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'Me and the guide dog went into lockdown so I adopted a cat'

From San Francisco to Perth - what's the lowdown on lockdown for the disabled community?

Coronavirus is making itself known globally, so Cabin Fever thought it too would hot-foot it around the world to see how disabled people are managing.

Lee Kumatat left the UK on 2 January for a brand new life in San Francisco, USA.
Three months later we find her trying to live in lockdown in an unfamiliar city with a guide dog....and Pip, the cat she adopted a week ago.

Holly Lane in Perth, Australia is doing her best not to touch anything but says that's surprisingly hard when she's "stumbling" about all day on the sticks she uses. Being a person with cerebral palsy, she has to hold onto things around her to keep her balance.

She's also cashing in on newly-discovered energy stores after cutting out her three hour commute by working from home.

Presented by Emma Tracey. Produced by Beth Rose.

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27 minutes

Transcript: 'Me and the guide dog went into lockdown so I adopted a

 This is a transcript of 'Me and the guide dog went into lockdown so I adopted a cat' as first broadcast on 16 April 2020. Presented by Emma Tracey.EMMA - Hello, and welcome to Cabin Fever, the international edition. Coronavirus isn't staying in one place so why should BBC Ouch? We're going round the world with two fabulous women to find out how everybody else is coping in this weird situation. A heads up: We're going to talk disability, Aussie slang and what to do with your guide dog when you get a brand new cat during a lockdown. All will be revealed. I'm Emma Tracey, I'm blind, and I moved from Ireland to the UK 15 years ago. And we've got Lee Kumatat. LEE - Hi, Emma. I am also blind and I am speaking to you from my living room in San Francisco.EMMA - And we've got Holly Lane.HOLLY - Hi, Emma. I'm talking to you from Perth in Australia. I have cerebral palsy and I'm currently sat in my lovely study with my lovely dog, Marmite.EMMA - Oh, a dog. Very good. It's all about animals today. Holly, let's start with you, and being a disabled person in the time of Coronavirus in Australia.HOLLY - Well, first of all I live in Perth which is the most isolated city in Australia. Our borders are shut to the rest of Australia so if you want to come here from the Northern Territory or South Australia, terribly sorry, unless you're a resident you can't actually come in. It's actually been quite useful. Because we've been able to sort of cut ourselves off it's meant that the number of people that have been affected with the virus in this state has been lower than the other states, at the moment. Cross fingers. LEE - I did smile when you said we've shut all our borders. I'm like, well you know what, you Western Australians don't really like the eastern seaboard as much anyway, right? So an excuse to keep them out.HOLLY - No, exactly! There are some advantages to being so isolated.EMMA - There are some advantages, but I'd imagine there are some disadvantages too during this time.HOLLY - Yeah, I mean I started working from home on 18th March. The culture here for working from home isn't as established as the UK, so that was kind of interesting. And also I live in Perth, that means that I can get various things, but if I was living in rural Australia that has many challenges to accessing healthcare, being able to get your food, being able to get your medicines, being able to go to the pharmacy. That kind of thing.EMMA - How are other disabled Australians coping during the lockdown, and what are you calling it?HOLLY - We're not really locked down, we're sort of confined. We haven't officially hit that point of where we can't go out for a walk yet. What you've got to remember is, Western Australia, it's a very, very big state, so if you're living in the country and you're needing to access your health, your doctors, your hospital appointments, anything like that, at the moment it's a big challenge because what they've done is they've restricted travel between certain regions within the state to cut down the chances of Coronavirus getting into rural communities or indigenous communities in particular. They can't come to Perth for their routine check-ups, so there's a risk of things getting missed, conditions not being diagnosed. I mean, what I will say here is they have got a real good handle on telehealth, which is doctor's appointments by phone. You can receive your prescriptions by email. So that system, because of the distances that are involved, is a really, really well thought out service. One of the bigger issues that is coming up is around personal protective equipment. Also, the issues with people with learning disabilities. While they have assistance in maybe managing their shopping lists and their day to day lives, the isolation and the social distancing elements have been causing a few problems. But the biggest issue is mental health and people being able to access the services. But they're doing a lot more teleconferencing, like everybody else, but there isn't the sort of face to face stuff available. EMMA - And Holly, you've got cerebral palsy and you use two walking sticks. How has your disability affected how you manage?HOLLY - Well it's interesting. I had to point out to my manager actually that walking with sticks, I'm always touching