International Day of Disabled People

A year to mark: Covid has culled our numbers while creating more disabled people too.

This wretched virus has blasted through the care homes where the residents, by their very nature, were disabled people and more with previous conditions and vulnerabilities have also been hit hard.  This has reduced the number of people with disabilities in the national population.

But the disease has gone a step further: the most obvious direct consequence is all those people with “long” Covid with damage to organs and more that will limit their lives for time to come.

More insidious and probably much higher numbers are all those people who are being disabled by the delays in NHS treatment.  I think of friend Peter who has already been waiting for almost a year for a hip replacement.  Not only is he nearly immobile and living in constant pain, his prospects of the operation and eventual rehabilitation are many months away.

Calling such surgery “elective” seems to suggest that it is a matter of choice when, in reality, it is an absolute necessity if people are to maintain some level of independent life.  Understandably, these operations have been put on the back-burner but the long-term social, financial and medical consequences will be huge.

More of these people may never recover and will be permanently disabled  – so needing care and support.  More will not be able to get back to work – so turning to benefit support.    More will become socially isolated, poorer and more likely to acquire additional mental and physical conditions – so placing even further demand on the NHS.

It is time that the Government raised its head above the parapet of the current Covid battle to look further ahead and prepare for the long-term support of more disabled people.  They were already promising a national strategy – now it needs to be a fully costed, pan-Government action plan with adequate funding and realistic measures of success.  The alternative is to store up long-term costs that will be as damaging to the economy as loss of our High Streets.

 

 

Uganda, Turkey and England

                                                    United in friendship

 

Accessible communications.

 

If you need some tips about making information easy for anyone, try this little handbook I put together:

http://www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk/index_htm_files/151123%20-%20Accessible%20Communications.docx

 

One colleague sent me this feedback this week:

“I’m a carer for my dad who has advanced Parkinson’s disease and dementia and the following points especially hit home with me:-

1/ ‘a person may be one of the over 2 million people who need others to have more patience in listening to their speech which is less fluent due to a speech impairment, a stroke’.

My dad now has a severe speech and cognitive impairment and we really have to listen very carefully and try to interpret what he is trying to say, more so now than ever, he often can’t think what he needs to say either.

2/ Talk to the disabled person, not the support person.

This is so true, when we take dad out people often talk to us instead of him which is also frustrating.”

 

I completely recognise that frustration: I was at a hospital just recently and the person controlling entry and Covid safety measures just couldn’t manage to speak to me.  It was rather as if my white cane had become magical: I was invisible, incapable of either hearing or speech.  Those who know me will understand how it became an utterly humiliating and embarrassing  experience for that wretched person – thank goodness her manager saved her!

 

The handbook is short, straightforward and free for anyone to use so please share it around.  And it helps with Equality Act compliance too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last chance for this year’s community heroes nominations

 

Don’t kick yourself but rack your brain for the local person who has made a huge difference to your community  and, of course, I’m keen that you don’t forget all those with disabilities who go the extra mile.

Nominations need to be in this week:

BBC Radio Solent announces the launch of their Community Heroes awards.

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BBC Radio Solent has launched its first ever Community Heroes Awards.

In a year where the station will celebrate its 50th anniversary on December 31, BBC Radio Solent is reaching out to the heart of its communities, showcasing the people, their stories and the work that goes on across the region.

The awards aim to recognise unsung heroes across Hampshire, Dorset and the Isle of Wight, celebrating individuals and groups who go the extra mile to make their community a better place to live and work in.

Head Judge, Managing Editor Sarah Miller, comments, “We’ve been at the heart of communities for five decades so it felt like the perfect time for the station to celebrate some of the work carried out every day by people in the South. Solent has always been a station that cares about the community, running campaigns that are about improving people’s lives and showcasing the amazing work that happens in the south.

 

“It’s the perfect chance for communities to come together and nominate their local hero! I’m looking forward to reading the nominees’ stories, whether it’s about someone’s bravery, companionship or kindness. I know the strongest stories will make powerful listening on BBC Radio Solent.”

