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Archives for September 2008

Geek day brings immediate access solutions

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Damon Rose Damon Rose | 17:00 UK time, Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Here's something for geeks, wannabe geeks and (crucially) for disabled people who aren't in the least bit geeky.

Scripting Enabled is a project that kicked off last weekend with a conference and 'hack day' at London Metropolitan University. The event was organised by Chris Heilmann - International Developer Evangelist for Yahoo.

There are many websites, services and tools on the web that are unnecessarily inaccessible to disabled people. But there are also a huge number of geeks out there with the will and ability to fix these problems.

Using available web tools, plus a bit of programming, it's possible to create brand new websites that give better access than the original. By way of example, Chris himself has created the much talked about Easy YouTube, a cut-down, clutter free and more intuitive version of the popular video sharing site. Heilmann created it for peple with learning difficulties but has since had feedback from blind people using screenreaders who appreciate the added accessibility benefits too.

Scripting Enabled encouraged the geek audience to use their hacking skills to create similar 'mash ups' of websites. Speakers across the day explained some of the problems faced by people with impaired motor function, sight loss, learning difficulties and dyslexia - and in some cases, all of them at once. And the next step was Saturday's 'hack day' where disabled peple directly informed the hackers about more specific problems ... and already some projects have got off the ground.

One blind user at the event said she had difficulty accessing the available books at Project Gutenberg - the online repositry of out-of-copyright books. Read Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and a bunch of other stuff all available free of charge in electronic text format.

Whaddya know, yesterday afternoon we received an email with a link to a newly created cut down version of the site. View it here: http://made-accessible.com/audiobooks/.

In the office yesterday we were wowing at the speed at which this happened. But that's how hack days work. So the next person who tells you that an accessible website will cost a fortune and take six months to develop ... well, you might just want to question it.

If you're interested in putting your problems to geeks, or you're a geek who wants to solve some problems worth solving ... keep an eye on Scripting Enabled. And maybe you might think about holding your own geek-meets-disabled event in your town or city?

[Updated] Check out rain Ashford's writeup of Scripting Enabled on the BBC Backstage Blog.

Quote of the day

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Vaughan | 16:00 UK time, Tuesday, 16 September 2008

The nation's favoirote actor - well, he is, isn't he? - David Jason has announced that he's quitting his award-winning role of Det Insp Jack Frost in ITV's A Touch of Frost after 16 years, because the character is "a little long in the tooth".

He went on: "You wouldn't want me to play Frost in a wheelchair, would you?"

To which Ouch! says: "Hang on, David! What about Ironside?! If it was good enough for him, surely you could give it a go too?"

David Jason was unavailable for comment. Well, to be honest, we didn't call him.

GB secures 100th Paralympic medal

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Vaughan | 15:24 UK time, Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Remember the end of the Olympics, when Great Britain was trumpeting the huge success of Team GB at finishing up in fourth place on the medals table, only just behind the big guns of China, the USA and Russia, with a total of 47 medals, including 19 golds?

Well, get this. As of today, Britain's Paralympics squad has racked up its 100th medal in these Games. One hundred shiny metal discs. For all you sports statistics fans out there, that's 41 golds, 29 silver and 30 bronze according to Wikipedia. And we're second behind the leaders, China, too - who have an utterly astonishing 206 medals.

Perhaps the best news of all is that our 100th medal came courtesy of wheelchair racer Shelly Woods, who secured silver in the women's T54 1500 metres. It was a fitting achievement after the disappointment of having to hand back the silver medal she secured in the disputed 5000m, where she managed to escape the race's dramatic wheelchair pile-up. When the race was re-run, she managed a bronze.

So, 100 medals, eh? I may not know much about disability sport - to be honest, I get a bit puffed out going across the road to the local supermarket to stock up on cheese and caffeine - but I do hope that all the fuss and the fanfare that greeted the return of the Olympic team will be doubled for the return of our Paralympic squad. And, of course, that the transport for the victory parade will all be fully accessible ...

Crap News: Disabled boy gets to swim with Dolphins

Gids | 11:35 UK time, Monday, 15 September 2008

It seems not even the collapse of a major tour operator can prevent giving a chance for young disabled boy to 'swim with the dolphins' in Florida.

The family of a severely disabled six-year-old thought their dream of taking him to swim with dolphins in America lay in tatters following the collapse of tour operator XL Leisure Group - but today he was on his way after all.

After an anonymous donation their holiday is back on track. But I really want to know what is this special bond between Dolphins and the disabled, described by Little Callum's parents:

I know what Callum is like with animals and it is my dream to see him with the dolphins.

