‘I have never let my disability stop me’

Continuing our series on disability awareness, Jo Le Page asked three islanders who rely on wheelchairs or crutches to share a snapshot of what life is like for them...

ARE we aware of the disabilities that our fellow islanders are living with each day?

I know it is not possible to be aware of every seen and unseen disability, but I do wonder what simple changes we would make to our surroundings if every single one of us had a disability that affected our mobility.

It was an absolute honour to talk to Aindre Reece-Sheerin, Adrian Vidamour and Emily Nuttall and today they share with you their stories.

With awareness comes understanding and support and I have appreciated being made more aware of issues that I didn’t know about before.

AINDRE REECE-SHEERIN

I have been wheelchair-dependent for more than 26 years following a hit and run.

Sadly, the physical aspects of ‘inclusion’ have changed little in the 15 years I’ve lived here in Guernsey.

Catherine Hall has been a stalwart of autism in the Bailiwick, as have a few others. The Guernsey Disability Alliance has had to take the lead that I feel that the States of Deliberation has refused. We no longer have a deputy acting as champion of disabled people – also, they appointed a non-disabled person to the role in the civil service.

Sadly, so much locally needs to change. Most governments around the world have a minister responsible for areas requiring change and/or legislation for disabled people.

I took a year sabbatical to retrain and become the UK’s first disabled access consultant and have advised councils all over the UK and even in France and Spain to help improve physical aspects of access and accessibility.

I did once plead with a prospective employer just to give me an interview so I could demonstrate to Social Security that I was genuinely trying to find gainful employment. I worked for a local workplace and they not only never met my basic needs as a wheelchair user, they abused my human rights by refusing to allow me to use the toilet unless on a break – something I have very little control over.

Practices, policies and procedures are what I will attack as and where I find them lacking or downright discriminatory towards islanders.

There are massive areas of inequity in society and especially when considering the ‘needs’ of a disabled islander.

The word ‘disabilities’ is one foisted upon disabled people by the EU – I was only just yesterday called a handicapped person and not that long ago a cripple.

One of the things I am most proud of is working with Malcolm Nutley at Social Security so that disabled islanders are no longer referred to as ‘invalid’. Malcolm effected as quick as possible a change as he could.

I’ve worked with the States Housing CEO and she now looks at housing with a view of how to make them more inclusive.

I’ve worked since arriving here with transport and traffic, trying desperately to improve parking and the highways and crossings, but sadly, despite over a decade of trying to educate, I get called in at the last minute when it’s too late to make what I believe are necessary changes.

You may be aware of my campaign against the refurbishment of Le Foulon simply because of how inaccessible it is to so many islanders.

There are so many things I would like to achieve in whatever time I have left.

Adrian Vidamour (30283715)

ADRIAN VIDAMOUR

I was born with a condition called cerebral palsy. Due to complications at birth, I was diagnosed with this condition. In my particular case I have spastic diplegic cerebral palsy, which affects both of my legs.

At the age of seven I got my first wheelchair. Previous to this, I used walkers and sticks for short distances.

In recent years, I have seen improvements in accessibility.

The Market Square in Town has had new paving in recent times. This has made it easier for me to independently wheel myself in this area of Town.

The tourist board have put in a new ramp at the back entrance for easier access, which is better than their previous lift.

An example of a shop that has gone out of its way to make it accessible for all in recent time would be Cadeaux Guernsey Gift Shop, which I am now able to enter from a side door.

With the alfresco dining along the front of Town, it has given me the opportunity to eat with some establishments which I may not have been able to previously due to difficulty entering.

Balthazar has been a prime example of how a restaurant/bar can adapt an establishment so that everyone can be included. Simply adding a fantastic lift that eliminates a flight of stairs yet is disguised just as ordinary flooring.

I am realistic – I know not every establishment can adapt or change layout, due to building restrictions or finances. However, on a whole as an island it is improving. With the use of portable ramps and friendly staff that offer to help.

Over recent years there are taxi firms that have dedicated vehicles for wheelchair users. It has been fantastic not having to worry if my chair will fit in.

The High Street is a difficult area to manoeuvre in a wheelchair. It is easier if I am being pushed.

When asked what advice I would give someone who suddenly finds themselves needing to use a wheelchair, I don’t really feel that I can give much advice for someone who experiences such a life-changing situation as I have only ever known a wheelchair life.

There are always going to be challenges and difficult days, but I have never let my disability stop me from achieving goals. I enjoy a whole range of hobbies. I’m employed, married and living life to the fullest.

Emily Nuttall (30283719)

EMILY NUTTALL

My conditions are cerebral palsy, scoliosis, anorexia and spondylolithesis.

Cerebral palsy is a physical disability resulting from injury to my developing brain while my mother was pregnant or just after birth, which as a result has an impact on my physical movement and development.

Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine as a result of my cerebral palsy, which affects my posture and causes me a lot of pain and requires me to use crutches to mobilise.

Spondylolithesis is a condition where one of the bones in my spine, referred to as a vertebra, has slipped out of position in my bottom and upper spine meaning overall my mobility, pain levels, balance and posture are impacted and it has caused nerve damage.

Having anorexia also means my bone structures are not as strong and its made it weaker, therefore crutches are needed to keep me walking as best as I can.

Navigating doorways and roads on crutches brings with it many frustrations and challenges. Often doorways are tricky to open and door handles are hard to grip on to easily and often stairs in doorways to reach shop entrances are awkward and uneven. The roads and pavements are sometimes too narrow and unstable cobbles in the High Street make it easier for me to lose my balance and be at risk of falling over more, which makes me anxious and worried about falling or having an accident. Often, if roads have no pavements, or narrow pavements, this can make me worried about falling into oncoming traffic.

I believe, although it’s beautiful having our High Street cobbled, it needs to be less uneven, flatter and more level grounded to make it easier and safer to walk along. Pavements need to be widened for all needs and abilities and tarmacked better.

I believe it’s also about educating shop owners and the wider community on the challenges we face, and working with them in an effective and positive way to make small but effective and positive changes to make our streets, roads and shops as disability-friendly as possible, with adaptations in the best way to meet the needs of the many people like me in our ‘Guernsey Together’ community.

As this quote from St Martin’s School, where I coach children through our GMLG disability sports group every week, reminds me, it’s about ‘being different, succeeding together’, which I think is so important and paramount for disabled islanders like myself, to also not be ashamed to have your voices heard and needs listened to, so we are diverse, equal, fair, and recognise disability rights through everything in our island.

  • jolepage81@gmail.com

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