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Tanni Grey-Thompson

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Tanni is Britain's most successful and best known wheelchair athlete. She has won countless gold medals and blitzes the London Marathon almost every year, amongst other events. In recent years she has been branching out into writing and broadcasting.

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Tactile paving (and other bad inventions)

13th June 2005

There are lots of wonderful inventions around that have made life easier for disabled people, enabling us to play an integrated and inclusive role in society with a fair degree of independence. I am all for that. However, there is one invention which I wish had never been thought of: tactile paving.
Tactile paving: definitely not Tanni's favourite thing
I am probably about to offend loads of blind people, who without these textured surfaces underfoot might end up wandering the wrong way across roads with all the horrible consequences, but that's not going to stop me.

In fact, I'll go further than simply saying that I don't like tactile paving - I loathe it. If I ever become ruler of the world then something will be done. I don't want to get rid of it, because that would be messy, but I would spend lots of money making a flat bit of lowered kerb alongside the bubbly surfaces so that I don't continue to embarrass myself when I cross the road.

I can just about tolerate the round bubbly stuff. As long as I don't hit it too quickly in my chair, I have some chance of staying seated and maintaining my dignity. But I still rattle about as I ride over it, and end up veering off in a wobbly direction. There's also a fairly good chance that I'll drop whatever I'm carrying on my lap - including my daughter, who has developed limpet-like qualities from bitter experience.

The surface that I really hate is the one with lines on it. It's called the 'central delineator' - I know that because I searched the internet to find the offending name. Did you realise that there are about 23,700 pages devoted to everything you didn't want to know about tactile paving?

The problem with the central delineator strip is that the lines go straight on for a bit, and then - presumably to show where the crossing point has finished - they turn. And it's these turns that are likely to tip me out on to the floor. There really should be a campaign to move them, even if it's for no other reason than to stop me flashing my backside to the world as I come out of my chair.

I realise that I'm probably being a bit loopy about this, and I don't want to be mean to blind people. However, it's got me thinking about the other things that I hate. Nothing really upsets me about being a wheelchair user - it's just the equipment we have to put up with that bugs me.

For instance, I have a real problem with sliding boards. They are there to make transferring easier, and the whole point of them is to give independence. But that doesn't happen if you can't even carry the thing around! OK, OK, I know they are also meant to make it easier for other people to transfer you as well, but that's just not the point!

Then there are disabled toilets. My three-year-old daughter, Carys, has just started refusing to go in them. Why? Well, it's because of the mirrors. All the disabled toilets that I have visited lately seem to have the mirrors set about 5 foot off the floor, and that means Carys can't check out if she's looking OK - and neither can many disabled people. Of course, the mirrors are probably put at that height because disabled people just don't care what they look like. Builders really need to think about where the mirrors are placed and who they're being used by... or better still, install a really long mirror in the disabled toilet, and then everyone will be happy.

I should probably stop here, before I get on to furry boots with zips up the side, any products that are available in brown or skin tone (it doesn't hide anything, so stop pretending), plastic sheets in accessible rooms (because we are all incontinent, of course), and non-disabled people advertising products for disabled people (because you can tell that they're not real - it's just like The Black & White Minstrel Show). Oh, and not forgetting those people who think that if you are a wheelchair user and it's raining then you should be wearing a rain cape. No, you shouldn't. Personally, if I ever get to the point of wearing one, then I am going to lock myself away and happily throw away the key.

Now, if I can only stop the jokes about speeding in my day chair and getting caught for drinking and driving (which will never happen because I don't drink), then I will have sorted out the world and I'll be able to stop moaning for a bit ...

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