stuff. If I don't have hold of my sticks I've got to hold onto something else. So no matter how many times I wash my hands I'm always going to run that higher risk. And getting stuff from the supermarket and all of that kind of malarkey has been kind of interesting. In Australia now they've nominated particular times of the week that people can go shopping if they're vulnerable, because we went a bit bonkers over toilet rolls.EMMA - It sounds very like the UK to be honest. Lee, you're in San Francisco. What Holly's saying, does that ring true for you as well? How are things there?LEE - San Francisco, it went quite early. It was the earliest city to go into lockdown. They call it shelter in place. So my employer decided to close our offices on Friday 13th and so we all kind of scrambled to grab our stuff so that we could work from home. And then on the following Tuesday they went into shelter in place. And they gave people about ten hours to get sorted. So that was quite interesting. I was very lucky, I had a work colleague who came around and took me shopping. I mean, the line was incredible. But what was really interesting was that even though we knew that this was all coming people weren't social distancing, and certainly the shops weren't set up for it. So now they've got markers on the floor to make sure that people stay six feet apart. If you can see them of course. So I found myself feeling quite panicky because I didn't have very much in my freezer and I thought, well I don't know how long this is going to go on for. I don't know what access I'm going to have to online shopping because presumably everybody else is going to be doing that. I sort of went into a bit of a shopping frenzy and bought anything I could. Is there any ice cream? I don't care what flavour it is. I mean, why ice cream seemed important at that time I don't know, but it did. It was a really weird time.EMMA - Well, that must have been really scary for you because you're quite new to San Francisco.LEE - Yes, I arrived on 2nd January to start an entirely new job and a new career on 6th January, moved into my apartment on 10th January. But I didn't have any of my belongings around me because I shipped them from the UK. They left the UK on December 30th. I seem to remember these dates very clearly in my head, they seem to be etched into my brain. So I kind of lived for nearly three months without my things around me. I had a couple of garden chairs, a blow up mattress and I eventually bought a couple of bar stools and a bed. So it has been a fairly exhausting time. It's a job that is very full on. Can I give them a plug? Because you know what Americans are like, they love a plug.EMMA - Yeah.LEE - I've joined LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco as their Director of Communication after working at the BBC. So it was a totally full on change of job, change of culture, change of work culture. I moved in to San Francisco city, so I'm about a mile and a half away from my work. So I was determined that I was going to walk to work so I had the kind of initial learning how to get anywhere, plus learning how to deal with traffic on the wrong side of the road, and also dealing with… One of the things that's been really quite confronting for me is dealing with the very large centralised homeless population.EMMA - Yes, so how, as a blind person with a guide dog, how are you navigating the homelessness situation?LEE - You never know who you're asking directions from, and when you're new to a city you're asking directions from everybody. A lot of the homeless population have dogs that are not on leads. My first day in the office and my first task was to address an all staff meeting, so 150 people, and I was late for the meeting because the Uber had dropped me where I hadn't expected the Uber to drop me and I got out of the Uber and had to find where I was, and of course the GPS wasn't giving me any help at the time. And I asked somebody, "Is this the crossing?" "Oh, I'll help you, I'll help you. Here's the crossing. You are so beautiful. If I had a woman like you I would just be so happy," and then he started to stroke my hair and I was like, okay. And I think I was just so focused on getting to that meeting that I just compartmentalised it, put it away somewhere and didn't really think about it, and so it wasn't until a couple of weeks later that I was relaying this to somebody that they went, "You're joking." I thought, well yeah, that was pretty bad wasn't it? It is very, very confronting. I was so looking forward to coming to work in a city, being able to go out and do the city stuff and walk the city blocks with the dog, but actually you just feel like you're running a gauntlet. So at the moment I just sort of run outside, take the dog for a quick wee and run back inside again. EMMA - Well, while you're on animals, Holly has a dog, you have a dog, what's it like trying to keep a dog entertained and exercised and all that during this strange time?LEE - It's okay. I've been so lucky. I don't know about you, Holly, but I've got a dog park two blocks away from my apartment and so I do take her up there. The biggest challenge is keeping her work up so she's my guide dog. I am really lucky actually. On my first day in San Francisco I met a very nice man who saw me waiting three changes of lights and not being able to cross the road and he came over to talk to me, and he's got a Doberman