 

There are seven categories to choose from, including Volunteer, Young Achiever and Coastal. Portsmouth sailor and fellow judge, Geoff Holt, who was awarded an MBE for services to disabled sailing, said “On a daily basis I see amazing people doing amazing things to help others. So often these people give their time and commitment to others asking nothing in return, these are the unsung heroes within our community. I would encourage people to nominate their Community Hero so we can learn and share the work of these amazing people.”

 

The seven categories are as follows:

Young Achiever – Awarded to anyone aged 18 or under, who has demonstrated maturity beyond their years.

Coastal – someone who gives their time, energy & passion into making our coastline a better place, whether by marine conservation, protecting the environment, education or saving lives.

Services – Presented to a member of the emergency services or the armed forces for commitment to their profession.

Carer – Someone who cares for an individual or group of people on a regular basis.

Good Neighbour – Awarded to an individual or organisation that helps make the neighbourhood & local community a better place to live or work, either on a regular basis or through a single act of kindness or courage.

Inclusion – an individual or group who strives to break down barriers, enforce positive messages, reach out to minority groups and bring people together.

Volunteer – Awarded to a person or group who gives up their time voluntarily to help others, perhaps contributing to local sporting life, helping out at a local charity or good cause.

The BBC Radio Solent Outstanding Achievement Award – a winner from the above categories will be picked as our overall Hero.

Head to bbc.co.uk/solent for the terms, privacy notice and details on how to nominate; the closing date for entries is midnight on March 1st.

-ends-

Notes to editors

For more information please contact Hollie.druce@bbc.co.uk

Nomination Details:

  • You must be over 18 to nominate someone
  • You must have the nominee’s permission to put them forward for an award.
  • The deadline for nominations is midnight on Sunday 1st March 2020.

The Awards Dinner will be on Monday 30th March 2020 at Carey’s Manor in Brockenhurst  – hosted in partnership with student chefs from Brockenhurst College.

 

 

 

 

 

Help HMRC to help us

One of my roles (when I’m not  running my business www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk or Baking Blind www.bakingblind.com) is trying to advise  HMRC on making services more accessible.

They are currently looking for self-employed people or business owners who are registered for VAT and who use adaptive software (for example, screen magnification or a screen reader) and who handle their own tax affairs.

They are seeking willing volunteers who will assist HMRC in improving  the experience of users with access needs.

There are two parts to the VAT service:

  • The ‘Sign Up’ journey, which involves basically signing up for the service, and
  • The ‘View and Change’ part, where users can update their details and make VAT payments, etc.

To help them evaluate this service to the customer, the team are looking to recruit assistance from two user groups:

  • Accountants who represent business owners, and deal with tax affairs on behalf of their clients.

( The team are very eager to recruit access needs users who are accountants and although they estimate the low possibility of this, it would be extremely beneficial to their work.)

  • Unrepresented users who are dealing with their tax affairs themselves.

(The team hope that unrepresented users would be easier to recruit, although these users must be customers that actually run a business and deal with their tax affairs themselves, but also have access needs and need the use of assistive technology to perform digital tasks.)

In terms of the actual research the team would conduct, they would be looking to organise face to face sessions with users, which would allow them to use their assistive technology to perform the tasks the team would assign.

The structure of the session would follow the pattern of providing the users with a scenario, which will be similar to their actual situation, and then give them a task to complete. So, for example, the ‘Sign Up’ task would simply be for the user to sign up to the service, whereas the ‘View and Change’ task would have a couple of different parts to it, which could be something such as changing a phone number or making a payment.

Matty, who works for Capgemini, would be pleased to assist any potential users by discussing further explanations and requirements with any interested parties.

If any customers are willing to assist or have any questions regarding this research, please contact Matty O’Carroll direct :

Matty O’Carroll | User Researcher | Customer Strategy & Tax Design | 07944 187124 | matthew.ocarroll@digital.hmrc.gov.uk

 

Communicating through cooking

Sesame oil, fresh ginger, garlic and star anise are some of the key flavours of cooking in Chongqing in China.  Charlie combined them all with beef https://youtu.be/4YLf63Me6ME  to create a rich, succulent dish in his two-tier kitchen hanging over the Yangtze River gorge.

