Happy New Year!
Welcome to the first #AccessibilityStories of 2017!
Apologies for the lack of linky last month, too much going on at Christmas I’m afraid!
My lovely campaigner friend at Ordinary Hopes linked up a couple of posts to my last linky, in November, which are particularly topical as this year has begun with quite a flurry of media interest in accessible toilets!
The first is a Christmas post, The C Word, highlighting how the lack of suitable toilet facilities, meant that her family couldn’t participate in many of the festive activities that many others take for granted.
The second, Struggling to Care, a poignant post setting out what really makes caring for a loved one difficult.
This linky will be open for 2 weeks, please do share your posts about ideas and experiences (good and bad!) around physical and/or sensory accessibility of buildings, places, spaces and products below….
And do check in again next month to read the round up!
- Link up to 2 posts each month (old or new)! It would be lovely if you could add my badge (cut and paste the code in the box below and add it into your blog post while in ‘text’ mode of your blog editor) or a text link back to my site so people can find the linky and read the other blog entries;
- Please comment on this post to introduce yourself if you’re new to the linky, and comment on some of the other linked posts to help share ideas and experiences!
- It would also be amazing if you could share your post (using the hashtag #AccessibilityStories) on social media to help spread awareness of the issues around accessibility! I’ll also try to retweet as many posts as I can!
- I welcome input from anyone that is affected by accessible design – users, carers, friends and family as well as designers, developers, managers and legislators (so pretty much everyone then!). I welome blogs from professionals and suppliers as well as individual bloggers as long as they keep within the spirit of idea exchange and are not sales posts for products or services.
EJ is delighted to get back to school after the summer holidays! She has no formal communication (or at least not that we understand……yet!?) but it was clear from the excited bouncing in her chair and her lovely big grin that she knew exactly where she was and was raring to get back to a routine, fun activities and way more stimulation than I’ve managed to provide here at home! She loves school!
EJ is now in Year 1 at a special school. Eighteen months ago we agonised over the decision on which school would be best for her. Where possible I’d always choose inclusion. However on visiting several schools, including our lovely mainstream village schools and several special schools we could see straight away that her school would be the perfect fit!
EJ’s school has a uniform. I like the idea of school uniform. It gives a sense of identity and belonging to the children, and makes organising an outfit in the morning so much easier for me! EJ’s uniform is a nice balance of comfort and practicality and (I think) as smart as a school kid ever really needs to be. Soft polo shirts, sweatshirt or cardigan and trousers (which in EJ’s case are generally jersey fabric or leggings). They have an official branded clothing, or you can wear regular shop bought items in the school colours. I guess at a special school they have to be pretty relaxed. The children have such a variety of disabilities, sensory needs and medical conditions that clothing has to be comfortable and adaptable for school activities and to allow for independent and assisted personal care.
The same goes for shoes, black is the generally preferred colour, but as long as the shoes are practical for school activities we’ve found the school are happy, which for EJ is just as well as we struggle to find the right shoes for her in any colour!
Last year, when EJ was starting reception, I scoured the shoe shops and trawled the internet looking for suitable black shoes. EJ used to wear AFOs (Ankle Foot Orthosis), splints, which made finding shoes pretty tricky. The best we found were double velcro fastening sandshoes which allowed you to open the shoe right up to get the base of the splint into the shoe. She now has orthotic insoles which raise her heel slightly within the shoe, so for this reason, and to give her some ankle support, she needs to wear ankle boots, preferably with two velcro straps to get the insole into the shoe correctly and obtain a good fit around her ankle. EJ also has very small, and very the narrow feet (off the Clarks chart narrow!).
The best we could do last year was dark pearlised purple boots and she has started this term in navy and pink sandals! (Incase anyone reading has the same sort of shoe fit issues as EJ, the brands we have found that work best for EJ are Ricosta and Richter – neither of which are cheap!)
This is probably a whole other post (rant), but the “girls” school shoes selection is flooded with pumps, mary jane and the occasional brogue style shoe. Next to nothing with any ankle support. Surely it’s not just children with “official” orthopaedic issues that would benefit from ankle supportive shoes? I’ve seen a few options in the “boys” selections (although still not many in the school styles), and although I’m not swayed by the girl/boy marketing, the problem is boys styles are always wider fit, and just don’t fit EJ. I’m very excited to have come across one black ankle boot this year online from mainstream brand Startrite, so I’ve ordered them today and I hope they will be narrow enough (they do have some patent leather detailing and some decoration though, so I’m not sure if they would pass a strict school uniform test…!).
So what if circumstances had been a little different, if EJ’s academic learning was more consistent with a mainstream approach and we had chosen to send her to a mainstream school?
It made me really sad to read various stories in the news (like this one in the Guardian) about various state schools sending kids home for not wearing exactly the right clothes or shoes. As I say, I like the idea of a uniform, but I don’t understand why it would need to be so strict that kids can’t wear something comfortable?
Lots of the comments on these articles made me equally as sad, things like:
- “Kids need to learn about sticking to rules”!
But our kids aren’t in the army! They are learning all sorts of things at school, rules of all different kinds, their lives timetabled from the age of 5, why does a specific sort of trouser fabric or shoe style need to be a part of that? Some kids like to challenge rules too. Conformity isn’t the only right way, seeing things differently, being creative can be a valuable asset in life and work! Why get bogged down in a stand off about shoes when you could be supporting the next generation of great innovators!?