called Grace and my dog's called Frankie. Yeah, I know. EMMA - Grace and Frankie, the well-known TV show. One of my favourites actually.LEE - I know, I couldn't believe it, I went, "Oh my god, Grace and Frankie." He very kindly said, "Please use my number. Give me your number, I live only a couple of blocks away from you," and I thought, no way you weirdo. Anyway, it turns out he wasn't a weirdo and he very kindly checked in with me just by text. And we met up and he's lovely and he takes my Frankie walking for me whenever I'm sort of snowed under. So it could be worse.EMMA - What about you, Holly?HOLLY - I have a Tibetan Terrier and his name is Marmite.LEE - Why didn't you call him Vegemite?EMMA - Is he a love him or hate him sort of dog?HOLLY - The reason he's called Marmite is he's got like a ginger beard, the rest of him is black. But he thinks all of his Christmases have come at once since I've been working from home. I'm really lucky because I've got a park 500 meters from my front door so we can take him down there and he can gallivant. And the locals are pretty nice, because I need exercise every day to keep me fit and healthy, so I try and go down and have a walk around before I start work in the mornings now. There's quite a few locals that I'm starting to get to know, because obviously previously I haven't been around. We do the social distancing hi thing. I can go down on my buggy and take the balls down and we go and let off some steam because I've actually got two dogs, I've got Marmite and I've got Stacey who's a Staffie.EMMA - Because I was going to say, with two excitable dogs and two walking sticks that sounds a bit of a nightmare, but you have a buggy that you use for dog walks. HOLLY - Yes, it's easier, much, much easier and much safer. EMMA - Lee, how are you with the social distancing?LEE - Really bad. Terrible. It's really interesting trying to watch people communicate with you when you can't tell they're there because they're more than six feet away and they can't catch your eye. And I've found that people just aren't saying hello, whereas they were saying hello before we were social distancing. San Franciscans are very friendly generally speaking, people would just come up and talk, and they sort of guess that if they stand close to you you're going to know that they're there, but they can't do that. And I've been in a couple of situations where people have freaked out because I've stood too close to them not knowing that they're there. That's been a bit scary for me, and my default really response is to get a bit defensive and say, "Well, I didn't know you were there." And then I think, well actually their response is instinctive now as well and so I haven't yet worked out a good way to respond to that yet.EMMA - Well, I know for me tears would spring to my eyes, like it's that upsetting for someone to get annoyed with you through absolutely no fault of your own, and something you cannot help and something you couldn't have helped and something you're probably going to do again in five minutes, you know?LEE - Yeah, exactly. I mean, I do find that Americans are a little bit better about being direct, you know, "Ma'am, I'm trying to get past." And you go, "Okay, well I didn't know." But they don't seem to take offence at you saying, "Well I'm sorry, I didn't know," they sort of see that as a fact rather then you being defensive. So what feels to me like me snapping actually to them is a fairly usual interaction. There are some times when people will walk past me in the street and I think woah mate, get over to your side of the pavement. I've got a very long cane I use so that when Frankie's running in the park I take my cane, and the Americans love, well a certain group, the National Federation of the Blind, they love a good long cane, right? It's got to be up to your head or it's no good. And I'm only five foot two so my cane really is about five feet long, and so I kind of stick it out in front of me and imagine, are they more than one foot further from the end of my cane? And so that's how I'm measuring my social distance. EMMA - What is the long cane about anyway?LEE - I think it's about speed, because you have more time to react if you happen to walk into an obstacle. I just think it gives you more cane to get tangled up in when you do walk into an obstacle. I'm not sure I'm coming round to it yet but when I'm in the park and I'm just wandering around I'm happy to take my five foot massive long stick and point it at people and say, "Get back."EMMA - So we need to talk about the cat. You are brand new to San Francisco, you're working in a busy new job, you've already got a dog, you've just adopted a cat. LEE - Yeah? And what's your point? [laughs] Well, you know, in for a penny, in for a pound, in for a dollar. I've always wanted a cat. I'm probably in the best place I've been since leaving Australia in 2008 to get one. I live in quite a spacious one bedroom apartment. She's going to be an indoor cat. And I'm home a lot, and I thought well, it's a good time to do it. I must admit I'm a little bit surprised it's happened so quickly, I kind of had the idea on a Monday and had the cat on a Friday. [bell tinkles] There she is, she's ringing her bell for you.EMMA - Oh, that's the bell. LEE - Yeah, there she is. There's Pip.EMMA - Well timed. So how's it going with Pip and the guide dog, Frankie, then?LEE - Well, Frankie's had a couple of