I just don't get it, how come only disabled people seem to 'speak dolphin', aren't there some disabled who dislike animals, it appears that is simply not an option!
You can read the story in EDP: The site where Norfolk really matters

Inclusive First Aid

Emma Emma | 17:09 UK time, Friday, 12 September 2008

The Red Cross's inclusive first aid programme was launched in 2007, and aims to equip 5,000 disabled people with life saving skills. Representative Brad Smith says that
"The programme is going well, but we want more people to know about it and engage with it. Please see the Inclusive First Aid website for more information".
It's World First Aid day tomorrow, so why not sign up for a course. I plan to.

Big Brother: Mikey and Darnell interviews.

Emma Emma | 16:26 UK time, Friday, 12 September 2008

As most of you will know, Big Brother ended last Friday. Disabled people, particularly visually impaired ones, were literally stuck to their screens as person with albinism Darnell Swallow finished 5th, and blind Mikey came a very surprising 2nd.

Before he went into the Big Brother House, Mikey worked for Insight Radio, a radio station for blind and visually impaired people based in Glasgo. Steven Scott from the station was there when Mikey and Darnell reentered the real world and got some great interviews with both of them. Click here to listen.

Disabled toilet etiquette

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Gids | 16:01 UK time, Tuesday, 9 September 2008

I'm sure Ouch readers are aware that disabled toilets aren't always used for purpose. Rather, in some cases they might be better labelled as 'extra store room' or 'reserved for use by famous rap star's posee.'
Speaking of which, I saw this in a café recently and caught it on my camera phone. I suppose in their defence they may have a very enlightened staff recruitment policy...
Disabled Toilet - Staff Only


DaDafest Part 2

Emma Emma | 13:21 UK time, Monday, 8 September 2008

When last we spoke, I was heading off to DaDa in the Yard. There, on a cold and drizzly afternoon, a decent amount of people turned out to see some great disability performances. Opera star Denise Leigh and her accordion virtuoso husband treated us to songs from some of the most well known operas. I recorded a sneaky audio clip (MP3).

Denise Leigh performing

There was some fun sign singing from Deaf group the Alexandras and Open Arts Community Choir from Northern Ireland, as seen on Last Choir Standing, regaled us with some fabulous choral singing. My favourite was the coffee and tea song. Here's a clip I recorded later at the night time show. Open Arts Choir (MP3)

After a wander around all the art on display, including Ju Gosling's Abnormal, and Kevin Connolly's Rolling exhibition, I took some friends to see A (Gay, Disabled, Transsexual) Love Story, As Told To A Ticket Collector at Alton Towers. The title is a bit of a mouthful, but the play itself is accessible, fun, sexy and warm-hearted. Robert Softly and company have already performed this work at the Edinburgh Fringe, but hopefully it will tour the country some day. It's just so entertaining!

The main show that night featured two premiers, Claire Cunningham's Mobile, which is a modern dance piece exploring her feelings around using crutches to get about, and Beauty and the Beast, featuring Mat Fraser. This was certainly an alternative version of the fairytale, and with much high drama and plenty of nudity, it certainly made a statement. The piece had folk talking well into the early ours.

Claire Cunningham

Sunday began with a discussion, featuring a live video link with Philip Padston from New Zealand. He was supposed to be talking about the hugely anticipated Momentum, a Disability arts festival taking place in New Zealand next year. Unfortunately, technology being what it is, we lost Philip before he got to mention it. Ah well.

I left to get my train, just as a variety of acts were warming up for an afternoon in the yard. The sun was coming out, so with Laurence Clark and Heavy Load performing, I'm sure everyone had a great time.

Last night saw the closing of the exhibition with DaDaLesque, a burlesque show featuring Liz and Mat amongst others. I have my spies, so hopefully there will be photos from that event available on Flickr tomorrow.

All in all DaDaFest was a success. There genuinely were some excellent performances and it was a great thing to see disabled artists mingling and sharing ideas. There was a huge mechanical spider in Liverpool's city centre the same weekend, the Paralympics began, and Big Brother ended, which I think all lead to a smaller turn out than expected at some performances. The venue's location, slightly outside the main thoroughfare, also must have made it difficult for some. Hats off to the Garry Robson, Ruth Gould and all the other organisers, for making DaDaFest 08 the biggest Disability and Deaf arts festival, ever to be staged in the UK.

