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Author: AideenBlackborough

Challenges of a Disabled Mum: The School Run

Posted in Accessibility, Cerebral Palsy, Disability Awareness, Disabled Access, Disabled Parent, Education, and Family

How the time flies! It doesn’t seem five minutes since I was breastfeeding and watching my little boy learning to walk. Now, he’s just started school and I’m just like any other mum doing the school run every day.

Well, not quite. The school run can be stressful enough but add a wheelchair to the mix and stress levels go through the roof! Luckily, Jack went to nursery school last year so he loves school and has settled into Reception brilliantly. But the rush of excited children and their parents has made the morning drop off quite difficult. Particularly as the route to Jack’s classroom is through the nursery area and the door had been propped open with a box of toys, limiting the width of the door!

However, I knew the school were very supportive of me so a quick email sorted out the door issue. Now to just try and drop little man off without running over any little toes! I try to get to school early so that we’re first in and at least I can say goodbye to Jack and then very slowly make my way out, facing the stampede of children!

I try to leave Jack at the classroom door as if I do go in, I find it difficult to manoeuvre around and watch for little people, who don’t yet have an awareness of me!! Then I try to find a quite space to let everyone else pass, before leaving the building. By the time I get home, my nerves are shot and I’m just relieved to have done another successful drop off without incident!

There’s no answer to this, children are children and it’s on me just to be very careful. But I do wish I had eyes in the back of my head!

Open Letter to All Bus Drivers – from a Wheelchair User Passenger

Posted in Accessibility, Cerebral Palsy, Customer Service, Disability Awareness, Disabled Access, Education, Equality & Diversity, Personal, and Public Transport

You see me waiting at the bus stop and I try to search your face for a clue as to which camp you fit into.  You see, you fit into two camps and sometimes I can’t tell until you pull up and open the doors. All the time, I’m filled with dread and anxiousness, wondering if this time I’ll have a fight on my hands. Whether I’ll be welcomed or made to feel like a complete and utter nuisance.  Quite often it’s the latter.

Some of you are friendly, welcoming and seem to understand that I have as much right as anyone else to use public transport.  You go out of your way to gently lower the ramp for me, to ask where I’m getting off and to make sure that the wheelchair space is clear.  If it’s occupied by a pushchair, you politely ask them to move or fold it up.  You kindly help me to position my chair into the sometimes stupidly difficult spaces which aren’t really suitable for wheelchairs at all.  When I get off, you share a friendly word and wish me well.  I feel like a valued passenger.

Unfortunately, I don’t feel as welcomed by some of your uneducated colleagues who openly grimace when they see me waiting for their bus.  One of two things can happen at this point.  They either refuse to let me on, saying their bus is too full or that the wheelchair space is full.  They seemed to have completely missed the memo that the wheelchair space is for the use of wheelchair users and that this is law.  They refuse to ask other passengers to move, for fear that heaven forbid, their bus might end up late or their shift might overrun.

Or they make it crystal clear that I’m a nuisance for needing their assistance.  They huff and puff as they climb out of their cab, then slam the ramp down in front of me. They don’t care if other passengers are blocking the wheelchair space, which I’m supposed to reverse into.  That’s my problem, I’m supposed to ensure I’m safe and ask fellow passengers to move, even at peak times.  I’m made to feel like an inconvenience, a problem and I’ll tell you now – it makes me feel like utter crap.  That’s probably the first time I’m sworn on my blog but it’s the only way to convey how it makes me feel.

How I feel when that treatment makes me late for work or late to collect my son from school.  Yes, that’s right, I’m just like you. I have commitments and I’m trying to get somewhere just like everyone else.  I’d like to get home after a day’s work, just like you.  I’d like to get home without dealing with your attitude because it STINKS.

So thank-you so much if you fall into the first camp; you make my life as a disabled wheelchair user so much easier.

May I suggest, that if you sadly fall into the second, that you consider a career change.  You’ve clearly misunderstood that your job isn’t about just driving a bus. It’s about transporting passengers – whether we’re disabled or not.

My “PIP” journey: Please don’t treat me as a number

Posted in Accessibility, Cerebral Palsy, Disability Awareness, Disabled Access, and Personal

Tomorrow is my PIP assessment and for those who are not familiar, PIP stands for “Personal Independence Payment” and is replacing Disability Living Allowance (DLA).

I’m nervous for two reasons: a) I’ve heard and read about many people who have had a bad experience of the PIP assessment process and b) my experience thus far hasn’t been great. When I phoned to start my application, the delightful lady I spoke to was more like a robot than a human being. She refused to listen to me or answer my questions until she had completed her “script” and the whole conversation felt very impersonal and forced. It didn’t fill me with confidence for the rest of the process, put it that way.

