Crippled Monkey is astounded. It's only been a few days since we had the case of a marathon runner who had claimed over £pound;22,000 in disability benefits. But that's as nothing when compared to Kevin O'Connor, a 49-year-old karate coach (yes, you heard right - I said karate coach from Stoke-on-Trent, who falsely claimed £33,000 in incapacity benefits for a bad back which, he claimed, left him barely to walk. What a pity, then, that he was secretly filmed demonstrating martial arts falls and throws, and undertaking a range of physical activities including running and lifting items. Don't these people ever learn?
Archives for January 2007
The influential Disability World, the bi-monthly web-zine of international disability news and views, recently compiled its Top 10 list for 2006, detailing the "ten outstanding events, products and developments that impacted people with disabilities in the previous twelve months. And guess what? In with a bullet at number 2 - three places ahead of the UN Convention on Rights of Disabled Persons, if you can believe that - is our very own Ouch Podcast.
We'd like to thank our mothers and fathers, our agent, our publicist, all the listeners ... oh, and I suppose we should offer a sincere apology to the United Nations. It's nothing personal, honestly.
For technology geeks like Crippled Monkey, apart from the recently-announced Apple iPhone (inaccessible to blind and visually impaired people), the other desirable item of choice is the peculiarly-named Nintendo Wii games console. But the very nature of its use - whereby you physically, er, well, sort of throw yourself around to operate the controls - means that its not exactly the easiest thing to use if you've got any sort of mobility impairment. And that's what enthusiastic gamer Samuel Kahn pointed out in his open letter to Nintendo:
"I'm disabled; I have Muscular Dystrophy ... I began fearing that the Wiimote was something I may not be able to use effectively due to my limited range of motion. I hadn't seen anything published regarding the adjustment of control sensitivity for the Wii and its games. After buying a Wii on launch day, I discovered my fears were partially justified."
So have any Ouch'ers out there - and we know there are some enthusiastic gamers amongst you - tried the Wii out for size? Is it even a little adjustable for people who are not, as the introduction to Samuel's letter suggests, able to "swing their arms around like a spider monkey"? Let us know in the comments.
There's a disturbing article in today's edition of The Guardian. Susan Smith (not her real name) has Body Identity Integrity Disorder (BIID). She was six years old when she first became aware of her desire to lose her legs, and by the time she was a teenager she was "playing" at being an amputee. More recently, she took drastic action to freeze her left leg using dry ice pellets, in order to kill the nerves and persuade doctors to amputate. The first attempt failed, but a second was "successful", and last June Susan had her left leg amputated just above the knee. She is now planning for the removal of her right leg.
Your thoughts on this article, as ever, would be welcomed in the comments.
Featuring a big picture of his fellow podcast presenter Liz Carr at the top of the article, the latest edition of the New Statesman features Mat Fraser discussing "disabled comedians ... winning over mainstream audiencea". There are names that many Ouch readers will be familiar with - deaf comic Steve Day, Francesca Martinez, Laurence Clark and Adam Hills. Oh, and a podcast on a certain popular disability website gets a mention:
"Take our phone-in game Vegetable, Vegetable, Vegetable, in which we try to guess the caller's impairment by asking yes/no questions ("Can you walk? Can you feed yourself?" and so on). The game is apparently offensive enough to warrant frowning discussions on Radio 4 arts programmes, but I bet it would make you laugh."
Crippled Monkey is glowing with pride as I write ... click here to read the full article.
What is it with the Dutch and reality TV featuring disabled people?
At the end of December, the news broke that one of the surprise hits of 2006 on Netherlands television was Miss Ability, a beauty contest for disabled women - complete with the swimsuit round, formal wear and, no doubt, vows that the contestants want to work with children and animals. The programme was such a hit that international broadcasters were quickly snapping up the rights to produce the show in their country, including a British independent called DLT Entertainment (the producers of BBC ONE sitcom My Family) who were apparently approaching Heather Mills to be the presenter.
Now let's not forget that it was the Dutch who brought us Big Brother - and look how massively popular that show has become. So could we be seeing their next reality TV show format on UK TV screens?
Dutch broadcaster SBS6 have been advertising on their website for contestants to appear on a new show called Love at Second Sight. The ad begins: "Do you have a visible serious handicap and are you looking for a partner?" Yep, that's right, it's a dating show for people with facial disfigurements. SBS have suggested that burns victims, those with severe scars, or people lacking one or both eyes might like to come forward and apply.
The broadcaster has denied the show is tasteless. A spokesman said: "The programme is a platform for people with such problems to share experiences and feelings in a positive way with the rest of the Netherlands, and to show that they are absolutely not pitiful. The main aim of the programme is to remove prejudice about these people, to create more acceptance and respect and, of course, to find the love of their lives".
Sounds all rather good, positive and worthy ... until you discover that Love at Second Sight was originally going to be called Monstrous Love. Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear oh dear.
The show hits Dutch TV screens on February 20. Whether it makes it over here rather depends on the audience reaction over there. A recent poll in the mass circulation newspaper De Telegraaf showed that some 85% of people did not like the idea, with only 9% actively in favour. Maybe it's not going to be the new Big Brother, then ...
Hello, fellow Ouch'ers. It's time to cast a beady eye around the buzzing world of disability blogs and find out what you lot out there have been saying.