extra meals on Pip, because they tell you to keep them in one room and I had Pip set up in my walk in closet. She's now kind of coming out and using the whole of the apartment and I forgot to pick up the food. So Frankie's had a couple of meals. They are getting on fine, the cat doesn't seem terribly worried by Frank. Frank would like to chase the cat a little bit, he kind of does that doggie play bow thing and the cat goes, I don't know what you mean, I'm going to run away.So I think they'll be absolutely fine, but I did have a scare last night. Pip, whenever she kind of gets over stimulated she hides, and I hadn't heard Pip's bell for a couple of hours and I thought I wonder where she is? And I started to move the furniture around. I couldn't find her anywhere and I thought maybe she's lost her bell. Maybe she's got caught somewhere. And I then thought, she's not here. And then I thought, oh no, I'd taken out the kitty litter and put it down the garbage shoot which is only 12 feet away from my apartment but she must have just got past me. Anyway, I rang my mum. Why I rang my mum in Sydney, Australia, I have no idea, but I rang my mum and she said, "What are you going to do?" I said, "I don't know. I don't know if she's here, I don't know where she is," and I was really panicking. She said, "Ring Denis." Now Denis is a man who's been wonderful to me. He's up on the third floor and he's helped me get rid of boxes and he's just been really nice. Anyway, quarter to 11 last night I ring Denis and I say, "Hey, Denis." He's like, "Hey," he sounds really sleepy. And I said to him, "Were you asleep?" "Ah, fading," he said to me. I said, "I can't find my cat," and he went, "I'll be right there."EMMA - Oh!LEE - He's just amazing. So I waited for a little bit and I thought I wonder where he is, and anyway I heard footsteps coming along and he knocks and I open my front door and he said to me, "You've got to get a gate." And he hands me my cat.EMMA - Oh! Where was the cat?LEE - She was outside his flat. EMMA - Oh, and does she know Denis?LEE - Never met him before in her life.EMMA - Wow. Are you sure it's the right cat?LEE - Yes. She's mine, she's my little Pip.EMMA - All cats feel the same to me. LEE - Well because Pip's got someone else's tail. She's a little bit long haired but her tail is extremely fluffy and so that's how I knew it was her. And she was very pleased to see me. So hence, I've been awake all night with a cat who's like, oh my god I'm back, oh my god, what's that noise? Oh my god I'm back. So I'm a little bit tired.I echo what Holly was saying really about this whole horrible, horrible situation but just trying to find a silver lining really. It's given me a chance to be here and be in my community a little bit. A lady in the park made me a homemade mask and it's given me a sense of my place in the city that I think would have taken longer. EMMA - She made you a homemade mask?LEE - Yes, facemask. EMMA - What is it like?LEE - Well, she made it out of an old cushion cover. So this is Anita who I met. Dogs are a great way of introducing you to people and she's got a poodle called Polly, Polly poodle, and she got laid off from her job. And to keep herself busy that's what she's been doing, she loves to sew and she's been making masks for people. And I said, "Oh, would you make me one?" She said, "Yeah, of course." So the next day I go out to the park and there she is, and we're all walking around with the same coloured kind of masks on, these kind of burnt orange patterned face masks. We must look like we belong to a cult or something. We're all kind of socially distanced walking with our dogs around the park. EMMA - You guys are all wearing face masks?LEE - A lot of people are, yes. Certainly all the people that you deal with in shops and services.HOLLY - Same here. A lot of people now are starting to wear masks. A few weeks ago not at all, and now people are starting to wear masks when they're out in public. It's quite interesting for me. The changes that have happened over the last month or so, you know, people working from home. And I'm just hopeful that these changes stay. I know with my job there were some reservations as to whether I could do the whole of my job from home, and it's turned out I can, whereas before they weren't quite so online. I think this need has presented opportunities as much as restricted some things.EMMA - Holly, is it quite tricky for you to get to work sometimes and to go into work all the time? Is that something that your impairment makes it more difficult to do?HOLLY - It takes me an hour, and I work right in the centre of town. So what's so nice for me at the moment is that I'm getting between two to three hours back of my day. And because obviously cerebral palsy, when you're staggering about on sticks all day you get more tired. So being able to have that quality time back is an unexpected benefit.LEE - And so are you finding that you've got more energy and what are you doing with that energy?HOLLY - It's things like being able to go and go for a dog walk or potter about in my garden. Cook a proper dinner rather than get something out of the freezer.LEE - Cooking is something that I'm doing as well. Like with everything being new I'd come home and just shove a microwave dinner in the microwave and that's it. I didn't have any energy to do anything else. And now I seem to be working more and I'm finding working online and