As the designated sous chef, my role was limited to chopping tomatoes and mushrooms but it meant I had time to chat with a local radio presenter and even do a short interview.  Her programme covers new cultures – introducing the citizens of Chongqing to different music and arts.

Charlie himself is active in the cultural scene:  his backpacker hostel decorated by different artists is the perfect alternative to anyone who has had enough of super-sophisticated high rise hotels.  It was a delight to catch another aspect of the creative side of China.

Charlie was the most generous of hosts: not only did he give us an extraordinary lunch but, as we left, he pressed a bracelet in to my hand.  It was a circle of simple wooden beads made special having been blessed by monks and given by him.  A precious moment of a very happy day.

I think that we showed how food transcends barriers of disability, culture, language and more: once we were working together, it was easy to communicate our shared enthusiasm and experiences.  A true meeting of minds and a language that goes beyond words.

 

Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

You Tube

penny@bakingblind.com

One of the best experiences

 

 

Meet the fabulously delightful Charlie https://youtu.be/EiviasoF-NY.

His wildly eclectic back-packers hostel in Chongqing, China, is perched on the very lip of the Yangtze River gorge.    The building extends down the side of the gorge so, while we could walk in to his dining room, there were steep steps down the outside of the house to his kitchen.  And even the kitchen is at different heights with another steep step between the work surface and the cooking area.             

Earlier that day, local architects Matthew and Julia had showed me one of the caverns under the city.  It is built on mudstone – a relatively soft rock created by millions of years of sediment from the river.  There is a web of tunnels and caverns beneath the city which the residents used as shelters during the Second World War when Chongqing became the alternate Chinese capital.  For me, the best element of the cavern was a sonorous echo which managed to make even my be-bopping voice sonorous.

Charlie’s hostel is lower down the gorge side than the main city so we approached through narrow alleyways cut through the mudstone.  I could feel the rock walls laced with the roots of the trees growing many feet above our heads.

Charlie presented us with his own version of sweet and sour pork – in all, we tasted three different versions during our time in China – and his was embellished with his own vanilla sauce.  With the speed of his cooking and the difficulties in translation, it was a challenge to catch the recipe but, in reality, it is very simple.  Poached pork is cooked in vinegar (with other seasoning) until the liquid has reduced and then sugar is tossed in to caramelise.  The best tip is to take enough time to let the liquid evaporate – an easy dish but it takes patience.

Do have a look at his kitchen too – it gives a perspective on Chinese home-life that is full of history, tradition, charm and originality.  It was very special to learn from his generosity of spirit and get a real sense of the joy and exuberance of Chinese life.

 

 

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

You Tube

penny@bakingblind.com

Masterclass: Chinese breakfast dumplings.

Nothing like those floating-on-stew versions.  These are delicate morsels of pork and leek wrapped in thin dough “skins” and steamed for the people of Chongqing to eat on their way to another busy working day – and so much healthier than our traditional English fry-up.  You can see (https://youtu.be/rTcgbQwDLsw) my very poor efforts to make them despite the help of a dumpling professional.

Wang Yi, our hostess for the day, introduced her aunt, Yinyishu, who has worked in a baozi   shop for over 25 years.  It is tough work that starts at 3 in the morning as her customers want their breakfast at about 6.00 a.m.

The dough for the Jiaozi dumplings is just flour and water with a pinch of salt while yeast is added for the baozi version.  The fillings are very similar: finely minced pork, ginger and lotus root pieces plus leek in the jiaozi   and spring onion in the baozi.

The shaping of the dumplings was the difficult part.  The risen baozi   dough was the most straightforward: small circles of dough rolled thinner all around the edge and then simply folded in half over the filling and pinched closed.  But the jiaozi    confounded everyone: the same small circles with thinner edges that were somehow rolled and pinched over the middle of the filling while the whole dumpling was rotated in the other hand.  They were just too soft and delicate for my sense of touch to decipher.  Yinyishu couldn’t stand my ineptitude and finished the lot!  Even Julia, from the local Rotary Club who was helping with translation, had difficulty.