Colorado blogger Did I Miss Something? has a wonderful post about assumption - listing some of the things that people just assume about her impairments. How about the classic "You're smart, so you're not really disabled ... why are you asking for all this help?
Diary of a Goldfish has been investigating a bit of disability history, looking at the treatment of contrasting figures Mary Lamb and James Hadfield, who both had mental health problems, at the turn of the 18th and 19th century. Fascinating stuff.
Some UK viewers may have seen the American show Scrubs and might be interested to read TikvahGirl's thoughts on a recent episode that dealt with postpartum depression - and seemingly got it right.
Wheelchair Dancer recently attend a book reading by a crip writer, but what really got her thinking was the seating - yes, the seating - as she pondered how all the other attendees are "frozen in uncomfortable seats. My seat is an extension of my ass. It's shaped around the contours of my body".
And finally, Gimpy Mumpy, one of the first disability blogs we linked to here on Ouch, is saying goodbye to the blogosphere. So be sure to pop over and wish her well.
If you thought disabled people having sex was sadly still a bit of a taboo subject, you ain't heard nothing yet. "The biggest problem within Japanese society appears to lie in the widespread refusal to even acknowledge the existence of sexual desire among the disabled" says an article from the Mainichi Daily News (warning: contains adult references, so careful if you're clicking) looking at 'sex services' for disabled people in Tokyo, such as the Enjoy Club. The article goes on to point out that an even bigger taboo concerns disabled women and sex, with parents and helpers dealing with menstruation amongst disabled women by offering no other advice but to have a hysterectomy.
An interesting look into the subject as seen from a different culture, then.
Back on home soil, but on the same subject, the Oxford Mail takes a local interest in the next edition of the BBC TWO documentary series The Children of Helen House, which goes out next Tuesday (30 January) at 10.00pm, as it looks at how the hospice featured in the programme found a prostitute for a terminally ill disabled man - something that proved a major moral dilemma for Sister Frances Dominica, the hospice's founder.
There's a new campaign just starting up, which aims to collect 1,000,000 EU citizens' signatures to combat discrimination in all aspects of the lives of disabled people in Europe. And it's called One million for Disability.
Why 1 million - apart from it being a nice, big, round figure, of course? Well, in the draft European Union Constitutional Treaty, it's stated that the EU must respond to the call of at least 1 million citizens.
The campaign started yesterday and runs until 3 October 2007. The day after, the signatures will be officially handed over to the European Commission and Parliament.
So go and sign your name now, and tell them that the good folks at Ouch sent you.
Whilst the headlines may have been grabbed by the findings about a decline in the support for civil liberties in the light of an increased terrorist threat, the 23rd report into British Social Attitudes, published today by the National Centre for Social Research has also revealed widespread prejudice against disabled people. Time for some facts and figures.
75% of respondents think that there is prejudice against disabled people in Britain today - but only 25% think that there is a lot of prejudice. Yet, as the results go on to show, the survey's respondents display views which indicate quite widespread prejudice.
More than half (52%) of the respondents don't think of schizophrenia as a disability. Just 44% think that someone with cancer or an older person who needs a hearing aid is disabled, and only a quarter think that someone with a severe facial disfigurement is disabled. But nearly a third think that someone who is temporarily on crutches because of a broken leg qualifies as a disabled person. So while the legal definition of disability under the DDA is any person who has a physical or mental impairment or long-term health condition, which has a substantial and long-term effect on their ability to carry out day-to-day activities, the general public appears to have a far narrower view - one that is purely focused on physical impairments.
There's a lot of unease at the prospect of coming into contact with people with certain impairments. Only 29% say that they would feel comfortable if someone with schizophrenia moved in next door to them, with only 19% saying that they would feel comfortable about a person with schizophrenia marrying a close relative of theirs.
It's not just mental health impairments, though: only 21% say they would be comfortable with a close relative marrying someone with a long-term health condition like MS or severe arthritis, and just over half would be comfortable with a family member walking down the aisle with a blind person.
The news gets better elsewhere in the survey. For instance, knowing a disabled person makes for a great impact in reducing prejudice. People with first or second hand experience of disability tend to perceive prejudice to be more widespread and hold less negative attitudes towards disabled people. So on the question of someone with schizophrenia moving in next door, 82% of people who don't know anyone who is disabled would not feel comfortable, compared with 71% who know someone who is disabled. Yet 62% of disabled people themselves would not feel comfortable in such a situation - an interesting statistic.
So what do you make of these research findings? Do they tally with your experience of life and attitudes? Are there surprises amongst the facts and figures? Are you shocked by what the general public thinks, or does it all seem to comfirm what you already know? Tell us your views in the comments.
If you like your TV disability flavoured, then you'll be spending quite a bit of time in front of the telly next week, with two programmes to decide between at 9.00pm on Monday 29 January.
Channel 4 is showing another programme in its Extraordinary Children series.
The Smallest People in the World tells the "moving story" (and how Crippled Monkey sometimes hates that phrase) of five American children who are Primordial dwarfs, the smallest and rarest type in the world.