Update!See more photos on Flickr

DaDaFest Part 1

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Emma Emma | 12:18 UK time, Saturday, 6 September 2008


Liverpool's annual Disability and Deaf arts festival is happening right now at the A Foundation on Greenland street and will run until tomorrow night the 6th of September. The events began on Thursday, which is when I made my way on a painfully slow train from London to join in.

Very late, my facilitator Jo and I raced into the screening of the Last American Freakshow. This is a film by Richard Butchins, which follows a modern day freakshow across the United States. The audio description was live, which helped when the DVD kept freezing. The describer even told us exactly which frame it hat stopped at. She also whispered the description when the action was quiet, and spoke loudly to be heard over the din of the rickety buss in which the 'freaks' travelled.

There was a Q&A with Richard afterwards, where he let us in to a little secret. The performers in the freakshow were a lot more stable than the able bodied organisers.

Later we went to what is called the Side Show. Mat Fraser was the very able MC, and it featured the lovely Liz Carr, a fantastically funny cabaret act called Blind Gurl and the Crips, and the irrepressible punk band featuring people with and without learning difficulties, Heavy Load. Heavy Load's film will be released in October, and Blind Gurl and the Crips are writing a musical about Ian Dury which will be performed in Glasgow in November. So watch this space for more info! Pictures of the acts will also arrive at some point, once a whole range of boring computer problems are sorted out.

On Friday I attended a presentation explaining the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, and what it means for disabled artists. This is where each region of the UK celebrates the coming of the Olympics to London, by hosting numerous cultural events with the Olympic branding. It's going to be huge. There are literally masses of events planned over the next 4 years, and the first one to get money attached to it would you believe is the unlimited programme, which aims to have the biggest number of disabled artists performing together at an event, ever. Again, I'm sure Ouch will be talking about this in the future.

Friday afternoon included a set of short films by people with learning disabilities, which were fantastic by the way, especially Germ Academy, which is about washing your hands. They were presented by the Oska Bright film festival, so if Oska Bright comes to your neck of the woods don't hesitate. These movies are funny, and sometimes educational.

So you want to be a DaDa Star was an open Mic session at the Picket. One of the acts was an 18 year old called Craig McDonald who writes poetry. He is the youngest performer I've seen so far at DaDa, and hopefully he will go a long way

Craig Mcdonald

In the evening I went to see Laurence Clark's show, Spastic Fantastic. I'd recommend it. Very funny. And I won a Spazstick. It will probably be given away to one of you lucky readers, so wait by your computer for the chance to get your mouth around some caffeinated lip balm.

I tend to be just the tiny bit calamitus by nature, it's Saturday afternoon as I write this entry. The first time I've had the computer working properly since arriving. I'll hopefully check in tomorrow though, with more pictures and news from the festival. The weather is clearing up, so if you are in the vicinity, pop along. DaDa in the Yard is happening right now and looks great.

Liberty Festival

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Gids | 13:57 UK time, Wednesday, 3 September 2008

I went along to the Liberty Festival in Trafalgar Square on the weekend. Which featured all sorts of performances and events featuring disabled artists. The crowds in the square included a bunch of our Ouch Messageboard users, loads more disabled people, plus many a bemused tourist dipping their toes into the fountain or taking photos next to Nelson's Column.
It is this this unusual mix that makes Liberty special, it's not just another event on the 'disability arts' circuit, instead we take over a big open space in the heart of London and see who happens to be there.
The Medal Ceremony
The events on offer spanned from performance, to film and parodies. I really enjoyed the tent showing films by deaf film-makers (including Ouch contributor Charlie Swinbourne) and especially the Rhinestone Rollers line dancing wheelchair troupe, which had attitude in more ways than one.
The Rhinestone Rollers
One point well made on our message board thread stuck with me though, now that every minority group seems to have a big celebratory event in London, we'll need to keep upping the ante to stand out in the party calendar. And that's about knowing just what makes us worth lots of Londoners partying about, toe-dipping tourists along with those 'in the know.'
You can see more pictures on Flickr

Two viewpoints: one cost

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Elizabeth McClung | 00:17 UK time, Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Last night I read the news on Hurricane Gustav and thought about my disabled friends in New Orleans. I remembered the documentary When the Levees Broke on Hurricane Katrina. There, every person in a wheelchair died, every person needing insulin died. The disabled didn't fare so well in that crisis. I have a friend living in New Orleans in a wheelchair. So I am concerned. Because while on the side of police cars it says to "serve and protect" I wonder if the police or other authorities know enough about disabilities to know how to adequately "protect."