And further thanks to Hanying who allowed us all in to her kitchen for the dumpling class.  Her apartment is in one of a group of blocks surrounded by expansive lawns and gardens in Chongqing, the largest city in the world.  It was a privilege to be in her home and to hear the children playing outside, neighbours chatting on a bench in the sun and the soft buzz of traffic in the distance.  Her kitchen was completely familiar in layout and design – every feature I’d recognise from my own but just tiny to match the smaller stature of Chinese people.  I felt rather like a giant looming over her and could sit on the work surfaces as if they were high-stools.

The whole day was a perfect experience of life in developing China: the modern vibrant environment alongside cuisine that still has all the traditional skills and flavours.

Penny

Pressing the flesh: rare, medium or well-done?

Two young blind masseuses spent an afternoon with the top Intercontinental chefs and me in Chongqing, China.  We were all trying to learn from each other: some basic cooking, Chinese medical massage and living with blindness.  Head chef Jack taught us to use our sense of touch to test how well a beef steak is cooked (https://youtu.be/BvIuYBQwehI).    This very simple professional tip is perfect for blind people anywhere – and anyone else too.

During our time in the city, I learned that other blind people weren’t very obvious.  Perhaps they don’t get out much or perhaps they tend not to use white canes.  Either way, my videographer Toby didn’t spot many during our stay in the world’s largest city with a population of about 37 million.  There would have been many citizens with different levels of visual impairment arising from all the conditions that are recognised world-wide: many would be age-related, others linked to past malnutrition in this country of massive economic growth.

Medical massage is a key work opportunity for young people who attend the local blind school to gain the necessary qualifications.  They then practice in a massage clinic that is also their home.  The patient couches become their beds at night and an “auntie” comes in to cook their meals.    Living and working in the same place obviously has lots of advantages but possibly less chance of learning how to cook.  My thanks to the Rotary Club of Chongqing for bringing us all together as part of their initiative to support local visually impaired people.

Like me, the blind girls probably hadn’t had much time in a professional kitchen in a prestigious hotel but we all managed to enjoy the opportunity together rather than being over-awed by the location.

The two girls quickly learned from Jack.  He’d probably also had very little experience of blind people in his kitchen but was wonderful with all three of us: patient and empathetic, caring and courteous.  I just stood back while the rapport developed between him and the blind girls: they were all completely immersed with their experience of each other.

For the beef dish, Jack showed Wan Lin a safer way of handling her knife and how to toss the pan of vegetables.  Alongside, we had Julia and food and Beverages Manager, Sam, both translating plus Toby shooting video and a small audience.  From this chaos Jack still managed to produce an excellent dish – what a professional!

And the trick with steak: the muscle at the base of your thumb becomes harder as you fold your thumb and fingers: thumb only – rare; two fingers folded- medium; three – well-done – but the video explanation is probably easier!

Next time, we use taste to refine a simple salad.

Penny

China starts the New Year.

Chongqing is the largest city in the world – and the most exhilarating.  Rather than me trying to describe it without sight, my intrepid videographer and nephew, Toby, explored the excitement, dynamism and visual magic in his video (https://youtu.be/s8Y7PXLpmvM) cityscape.  This marks the start of the second leg of our Holman adventure: China, Australia and Malawi all coming over the next few months.

Helped by local architects Julia and Matthew, we learned to appreciate the delicate balance between past millennia of civilisation and the surge of current building.  The ancient mudstone conceals a labyrinth of caves and tunnels where the population sheltered from Japanese bombing in the 1940s while the city became the temporary capital of China during the hostilities.  Now, that bedrock also supports glittering glass and steel towers alongside more traditional homes and businesses.

With some 37 million inhabitants (more than half the total population of the UK), the city is a magnet for those who want to work and share in the benefits of modern growth.  Like any other city, there is tension between the demands for excellent work and living conditions and the preservation of authentic local character.   We managed to experience both:  singing to the echo of the mudstone caves; the dazzling night-time light displays; the traditional flower market with exotic plants and miniature gardens; the superb modern apartments and eclectic backpacker hostel.