Meanwhile, at the same time on Five, the Extraordinary People series - and boy, isn't that going to be confusing, considering that Extraordinary Children will be airing then too - meets The Boy Who Sees Without Eyes, a blind teenager who has "developed a unique strategy to cope with his disability" (it says here). Er, what that "unique strategy" is I can't say. Guess we'll all just have to tune in to find out.
But if all that medical marvel stuff is doing your head in, as it is mine, hang on for Wednesday afternoon on the CBBC Channel. Desperados is a new children's comedy drama series starring Paralympic bronze medallist and TV presenter Ade Adepitan as Baggy Awolowo, a coach who is desperate for new players for his junior wheelchair basketball team.
If you're in the Belfast from Friday 26 January onwards, be sure to check out Movies in Mind, a seven-day long season of films with the underlying theme of mental illness, showing cinema's and society's changing attitudes to people with mental health problems.
It's being staged by the national mental health membership charity Rethink, in association with the Queens Film Theatre based in the Northern Ireland capital, where each movie will be screened. Check out the full listings for the week, which features such famous films as An Angel At My Table, Donnie Darko and The Madness of King George.
Rethink are also involved in Revolving Door, a new play about teenage mental health which is being staged from 31 January to 9 February in small theatre venues and schools across Northern Ireland.
Whilst it may not be on a par with footballer Eric Cantona's infamous flying karate kick at a spectator a few years ago, the news that Aston Villa midfielder Lee Hendrie allegedly insulted a disabled Manchester United fan is worrying.
Andy Wild, a wheelchair-using United supporter, claims that Hendrie insulted him after becoming involved in a slanging match with the opposing team's fans whilst the player was warming up near the disabled supporters' area. Hendrie, however, strongly denies the allegations.
Crippled Monkey, who freely admits to knowing nothing about football, likes Manchester United better than Aston Villa anyway. But that's all to do with the colour of their strip, obviously. I'm such an aesthetic Monkey, aren't I?
You'll probably have seen this story already, but I, Crippled Monkey, thought it was about time that the Ouch weblog celebrated the undoubted disability anti-hero of 2007 so far. Yes, it's Paul Appleby, 47, from Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, the long-distance runner who claimed £22,300 in disability benefits, saying he needed a wheelchair or walking frame to walk, whilst in fact spending most of his time competing in road races and marathons.
Marathons?! Really, you've got to admire the man's brass nerve. In the photo accompanying most of the news reports, there he is indulging in his favourite passion, smiling cheerily at the camera as he completes yet another highly athletic mile. Most fraudulent disability benefit claimants get had up by the law after merely being spotted carrying a flat-pack wardrobe out of their local DIY store. But not Paul Appleby. Oh no. For him, only regular bouts of arduous marathon-running were enough. What a guy!
Oh, and there are some good headlines lurking round the net for this story. A South African news website reports it as Athlete 'a cripple on the sly', which is based on one fellow athlete who commented that "no one had a clue he was pretending to be a cripple on the sly; the bloke was as fit as a flea", whilst The Telegraph opted for the slightly punworthy Benefits cheat could run but he couldn't hide. Run. Run? Geddit?
Facing one of those ever so trying, ever so annoying moments where the powers that be simply refuse to believe that you're disabled? Never fear, because if you're a prosthetic limb user, Jennifer Kellaway of Sydney, Australia has the phrase for you to use. Having been doubted one too many times by the Roads and Traffic Authority that she is really allowed to use one of those all-too precious disabled parking bays, Ms Kellaway responded thus: "I said, 'I know it's on your system that I'm a double amputee - because it's written on my driver's licence. I told them they could stab my legs with a letter opener if they wanted to prove it".
Over now to Ouch's Italian Crippled Monkey counterpart, Scimmia Paralizzata (and no, please don't write in if that's wrong!), for some late-breaking news from the magnificent city of rivers and bridges, Venice.
For the first time in more than 70 years, Venice is getting a new bridge: Il ponte di Calatrava. It's a splendid design by all accounts, a modern structure but one which fits in with the local environment. In fact, there's really only one problem.
It's not accessible.
That's right. Somewhat incredibly, a bridge being designed and built in the 21st century for one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world has been made inaccessible to disabled people. The structure is approached by glass steps, thereby making it useless for people in wheelchairs or those with mobility difficulties.
Both the local Venice council and the architect's company have been overwhelmed by letters of protest, and so there has been some talk of solutions - such as proposals to give disabled people free ferry passes so that they wouldn't need to use the bridge at all (because, of course, we wouldn't want to, would we?) Another suggestion has been to install platform lifts that would travel along the span of the bridge, but the architect Santiago Calatrava is not happy about this, and his reputation is such - he's big in the world of bridge-building, apparently - that no one seems to have the nerve to ask him to think again. Because it's a work of art, innit, not just a bridge.
How it got to the stage where the bridge is on the point of being built without access needs having been taken into consideration is beyond me. That's Venice off the Monkey's tourist itinerary, then.
If you're anything like Crippled Monkey, you'll have spent the occasional afternoon when you should be working (sorry, boss) giggling in recognition at the cartoon adventures of office worker Dilbert. But did you know that his creator is one of them disablified types?
