured/griplined but mostly see-through plexiglass or similar covering go over them? It would serve two purposes:

  1. Assist in preserving them longer by protecting them from being walked on
  2. Give a much needed smoother service for wheelchair users like myself

I didn’t hear back from my suggestion. I have a horrible feeling they looked at my suggestion in horror and threw it straight into a fire, like the satan-worshipper they no doubt assume me to be, because nobody good and pure could possibly suggest such a thing! Cover the cobblestones with plexiglass!? How DARE I.

Society needs to stop feeling like it will lose something in return for including a large part of our society. It needs to stop seeing adapting things as a waste of time and money.

I am disabled, and whether you believe it or not, I am here to live, just like everyone else. And like many other disabled people, I will get on the train, I will go into shops, and yes, on the odd occasion, I will need the loo.

Don’t be like those Men in the Alternative Universe. Have respect, not only for the people who might potentially share your day, but also for the people who fought so hard to get the minimum we’re clinging on to. Nipping in the disabled loo for your own convenience isn’t just some sort of backwards bid for equal rights, it’s shitting on the disabled campaigners of the past who actually gave us those disabled toilets in the first place.
And, for anyone who might point out this sad fact, I am aware that what happens in my hypothetical alternative universe is a lot like how women are treated in some countries and communities today. All I can say to that is, let’s not go down a route of heirarchy here. My whole entire point is that injustices against women and injustices against disabled people are BOTH injustices that we have to fight against.


Return of the AFJ

Saturday 20 June, 2015

I know. I know.

I fell down the rabbit hole and didn’t come back up. I’ve probably lost all the readers I managed to gain (those faithful two!), and I’m probably, yet again, talking into the big ether of the ethernet.

I know I’ve said this a few times already, but I moved in 2013, and when I moved I lost a lot of access to my laptop, and then the laptop I had burnt out by way of the motherboard, and the circumstances that followed made it even more difficult for me to update.

In plain english: I lost access to my desk and then I lost the ability to use my laptop on my knee for even limited times. I read a lot on my computer and I manage to type for short bursts, but regular updates need regular typing, and that was shot.

My inability to use my laptop for as many hours as needed even interferes with the Uni work that I swore I’d never do again. (But my brain was rotting and I was desperate.)

But I am back now, and with a bit of hope and luck, I’ll even manage to update infrequently!

To get us started, I’m going to tell you something that has made a nice improvement on my life over the last couple of years. Do you remember this post? I explained about the problems I was having with reading, and how e-reader tablets are the new go-to suggestion. I left out my main reason for not getting a kindle, besides the cost of re-purchasing all of the books I already own, and that was the same inability to hold a book in front of my face also applied to holding kindles too.

Well… As well as the device I mentioned in that post, I also suddenly remembered a device another friend used way back when in the Good Olde Days of The Good Old Shepherd. It was a magnifying document reader, and it looked a bit like a sewing machine with a tv screen through the side of the top bit  (I know, how technical!). Books or sheets were placed on the board, and through mirrors, magnifiers and lighting, the screen part would show the book or the work sheet blown up to the magnification that you could control with a dial.

It wasn’t perfect, it was it’s own desk that left you no room to write on, and you had to look up to the screen because the the gap between the board and the screen was that big, and the screen itself was also pretty big. But remembering that device got me thinking.

I have read books on my computer. I’d already downloaded some PDF versions of books, but the idea of going through the efforts of finding a PDF version of every book I already owned was off putting, and not just because it broke the law. So the solution: Try and find a way to get my books Onto my computer.

That’s what I found The Vision Booster Magnifier!

Excellent! Right?

Wrong!

The Vision Booster Magnifier is a device, in the shape of a computer mouse, that is meant to allow you to read documents in your hand (or on a desk or your lap etc), on the computer screen. It uses a little camera inside the body, where the rollerball would be on a normal computer mouse, to send the image it sees to the program you install, and you can live-read like normal.

Here’s the problem. It’s the shape of a computer mouse and is far too big for your average book, so you miss the last words of the line because it hits the margin. Also, as you can see in the image below, the words on the edge of the camera’s view are warped. That’s holding the camera still, if you move it too fast, the whole view you have goes blurry.

  vlcsnap-2012-10-12-15h51m59s234

(Excerpt from McFly’s Unsaid Things)

The image also shows how the last words of the line can’t be read, because of the aforementioned margin problem. So you can’t read words near the margins, and you can’t hover the mouse over those words next to the margins, because they come out of focus, and you end up reading along to books very slowly to keep words readable. I’m not the fastest reader, I know, but this left me feeling like I was back in The Good Olde Good Shepherd sounding my words out. It doesn’t make for any sort of enjoyable reading at all.

Also, not that it really matters, but the plastic of the mouse felt light, cheap and as if it would degrade to nothing in the future.

So it was neither use nor ornament, and an all around waste of £19.99.

I do, and did at the time of purchase, know about the pen reader: A device that is pen shaped with a camera at the tip, that you use in much the same way as the mouse, with the added bonus of actually being able to read the end, or the beginning, of the line. However, at the time of purchasing The Vision Booster Magnifier, the pen was almost £300. Very much out of my budget!

Another suggestion floating around the internet is to try a page scanner. This device, if I remember correctly, was intended to be used as a portable replacement for a big bulky 3in1 printer/scanner/photocopier, and the suggestion was using it in not quite the way it’s intended to be. You just hold the scanning plate above the book (or a document, whichever), run the software, and you use the live preview setting to read the page. It’s intended purpose is to capture the screen, which is why I used the phrase “Live-reading” above.

My problems with that was this: The device had to be held up at a certain distance from the page otherwise it would be blurry, and I can’t really hold anything up for a long time without my arms being supported. I also couldn’t imagine being able to hold it properly for the time needed to read the page, without looking down at it whilst holding it, and to me it defeats the object somewhat if you’re trying to read the pages on the screen when you keep having to look back at the device and the book. I also couldn’t find any reputable sights that sold it, and most seemed to be imported.

Then the popularity of portable page scanners fell, I don’t think they were working as well as people expected them to, so the fleeting idea was also thrown out of the window.

Here’s the funny thing. A couple of months after I moved, my neck’s quality of existing took a bit of a dip and it changed a fair bit of the way I could sit, and that actually allowed me to be able to, using armrests and/or pillows to support my arms, hold very light things directly in front of my face for me to read them again. It’s also how I knit.

So, low and behold, I bought a kindle! The very basic one, with e-ink display, and without a keyboard and backlight. It doesn’t solve the problem of re-reading the books that I already have in my possession, but it did finally allow me to get back into reading. Which has been nice. When everything else around me has fallen apart just a bit more, I at least have reading back.

For the times when I can’t even read on my kindle, or my concentration’s shot and words are going in one eye and out the other, or I just want to do one thing whilst also doing another (knitting, usually), I listen to Audiobooks.

So, ultimately, I take back all of my misgivings about The Kindle (other e-readers are available). It’s been a lifesaver. I’m currently working my way through some of the classics, and the Wizard of Oz series, so watch this space for some book reviews!

Thank for you for reading. I will be back soon.

-A Failed Journalist.