Most importantly, of course, were all the wonderful people from the International Women’s Group, the Rotary Club that sponsored our visit and everyone who took part in our cooking videos – professional chefs and home-cooks.  Each and every one of them gave us hospitality, kindness and invaluable enthusiasm that we continue to treasure.

And Toby was inspired to add more fabulous drawings to his freelance architectural illustrator portfolio – images rich in detail and atmosphere (www.Tobymelvillebrown.com ).

Next time, see me cooking at the prestigious Intercontinental Hotel with one of their top chefs: an authentic Chinese chicken dish that you can try at home too.

Penny

Baking Blind: good, bad and ugly experiences.

Can you believe that just cooking brings so many new, good experiences, broadens the horizon and introduces new people?  Here’s a video (https://youtu.be/zdEIFJwLzjs) that will give you a sense of the second leg of my Baking Blind world tour: Chongqing in China, Kiama, Sydney and Melbourne in Australia; Lilongwe in Malawi.  It would be eye-opening if I could see!

Meanwhile, I’m still mulling over the huge contrasts of my week in San Francisco: staggering poverty   amongst huge affluence – bad and ugly.    It is supposed to be the most expensive place to live in America –paying $35 for a single plate of scallop risotto brought that home to me.  And don’t forget the tip: one server wouldn’t leave until she’d got her’s and our usual 10% wasn’t enough.  It was even worse because the £/$ exchange rate is so bad at the moment.  But local people are also being hit hard ($45 for two cups of coffee and one hot chocolate) and none hit so much as those who live on the street.  The number of homeless people was shocking: sleeping along the pavements of a main road through the city.  But, worse still, was the plight of disabled people: over less than a mile, we spotted at least half a dozen homeless people in wheelchairs.

The most striking was the man who shared our bus: he seemed to have cut a shopping trolley in two and attached one half to the back of his wheelchair to store his cooking equipment.  His sleeping mattress was folded behind his back like a great buffer to the world while the other trolley half, with his little dog and other belongings , was fastened to the front of his chair.  He had a begging box and carefully seeded it with dollar bills to clearly indicate that small change wasn’t welcome.  I would have been uncomfortable using his image except for his sign: his own political statement and he’s entitled to be heard.  It was all rather distressing after fussing about the price of a meal and, perhaps, even more so when other Americans seemed to accept his situation as normal – the consequences of limited health and social security safety nets.

It would have been easy to scoff at the tourist side of the city but it all really worked for me.  I literally rode the famous cable car by the seat of my pants: clanging up the steep inclines of Nob Hill on wooden benches so smooth with varnish that I was slipping from one end to the other (one way of amusing the other passengers).   The pontoons of sea lions next to Pier 39 were multi-sensory: the sounds of their barks and sea plunges plus their salty animal smell.  And, of course, I didn’t forget to try the famous clam chowder served in a sourdough loaf at the Boudin bakery – surprisingly satisfying. On the general food front, setting aside the cost, we learned that soups, salads and appetizers were more than enough – a starter of calamari turned out to be a huge plateful.

Two of the high spots were meeting up with people I’d met a year earlier.  Luis, the super chef of seagrass sponge (https://youtu.be/uqRx8cGznGs) is shortly to appear in the sort of TV cooking show that’s only possible in California: competing to create the best dessert using marijuana!  He didn’t win that time but I was able, at last, to give him a Baking Blind “medal”.

And it was a delight to share news with Ben and Blanche (saviours of our previous hotel hell) in a ferry trip to Sausalito.  We passed the Golden Gate Bridge (apparently looking rather red and rusty) and Alcatraz Island (reportedly quite small with a tiny block building).  This little town was a haven of tranquil Colonial style after the constant hustle and bustle of San Francisco where there are buildings so tall and thin that it seems a puff of wind would bring them down, let alone an earthquake.

A city of contrasts.  You can see how it compares with Chongqing in China in the New Year.

 

Penny