Scott Adams, the man behind Dilbert, has been writing in one of the most recent entries on his blog about spasmodic dysphonia, the voice condition he has:
"I couldn't speak for about 18 months unless I was on stage doing my public speaking, or alone, or singing. The rest of the time my vocal cords would clench and I could barely get out a word ... We can also often speak perfectly in funny British accents but not in our own voices. We can speak after we have laughed or yawned. Sometimes it helps to pinch our noses or cover our ears. I found I can talk okay if I stretch my head back and look at the ceiling or close my eyes. And we can all sing and hum just fine."
Scott talks about treatments for spasmodic dysphonia, and also reports that he's spending a week with a doctor who claims "to be able to cure this condition completely". Worth keeping an eye on his blog for updates.
I'm a bit of an Apple geek on the quiet, so when their sleek and shiny new iPhone was announced last week to whoops of delight, I'm afraid that I rather joined in the chorus of "I want one! Gimme one!" I'm ashamed to say that almost the last thing on my mind was how accessible it might be to blind and visually impaired users, considering that its operation relies almost entirely on touch-screen technology.
Fortunately, there are people out there in webland who are rather more clued-up about such things, as weblog currybetdotnet discussed yesterday. He points to a post on The Unofficial Apple Weblog which certainly doesn't mince its words as it asks: Does the iPhone shaft the blind?
But it's the comments after the entry that prove really shocking. Apple fans are known for their almost religious dedication to the brand, and some of them simply can't see the point in 'needlessly worrying' about blind and visually impaired phone users. Responses include:
"I don't know if there is a tactful way to say this, but, is it really Apple's responsibility to make sure of this? I mean c'mon. Starving children in Africa won't be able to use it either."
"Why would the blind want this phone as 90% of its function is visual?"
"I don't mean to be an ass, but who cares?"
"I can't imagine how people with significant visual impairment could use the iPhone. I also am very glad Apple didn't let that stop them from making the best phone interface they could for the rest of us."
"Dang! You're right! And people without fingers won't be able to use it either! Apple should just cancel the whole project ... If there's such a huge and desperate need for cutting edge phones for the blind, then someone can fill it and make a living doing so."
"Is Apple expected to make a touch screen that somehow implements Braille? Why stop at blind people? What about deaf people? Surely Apple was insensitive and forgot about them when deciding to make a PHONE or a device that has sound?"
"What about Stephen Hawking?! Did those insensitive swine at Apple ever consider Stephen Hawking? How on Earth will he ever use an iPhone? Never, that's how!
Beware, before you check out the entire thread of comments, that some of the opinions get a bit heated and that, consequently, some of the language gets a little, erm, colourful to say the least.
Now you probably think, by now, that you've got the measure of Ouch's weblog. We're just here to find the most far-fetched news stories concerning disability, and then do nothing but point and laugh. Well, that's not true. We are the BBC, after all, and therefore we exist for good, sound public service reasons: like warning anybody with mental health problems - particularly paranoia and bipolar disorder, but slso if you're on mood stabilising drugs of any sort - that today might be a day when it's best to avoid looking at the newspaper front pages. Any of them, in fact. Just don't.
Frankly, it's "WE'RE ALL DOOMED! DOOMED, I SAY!" territory across the tabloids and broadsheets, driven by the fact that the Doomsday Clock, which for 60 years has shown how close the world is to nuclear disaster - yes, you read right, that's nuclear disaster! - will today have its hands moved forward to show that we are facing the gravest threat of Armageddon - that's Armageddon, folks! - in 20 years, thanks to factors such as international terrorism, continuing instability in the Middle East, and more nations seeking to equip themselves with nuclear deterrents. Cheerful stuff, innit?
So a selection of Wednesday's headlines include:
The Doomsday Clock: Nuclear threat to world 'rising'
Doomsday clock ticks closer to apocalypse
Scientists bring forward nuclear holocaust
Doom looms for nuclear clock
But even this isn't enough for some newspapers, and they have to bring the doom and gloom element into play for other stories. So when the Daily Mail recently reported on a new gene test to predict a person's risk of getting cancer, heart disease or Alzheimer's, they titled it Are you brave enough for the doomsday test?, whilst ClickPress began the year with UFO cult predicts end of the world in July 2007. There was even Six-legged cow probably heralds apocalypse.
There is a serious underlying point to this humorous look round the newspaper front pages, though. Headlines like these probably scare a fair few of us, but what is their effect on people with certain specific mental health problems? Have you had personal experience of this? As ever, let us know in the comments.
Contactmusic.com are the undoubted winners of today's disabiility-related headline of the day for this: Simpson's Breasts 'Disabled' Her. And no, they're not talking blue-haired Marge Simpson, but rather pop starlet Jessica, famed for her hits like, er ... well, some hits, anyway. Don't ask me. I'm only a Crippled Monkey.
Oh, and for what it's worth, Miss Simpson's breasts didn't really disable her. They were merely a mild inconvenience to the progress of her glittering music career. Oh. So, maybe a slight then, Jessica?
Since the shocking story of Ashley X - the American child with learning disabilities whose parents have chosen surgery and other treatments to keep her body "childlike" because they believe it will give her a better life - broke at the start of this month, there has been much criticism and debate from all quarters, not least on a packed thread on Ouch's messageboard, which currently atands at a massive 171 replies.
Disability charity Scope has now started an online campaign where you can sign up to defend disabled children's human rights. They are looking for a large number of people, both disabled and non-disabled, to add their names to their call for Government to provide appropriate and adequate support to disabled people and their families to prevent the Ashley X situation happening here in the UK.