just doing the kind of remote meeting thing quite exhausting, but it's mentally exhausting not physically exhausting, and actually I'm finding that cooking is my commute if you like. So it's providing that divider, that distance between work and leisure. And I'm loving it.HOLLY - It's an unexpected benefit, I wasn't expecting to have the energy because normally I don't. LEE - It's really interesting though that you seem to have established a routine, Holly, because I have absolutely not established any kind of routine. One day I can wake up at seven, one day I can wake up at 3 am, one day I can wake up at nine. And one day I didn't wake up till 11 and was 20 minutes late to a very important meeting and people were sending out search parties. I'm just all over the place in terms of routine. So what's your secret?HOLLY - I've had a couple of occasions where like I've fallen over and injured myself, and I have been at home for like a chunk of time. And I did struggle with my mental health when that was happening. So when they said right, you've got to work from home I thought oh, okay, well I want to set up some kind of routine that makes sure that I get my exercise. Because the other thing that I was worried about was losing my mobility and putting on a load of weight. I was like, well I have to set something up here so that I know that I'm doing all of the things that I can to keep myself fit. So it's sort of happened by accident. My partner starts work fairly early, so he starts work at seven in the morning. Because I get woken up by that it means that I've got this time to sort of set myself up for the day. LEE - I wonder whether having other people in the house does help, because I'm here on my own, and I think that fitting in with someone else's rhythm can help. The dog will just let me sleep. I'm not sure the cat will. EMMA - On living on your own, I find that living life blind involves a hundred strategies but also thousands of like little connections and knowledge about where you can buy stuff. I've been where I am for four and a half years and I've a lot of things I can call on and pull from. How are you getting all your food and who are you asking for help? It feels to me like it would be very tricky, but you seem very chilled to be honest.LEE - I feel really chilled. I have a very good corner store, they're keeping a lot of supplies up and they're very happy for me to stay put and I tell them what I want and they bring it to me. Although I'm finding being in stores and having to touch stuff to identify whether it's actually the thing I want becoming increasingly more stressful. It's those incidental things that you don't necessarily know are coming that you touch that you think ooh. So I'm doing okay with that. I divide my shopping between Amazon and Instacart over here. HOLLY - Well that's funny because it's different here. So because I'm known as a vulnerable person I suppose I was able to fill in a form and I gave them my Blue Badge or ACROD pass number because I had to prove that I was disabled, and then once they'd reviewed the form they texted me and they said, yeah, you're fine, you get first pick of the slots. EMMA - We have that here. I spent a couple of days trying to get through to a couple of supermarkets and now I'm on a vulnerable list. It's funny how you suddenly don't mind being vulnerable isn't it? [laughter] So I get the first pick of the slots as well. Holly, just to finish on a very serious, not serious note, you'll know this as well, Lee, Aussies are great for the old slang aren't they? What Coronavirus slang is there?HOLLY - So you're not in isolation, you're in iso. They tend to shorten everything. Scott Morrison is our Prime Minister so he's ScoMo. LEE - And if it's short it gets lengthened. You know, my name's Lee but they could never just stick with Lee, I always got called something else like Lee B or Leonine. It just had to be lengthened. They just don't like to conform, the Aussies. I can say that, I'm Australian. EMMA - So I've heard that sanitiser is now sanny?HOLLY - Yeah, that's right, yeah.EMMA - Love it. Lee, you have picked up some Americanisms already?LEE - Ah no. I haven't said reach out in this conversation though have I? I mean, I hate it.EMMA - No, but you did say garbage shoot.LEE - What else would it be?EMMA - Rubbish?LEE - Okay. But I didn't say trash. Then it would be really American. EMMA - Fab. Well, thank you for being fabulous, ladies. It's been really, really interesting to hear about your different takes on this time of Coronavirus in your respective countries and it's been really great to hear all your stories. Thank you very much.LEE - Thank you. Stay well everybody. HOLLY - Take care. EMMA - That's a wrap for this global edition of the Cabin Fever podcast. Let us know how you're getting on wherever you are in the world by emailing We are @bbcouch on Twitter and BBC Ouch on Facebook. Don't forget to listen to Kate Monaghan's isolation diaries. Kate's in isolation at the moment with her wife, Holly, and toddler daughter, Scout. And that is also on our podcast feed. And also remember that there's plenty more to listen to, years and years' worth of podcast on the BBC Ouch podcast feed, and you can get it wherever you get your podcasts from. Thanks for listening and thanks to my guests today, Lee Kumatat and Holly Lane. Goodbye.LEE - Bye.HOLLY - Bye.



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