Today, in North America is the statutory holiday, Labor/Labour Day. I woke to the sound of contractors working on the roof, under the owner's instruction. On the weekend the bylaw allows work on Saturday from 10 am to 7 pm, but none on Sundays or statutory holidays. We called the police. We weren't the first.

Over the previous weeks these same roofers repeatedly broke the bylaw, starting earlier and earlier. This ended up causing enough lack of sleep to send me to the emergency room with significant seizures (The ER report read as cause, "Insomnia and stress").

The police had promised the previous complainants that if anyone else called, they would come and shut the work down. Instead they called the contractor who promised to be done by 5 p.m. and these were "emergency repairs for rain." (It hasn't rained since Thursday, and two weeks of a growing heat wave are forecast). I don't live in New Orleans; I live in Victoria, BC.

The officer was told about my illness/disability, which requires 12 hours of sleep daily, and the recent hospitalization. The officer was informed of the owners history of other illegal acts. Why, we wanted to know, can the owner continue in such a way? Were the roofers illegal today? The officer said yes but.....

What was the solution then?

He felt that we should move.

This illustrated the difference in viewpoints. We are working with the health authority already to find the accessible housing for someone with a degenerative muscular and respiratory disease. The waits are 12 to 24 months. I am on near constant oxygen and am waiting funding for a wheelchair with head support and seizure restraint. The officer knew that an illegal activity was happening, but to them it wasn't important. I worry the same owner will "decide" with the same lack of notification to turn off electricity, which would cut off my oxygen. Having already been taken to ER by ambulance by this not so important illegal activity, I felt vulnerable and afraid. The police, instead of offering services, suggest I move. I assume he means going to another apartment instead of mocking my muscular degeneration as there are often many hours paralyzed where I wish I could "move." That's the difference in viewpoints.

I called the Watch Commander, because I wanted to see if this was the attitude of one officer or the whole police force. I wanted to believe, like so many of my friends who ended up in "battles" fighting for rights from wheelchairs to ramps, from care giving to police protection from harassment, that I be served or protected as the law requires. So I asked Sgt. Rendo, the Watch Commander, why, if the police know a law is being broken, do they do nothing? I soon had the experience of listening to him creating reasons why the building owner needs to break the law, which concluded with "the owner could have an exemption in order to do repairs on a holiday."

I asked if the officers who came to the scene had asked to see this exemption. Well, the office, which gives those exemptions, is closed today, was the reasoning on not asking for the paperwork.

I asked if I could have the same right and have a party tonight, because the office to give me an exemption was closed?

No.

Ah.

So it wasn't just the one police officer. Last year when a stalker was following, harassing and photographing me the police also said they could do nothing. A person blocking my wheelchair on the sidewalk, and parking to cut off my ability to leave using the curb cut is a threatening act, a form of being trapped when you are in a wheelchair. Nor did they understand that when you are trying to remain in your apartment instead of the hospital, illegal construction above you at odd hours, preventing sleep or rest CAN become a health risk.

It seems that we are a long way from Katrina or Gustav. We understand the threat nature presents when a hurricane floods a city. But the rest of the population, the ones who can drive or run away, forget that there is a percentage of the population who don't have that option. And are hoping that the very officers, social workers, and facilities which are staffed by able bodied individuals understand how vulnerable a disability can be in an able bodied world. That when no one will take action against someone who presents a threat to wheelchair use in the community, the only option is to stay inside. Disabilities don't take weekends off. And they don't get statutory holidays. So when I call for help, I am saying, "I am vulnerable, and if you choose to do nothing, I will get sicker, my life will become more limited."

I am tired of seeing disabled friends suffer or having me end up in the hospital or my bed for days so that one more person out of the hundreds of thousands can 'get it.' A disability and/or illness doesn't care if those in positions of power or protection "get it", understand spoon use theory, or how at risk we are. So please "serve and protect" or "foster public safety". I care about the attitudes and actions of others, because I am the one who will bear the cost.

• Visit Screw Bronze!

Feline disabled friend

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Gids | 16:31 UK time, Monday, 1 September 2008

We love disabled creatures great and small and that includes those of the furry feline variety!
Charlie here has cerebellar hypoplasia as a result he's a very cool cat with an unusual walk and limited Motor Skills, so he has quite a bit in common with many an Ouch reader!
A 'Cuteness Alert' is in order, but there is a serious point, that cats like him are sometimes destroyed, when in fact they make excellent pets.

Click here for video of Charlie
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