You can add your name to the campaign at www.scope.org.uk/childrensrights/.
If you're in Northern Ireland, keep a look-out for the BBC's new Healthy Minds campaign. Running from today, Monday 15 January, to the end of March, its aim is to encourage everyone to do something, no matter how small, to improve their mental wellbeing and to approach their mental health as they would their physical health.
You can tune into BBC Northern Ireland TV and Radio Ulster/Radio Foyle for debate and discussion around mental health issues, where you can also find out about a series of mental wellbeing events running across Northern Ireland. T|he campaign also includes a short film competition for young people, and the BBC Bus will also be on the road, visiting events and collecting people's stories and experiences.
Additionally, the Heathy Minds website will provide general advice on maintaining good mental wellbeing and allow visitors to have their say online, so you can find out how others have coped in difficult times and where they went for help.
Are you in London on Saturday 24 February? Fancy an evening of good music? Then be sure to get tickets for the Children Helping Children concert at the Cadogan Hall. This is a fundraiser for HemiHelp a charity that supports children with hemiplegia, a form of cerebral palsy that causes damage to one side of the brain. It affects around 1 in 1,000 children and is the most common form of CP amongst children born at term. The concert features classical singing sensation Hayley Westenra, performers from top music schools in the UK, as well as children who themselves have hemiplegia.
To find out more details about the concert and how to get tickets, pay a visit to the HemiHelp website.
I'm finding myself in a bit of a dilemma about the new ad campaign by Enable Scotland, a charity for adults and children with learning difficulties, in which they make the point - in a no-nonsense, hard-hitting way - that animal charities receive almost twice as much in donations as disability ones.
The campaign features stark posters of adults with learning difficulties, accompanied by very direct questions such as "If I ate out of a dog bowl, would you like me more?" and "Would you like me to sit up and beg?"
In their campaign literature, Enable Scotland point to the figure that 11.1% of the UK population donate to animal charities, while only 6.6% donate to disability charities. While those figures are shocking, they also leave something of an unpleasant taste in the mouth of this Crippled Monkey. Should we really be comparing charity with charity and saying that some are more worthy than others, and thus criticising where members of the public who are, after all, under no obligation to donate money to any such causes are choosing to place their cash? And furthermore, doesn't this campaign once again make disabled people synonymous with charity? As Tom Shakespeare said right here on Ouch over three years ago, should we not "challenge the idea that disabled people are the perpetual beneficiaries of charity"?
Be interested to hear your opinions on this campaign. Just click on that handy comments link below.
Now I'm a worldly-wise Crippled Monkey, and I know that there's a lot of disability discrimination that goes on out there and that, moreover, this is not just discrimination but a human rights issue too. Accepted, yes.
So call me controversial (oh, go on, please call me controversial! I LOVE being controversial!), but what I am having difficulty accepting is that the right to travel at 46mph on Lake Windermere in the Lake District is a fundamental human right for a record-breaking blind water-skier.
But that's what 74-year-old Gerald Price reckons. He says that a 10mph speed limit on the lake breaches human rights legislation. He previously set a blind water-skiing world record on Windermere in October 2004, when he reached a speed of 46.2mph. While I do, of course, salute such an achievement, I'd like to point out to Gerald that if he keeps to the lower speed limit he'd be able to, er, feel the water gently splashing against him and smell the wonderful scents of nature around him. Or something. Plus, he wouldn't scare to death the rest of the people on the lake - like Crippled Monkey, for instance - who are enjoying far more leisurely pursuits; I like nothing better than going for a leisurely jaunt on a pedalo, and I can't expect my personal assistant to power it at much more than ten miles an hour anyway, or else they get all puffed out. Enough said.
Whilst we here at Ouch would love to claim that there's only one disability newsletter worth getting regularly delivered to your inbox - and that's our own, of course - it's not strictly true. You can also sign up to get a monthly newsletter from the BBC's Disability Affairs Correspondent, Peter White. Sent out on the first of every month, it's a round-up of what's been happening as regards disability programming on Radio 4. Peter reviews and recommends items on In Touch, You and Yours, documentaries and programmes that have been broadcast over the previous month, all with accompanying audio links.
So if this sounds like your kind of thing, get on over to the Radio 4 website and sign up to get Peter White in your inbox.
Crippled Monkey feels really bad about the entry I'm about to write. Because this is a shocking, tragic and terribly sad story. It's not funny in the slightest. No, definitely not.
It's just ... well, always having an eye for a headline and a subsequent report involving one of them disabled types, I was absolutely powerless to resist when I picked up The Mirror and saw the words Death by Big Mac doughnut screaming out at me from the page.
It was a chocolate doughnut, too. Somehow, this seems important.
I am going to hell. I am definitely going to hell. Sorry.
If you've always hungered for the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd, but would prefer to be backstage rather than on it, this could be your chance to gain experience and skills in the field of performing arts management.
Fast Track, run by the Independent Theatre Council, is a new scheme offering ten deaf or disabled people from across London a unique opportunity. Delivered in partnership with Shape, the country's leading disability arts organisation, this program is the first of its kind to really address the under-representation of deaf and disabled people in theatre management. If includes a fifteen-week work placement with a professional performing arts organisation, a number of training courses, mentoring and support throughout and networking opportunities at a senior level.