- “Kids need to learn about the real world. I don’t have a choice about my work uniform”
Well, (1) that’s just one small aspect of the real world and work uniforms aren’t worn in all jobs and (2) most people do have some sort of choice in that, it’s part of the deal of that job contract. Kids at school don’t have a choice, they have to go to school and, until 6th form, that school was was most likely chosen for them by their parents or the Local Authority!
For several reasons I think an overly strict school uniform can be exclusive, rather than inclusive and levelling (the very reasons generally cited for having a uniform in the first place):
1. Sensory issues
Many kids have tactile sensory issues, sensory processing issues, ASD…. and have aversions to particular clothing (labels, stiff collars, scratch fabric, waistbands, restrictive shoes….). Children constantly distracted by their clothes are not going to be able to focus properly. Isn’t it more important to make sure our kids are ready and receptive to learn to the best of their abilities than obsess over the specifics of what they are wearing?
The traditional school uniform is just not practical for many children with physical impairments. Long skirts, stiff waistbands, stiff collar and tie, blazer. In EJ’s case, she spends much of her day in her wheelchair or using mobility aids. She needs help with personal care and help to transfer from her chair, either with adult support to stand or using a hoist. She wears stretch fabric trousers, elastic waistbands and loose polo shirts so that she’s comfortable. Flexible clothing also makes dressing and undressing easier, currently for the adults assisting her, but in the future easier for her to do independently.
3. Highlighting difference
Some comments on these school uniform articles highlighting the issues for children with special needs and disabilities, were countered with replies like “oh, well that’s different, I’m sure the school would make exception” – I think this is the attitude that makes me most uncomfortable! Disabled children, and children with other differences from their contemporaries, are already singled out, maybe visibly so or by a hidden condition (a learning disability, sensory issue, gender dysmorphia….). All kids have enough going on trying to feel part of their school community without a big flashing arrow pointing them out as an exception. Do they really need to be made to stand out more because they can’t wear clothing or shoes that don’t match the strict regularity of their contemporaries? Perhaps even making the other kids resent them. Will some kids just go along with the ‘rules’ in order to try and fit in, and as a result be uncomfortable and distracted throughout their school day? How will that help their learning? And what of those who don’t have an “official’ diagnosis? Those who’re just fidgety and uncomfortable being restricted in shirt and tie, why shouldn’t they get to wear something more comfortable?
If we really want the uniform to act as an visible leveller then shouldn’t all kids be given the same flexibility?
I guess this is a request to all schools to think about how their policies affect ALL kids (and also to retailers to provide uniforms for all needs too – especially supportive shoes for girls!) and to think about making their school uniform policy inclusive, as a small step in helping make the school community and therefore future society more inclusive.
I’m just beginning to catch up with myself again after the festive period and finally finish of some posts I’ve been meaning to do for ages!
One of the first things I did when I decided to get back onto the design horse, and begin writing this blog, was to fill out a Scope questionnaire I found online, which turned out to be an information gathering exercise for a potentially very exciting collaboration with Ikea! At the end of the questionnaire was a little box to fill in if you were interested in coming along to a focus group – yes please!
So, before the chaotic pre-Christmas period (and with the babysitting help of Twinkle’s lovely grandparents), I dug out my oyster card and took the train down to that London with all the commuters (including my husband who does it everyday so wasn’t quite as excited as me!)! Funny stepping back into the London rat race for the day, and just as glamorous as I remember as I disappeared underground, missed all the sights and Christmas displays and headed off up to Ikea Wembly.
The focus group was a small group of fellow parents with a range of experiences of children of different ages and a wide range of abilities/disabilities, organized by lovely group from Scope.
The collaboration has come about as Ikea are investigating the development of their product range, including products they would like to appeal to the special needs market as well as mainstream. I love this inclusive approach. So many things that are ‘special needs’ are actually just good products that would also suit younger children, older people, families etc, either as they are or with a bit of a tweak or perhaps with the addition of an accessory.
The focus group discussed the outcomes from the survey, which broadly fell into 3 categories: eating, playing, sleeping and the varying issues we all have around those themes, products that have helped usand products we felt are missing from the general market place. We all had a stroll around the store and picked out things we liked, or thought could be improved or adapted.
Ikea already have a pretty progressive approach to design and certainly our little family have numerous Ikea products which although are ‘mainstream’ fullfill our ‘special needs’.
Our 3 favourite Ikea products are:
Play Kitchen: This is fab as not only is it a stylish little piece of furniture at a very reasonable price, it also performs as a very handy prop for standing practice, with 3 different height adjustments to allow good standing positioning.
Spinning Egg chair: A big favourite in the sensory processing world for enabling vestibular stimulation, said to help with processing in various ways. This was Twinkle’s Christmas present from Santa!
High Chair: The Antilop is an amazingly simple, extremely affordable, easy to clean high chair which can be accessorized with a little inflatable cushion insert to give extra postural support to a younger baby, or an older baby with low tone! This was invaluable for us before we got a specialist postural support chair for Twinkle.
I know Ikea is a marmite place….I fall into the love it category! Functional, affordable and stylish furniture and accessories – what’s not to love? (Although I’m told the ‘ikea experience’ is not for everyone!) I really hope they carry this project forward as I think this inclusive approach is fantastic and will really allow families with special needs to access products more easily, affordably and that look good in the home, just like any other family.
PS. It may sound like it, but this is not a sponsored post!