You haven't got long if you want to apply for this, as the closing date for applications is Friday 25 January. You can find out more on Shape's website, whilst full details and the various application forms can be found on the Independent Theatre Council site. Any queries or access needs should be directed to Carol Sidney, Fast Track Co-ordinator, on 020 7089 6020 or email at email@example.com.
Now here's an interesting question with which to begin your Wednesday. When are you too young to be disabled?
When you're two years old, apparently. Seems that you can't be disabled until you're three.
That, anyway, is what the parents of Scottish toddler Justin Meek have been told. Justin, who has Prader-Willi Syndrome, has been denied mobility allowance because officials say he is too young to be disabled and has to wait until he is three years old before he'll receive it. And now, to add insult to injury, Justin's parents have also been refused legal aid to fight this ruling because, according to a Legal Aid Board spokesman, "it wasn't felt a reasonable use of taxpayers' money to grant this application".
Justin and his family need the monthly allowance of £212 to buy a car, which will assist them in taking him to hospital three times a week and carry the oxygen and other equipment which keeps him alive. The Meeks' campaign has been backed by Tory leader David Cameron, whose four-year-old son Ivan has cerebral palsy. A spokesman for disability minister Anne McGuire, whom the Meeks have lobbied about this matter, refused to comment on individual cases, but did say that "original legislation held that children had to be aged five to be entitled to the higher rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance. Following further medical advice, that legislation was amended in April 2001 and the lower age limit was reduced to three. This is the age at which it is considered the majority of children, including those without any disability, should be able to walk".
Justin Meek will reach the grand old age of three, when he will finally be entitled to the mobility component under government rules, on June 2. Crippled Monkey would like to be the first to wish him a very very happy birthday indeed.
Here's one of Monkey's favourite types of blog entry - yep, it's from the "Honestly, You Couldn't Make This Stuff Up" file. And today's new entrant to that bulging collection is all about the very well-known stairlift company that refused to install one of their own products in their main offices as a reasonable adjustment for a disabled employee.
That sound you can hear is just me repeatedly slapping my forehead with a banana.
David Ratcliffe, aged 36, an IT designer who walks with crutches, took Stannah Stairlifts to an employment tribunal after they refused to install a stairlift in their Andover headquarters to help him go up and down the stairs to his office on the second floor. His line manager had laughed off the idea, saying that if they put one in everyone would want to ride up and down on it and no work would get done - and this despite the fact that Mr Ratcliffe wasn't the only disabled worker in the company who struggled with the stairs.
Now I, Crippled Monkey, will confess to being bit of a thrill-seeker on the quiet, but I've never been known to spend hours riding a stairlift for fun! Well, not unless it's one of those ridiculously fast ones powered by a jet engine.
Two weeks after starting work with the company, Mr Ratcliffe's contract was terminated because, apparently, Stannah had "grave concerns" about his training and conduct. The tribunal, however, found in his favour and awarded him £6000, saying that Stannah Stairlifts discriminated against Mr Ratcliffe as a disabled person by failing in its duty to make reasonable adjustments.
I bet June Whitfield never had these problems.
Whether you went back to work last week or only started back yesterday after the Christmas and New Year break, the dark days and wintry weather don't exactly help us to overcome the "back to work blues". But the Shaw Trust, a national charity that provides training and work opportunities for disabled people and those in ill health, is pointing out that those familiar feelings could be a sign of something far deeper: mental health problems.
To back up their new report - Mental Health, The Lsst Workplace Taboo - they are encouraging bosses and employers not to simply dismiss problems their staff may be having as being part of the New Year slump, but to take an active role in monitoring any difficulties. They point out that one person in every four experiences some kind of mental health problem during their lives, and further adds that 54% of Incapacity Benefit claimants state that their main reason for still being on IB is because of mental health issues - either directly or because their continued circumstances impact on their mental wellbeing.
Find out more, and read the key findings from the research, on the Shaw Trust website.
Starting tonight (Tuesday) on BBC TWO is a new eight-part series following staff, families and carers at Helen House in Oxford, which was the world's first centre to provide respite and end-of-life care for children with life-shortening conditions. The adjoining Douglas House leads the way in similar care for young adults. One of the stated aims of this community is to show that a short life does not have to be a "tragic" one.
Children of Helen House runs for the next eight weeks on Tuesday evenings at 10.00pm. Find out more on the programme's accompanying website.
Disability in the news over the past day or so, as former education secretary Ruth Kelly has faced criticism for choosing to send her son to a £15,000 a year private school. The cabinet minister's son has "particular and substantial learning difficulties", reported to be dyslexia, and she decided that the state schools near the family's East London home had inadequate provision for her son. However, the school that Ms Kelly has selected describes itself as the only preparatory school in the UK where the main aim is to help children with learning difficulties pass exams for top public schools such as Winchester, Eton and Harrow. Meanwhile, Ruth Kelly's local education authority, Tower Hamlets, has not endorsed the decision, claiming that they have a strong record in special needs education - with six special needs schools being within reach of the Kelly family home, and OFSTED reports on nearby primary schools with special needs provision rating them as good, excellent or outstanding.
The full text of Ruth Kelly's statement about her son's education.
Needless to say, the minister's decision has proven very controversial. Critics say her move is a huge snub to the millions of parents who have children with special educational needs but cannot afford to send them to expensive private schools. Within her own party, state education for all children is a core Labour value, and she has been strongly rebuked for her choice. Veteran backbencher Austin Mitchell said: "We should expect Labour ministers to put their children through the state system. I deplore others transferring their children out to go private".
Perhaps slightly embarrassing for Ms Kelly is that, unlike in previous cases where senior Labour figures have chosen private education for their children, on this occasion she has received support from across the political divide. Conservative leader David Cameron, whose son has cerebral palsy but attends a state special needs school, said: "We all have to make the decisions as parents first, not as politicians. Ruth Kelly is a parent first and foremost".
What's your opinion on this story? Is Ruth Kelly doing the right thing? Should she have kept her son in the state education special needs system? And has her son's impairment caused her to perhaps be treated with more understanding or even leniency over her decision than her government colleagues who made similar choices in the past? Share your views in the comments.
Crippled Monkey remains continually surprised by the little titbits of information you can discover whilst idly browsing round the net.
For instance, anyone remember the Segway? Launched in 2002, the motorised, two-wheeled upright scooter was hyped as the revolutionary future of personal transportation, in much the same way as the doomed Sinclair C5 had been nearly two decades earlier. Unfortunately, the Segway's biggest claim to fame only came when President George W. Bush managed to fall off one. We didn't laugh, honest.
But does the Segway have a role as personal transportation for disabled people with certain mobility difficulties? It wouldn't be so far-fetched, considering that Dean Kamen, the inventor of this scooter, developed it out of his earlier creation of the iBOT powered wheelchair. As the Wikipedia entry on the Segway explains, "an increasing number of disabled people use Segways to enhance their limited mobility. Among these users are people with multiple sclerosis or arthritis, COPD and even amputees, in particular a growing group of war veterans". They also point out that the Segway can be much cheaper than many powerchairs, and allows disabled people "to easily travel around the city, while easing social interactions". (Mind you, this monkey is a cynic, and wonders whether it's more a case that this is because the city is lacking in accessibility for wheelchairs, and because the non-disabled people are lacking in their skills at socially interacting with us.)
More recently, the University of British Columbia in Canada has been conducting research into use of the Segway by disabled people. In one of their tests, a person with no muscle function or sensation below the chest managed to use one of the scooters safely, and has now bought one to go hiking with his family. Apparently, "people don't even know he's disabled when he's riding by on the Segway". Hmm. So that's okay, then. Ahem.
I haven't seen many Segways zipping round the streets of west London, though, ridden either by disabled or non-disabled people. But then these scooters have never really taken off in the UK. However, are there any UK or Canadian Ouch readers out there who have seen or personally experienced the benefits of the Segway? Tell us in the comments.
Meanwhile, I remain to be convinced. I'm going to stick to the low floor accessible bus, if it's all the same to you.
Sad news coming through this Saturday afternoon. Nikki Bacharach, the daughter of the songwriter Burt Bacharach (composer of '60s classics such as Walk On By, The Look Of Love and Alfie) has committed suicide.
Nikki, who was aged 40, had Asperger's Syndrome. She died at home in California. A statement released by her family said that "she quietly and peacefully committed suicide to escape the ravages to her brain brought on by Asperger's".
Undoubtedly one of the most shocking disability stories of the year so far - Teacher 'called pupil a cripple'. That's a teacher, yes. Crippled Monkey is used to making barbed comments about "kids today, eh?" but never thought I'd have to say even worse things about the adults at the front of the classroom.
Amy Wild, a teenager who currently uses a wheelchair after complications with heart surgery, was told to "move, cripple" by a male teacher as he passed her in the dining hall of the school in Stockport, near Manchester. The headteacher of the school has since apologised unreservedly to Amy, and the matter is being taken "extremely seriously" as they investigate it with the member of staff involved. I should hope so, too.
I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on this story. Have you got any examples of similar behaviour from the teachers - rather than the other pupils - that took place during your schooldays?
Now we don't like to be unduly medical here on Ouch, not us, but there's a great new poll on the British Medical Journal website, in which you can vote for your choice of the top 15 Medical Milestones since 1840 (the year when the BMJ launched). Crippled Monkey is already trying to decide between Chlorpromazine and the discovery of DNA structure; antibiotics versus tissue culture. Hmm.
The winner will be announced on 18 January, so get over and make your mark. And don't worry, if details of medical advances aren't your thing, you can read full articles or helpful summaries on each one.
Interesting article in the latest edition of New Scientist: Is YouTube just what the doctor ordered?
It seems that the increasingly popular video-sharing site contains an increasing number of genuinely informative - as well as some humorous - home-made movies that are disability and health-related. For instance, there's a series of instructive video tutorials by Phil Commander (great name, that) which give out useful advice to parents of children on the autistic spectrum. And if you've got diabetes, why not tune in to another series of videos from the glamorous location of Builth in Wales, in which nurses demonstrate how to sample blood sugar levels and use an inhaler?
Fascinating stuff. Go read the article, and then get yourself square-eyed over on YouTube. Even one quick search on the term "autism" brings up an astonishing range of results. You may never watch telly again ...
Seems that Ouch favourite Heather Mills-McCartney has got herself in another spot of bother. This time it's not over saying that she would rather lose the rest of her limbs than repeat the trauma of her marriage breakdown (sorry, Crippled Monkey couldn't resist), but rather it's a problem with a bunch of scientists.
The charity group Sense About Science has published a new leaflet in which they criticise certain celebrities for not checking their facts before lending their support to scientific research and campaigns on topics such as organic food, pesticides and ways to avoid cancer.
One of the celebs is our Heather herself, who was quoted as saying, on the subject of obesity: "Every day there's a new report warning that obesity levels in children are out of control ... the fact that those kids who drink the most milk gain the most weight should cause alarm bells to be ringing everywhere". But in response, Dr Philip Coan, a physiologist at the University of Cambridge, is having none of it: "It is not true to say that children who gain the most weight are doing so because of milk consumption. A US study ... found no link between increases in child weight and increases in drink consumption".
Since I have a fondess not only for milk, but also for greasy chips and pork pies, I'm probably not the best person to comment on the facts. But it's an interesting campaign, and definitely worth checking out further.
Blog-related rather than strictly disability-related, but in the blogosphere it's that time of year again when bloggers nominate each other for the prestigious Annual Weblog Awards, otherwise known as the Bloggies. The event is now in its seventh year - difficult to believe that weblogs have actually been in existence that long, isn't it?
Here at Ouch, we know that there's an ever-growing community of disabled bloggers out there, so if you've got some favourites who you think deserve wider recognition, why not pop over to the Bloggies site and nominate them? You've got until 10 January to do so, and there's a huge range of categories covering all styles of blogs and all corners of the globe - though we're not for a moment suggesting you nominate your most favourite disability blog of them all (er, that means us). Ahem.
Beyond Boundaries Live, you say? So is that like accompanying the intrepid explorers across some inhospitable terrain in a far-flung corner of the world, via the interactive red button from the privacy of your own living-room? Er, well, no, not really.
Instead, this is a new consumer show/exhibition which is taking place at Sandown Park in Esher on June 29-30 this year. its aimed at getting disabled people involved in whole host of activities - from sports, the arts, work and recruitment, mobility with test driving and rock climbing. There will be seminars featuring TV presenter and original Beyond Boundaries participant Ade Adepitan, X Factor contestant Kerry McGregor, and Jim Bonney, the only 'operationally deployable' amputee in the Royal Marines. And you'll also have the opportunity to try activities for yourself - from wheelchair basketball with members of the GB team to test driving cars or hand cycles. Best of all, it's free for visitors!
Find out more at the official Beyond Boundaries Live website.
Watch out for the third monday in January - according to The Samaritans, it's officially the most depressing day of the year and has been dubbed "Blue Monday".
The highest volume of calls to the organisations from people feeling depressed or down are made during January and February, as people find themselves alone again after the festivities, and anxieties that may have been put on hold during the holiday season re-emerge.
New Year's day is traditionally the busiest day of the festive period for The Samaritans, but this year Boxing Day topped the list, when 5396 people called the national number for help - a 29% increase over the same day in 2005. The number of calls to the national UK number on New Years Day was 5350.
So what's the reason behind the increase in Boxing Day calls? The Samaritans put it down to people who spent Christmas Day with friends or family returning home on Boxing day, and feeling alone and unsupported.
If you're feeling down over the New Year period, you can contact The Samaritans in confidence on 08457 90 90 90 (1850 60 90 90 in the Republic of Ireland), write to them at Chris, PO Box 9090, Stirling, FK8 2SA or email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you can use their minicom number - 08457 90 91 92.
We always get a little over-excited when we hear that a disabled person might be appearing on TV, and double-excited when we hear it's a reality show. So maybe you'll be as bowled over as us when we tell you rumours have been circulating that the former post-punk-panto-popstar Adam Ant may be making an appearance on Celebrity Big Brother.
The gossip columns started the chatter last October that he had passed up an offer to appear on ITV's I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here and signed to the Channel 4 show after a bidding war.
The identities of the contestants are, as ever, kept under wraps until the show goes live - tomorrow night at 8pm. The Metro and others have mentioned his name a few times within the last week but more recent tabloid predictions haven't included our favourite ant in the lineup.
Last Autumn, Adam Ant published Stand and Deliver, an autobiography which detailed the ups, downs and relationship-damaging sex addiction that he has experienced as a result of bipolar disorder. It is due to be released in paperback in 2007. Questions are already being asked as to whether Big Brother producers are more interested in the 80s star because of his nostalgia value or because we may get to see some of his illness related behaviour much reported in the tabloids.
After years of waiting, disabled people were pleased when the regular summer version of the Big Brother included a contestant with Tourette Syndrome, Pete Bennett, last year. Despite criticism he was on for shock value and as a freak, it was felt that the nation learnt some very important lessons about the disorder through the back door as the fanciable Brighton-based musician ticked his way through 13 weeks and won the £100,000 prize in mid August.
In a related story, it has been reported that Big Brother's Big Mouth presenter Russell Brand could be playing Adam Ant in a forthcoming movie version of his autobiography since denied by the publshers who told adam-ant.net that the book had not yet been optioned.