Regardless of the assessment outcome, I just hope I’m listened to tomorrow and not just treated as a “number”. I hope the assessor understands the complexity of disability and isn’t just fixated on the medical side.  I hope they take the time to listen to my speech and not rely on my husband as an interpreter. I hope they appreciate that my disability is different from day to day and that 15 minutes cannot paint an accurate picture of living with Cerebral Palsy every day.

Most of all I hope I’m treated as a human being!! More to follow!

Building an inclusive, more tolerant future

Posted in Accessibility, Disability and kids, Disability Awareness, Education, Equality & Diversity, Fighting for Change, Media, and Schools

I just posted on my Flyinglady Website about how I love going into schools and doing Disability Awareness sessions for the children; I’m so passionate about it that I offer the sessions for free wherever I possibly can.

The sessions help kids to understand that everyone is different and that’s a good thing; life would be incredibly boring if we were all carbon copies of each other.  I go on to try and help the kids to understand how they help people with disabilities and explain how including everybody is so important.  Inclusiveness, in simple, age appropriate language.

Now, as I sit watching the news of yet another, hate driven, evil terrorist attack, I feel despair the same of everyone else. I fear for my little boy and a friend tweets her advice that “All we can do is be the change and teach our children better. The majority of people are good.”

And we are.  The world is full of good, kind, peace loving people and we need to teach our kids – our future – to be the same. Teach them that it’s OK to ask questions, to be curious and that they must be accepting of differences. We need to teach them from a young age about diversity and that age, sex, disability, ethnicity, sexuality and religion make each of us who we are. We’re all different, all unique but ultimately, we’re all human beings and that’s the bottom line which needs to be respected.

So let’s have Disability Awareness on the curriculum but let’s also give Equality and Diversity generally a higher priority from a young age.  Let’s invite a range of people, from all walks of life, to give presentations to schools and allow our children to explore these issues. Let them ask the questions that perhaps their parents would struggle to answer. Let them learn from personal experiences, not just teachers and books.  Perhaps adopting such an approach will help us create a much more tolerate society for our future.

Challenges of a Disabled Mum: Capturing Memories

Posted in Accessibility, Cerebral Palsy, Disability and kids, Disability Awareness, Disabled Parent, Family, Motherhood, and Personal

It’s something most parents don’t even think about. Quickly grabbing the camera to capture your child’s first of something is what every parent has done at some point. Indeed, my hubby has thousands of pictures capturing everything from Jack’s first taste of sweet potatoes to his first attempt at writing his own name.  Each are being kept safely for the day he brings home his first girlfriend!

But for me on my own, it’s not so easy to capture these precious moments, though I do my best. By the time I get my phone or camera out and then steady myself enough to take a decent photo, the moment is often lost. On Jack’s first day of school nursery, Jack very nearly threw an understandable tantrum as I begged him to keep still, click after click, until I managed to keep steady enough.

 

 

I was therefore very touched at a recent Mother’s Day assembly when another parent kindly offered to take some videos and photos of Jack and send them to me.  Each child had to stand up and say a line about why they loved their mummy and it was a moment I wanted to focus on (pardon the pun!) rather than be worrying about recording it.  I was able to laugh as Jack told the whole assembly that I “put on her lipstick and then she dances!”   Two things I definitely never do but a moment to treasure forever, none the less!

Thanks so much to the parent who was so thoughtful and enabled me to just enjoy a wonderful Mother’s Day assembly!

 

Why I love being a trustee of Cerebral Palsy Sport

Posted in Cerebral Palsy, Disability Awareness, Disabled Access, Does it wet the bed?, Fighting for Change, Making a difference, My writing, and Personal

At the book launch of my memoir, Does it wet the bed?, someone happened to mention to me a Charity, Cerebral Palsy Sport and how they were looking for new trustees. I almost dismissed the idea; I had never been a sporty person, much to my regret. I wasn’t sure how much I’d have to offer such a charity.

Then I thought back to my time working for another disability charity who focused on helping disabled people into employment.  As an employee, it was sometimes frustrating as I’d have a vision for how I thought the organisation should go but no real authority to influence it’s direction.  When the charity struggled financially and my job was hanging by a thread from month to month, all I could do was do my job and hope funding would come our way – even though I had endless ideas for stabilising the charity and indeed, expanding it.

So I realised it didn’t matter that I didn’t spend my weekends by the side of a pitch – what mattered was I had the drive, the passion and the enthusiasm to make a difference to a charity. I could help other people with Cerebral Palsy to reach their sporting potential and that was what inspired me to apply.

I was thrilled to take up my role as Trustee last January and though it’s a big responsibility, I can honestly say that I’ve loved every moment so far.  I’ve put my current skills to good use and am continually developing my skills and experience, which will only strengthen my CV.  I’ve met some brilliant people and most of all, I hope, I’ve made a difference for the people using our services.  Every day is different, challenging and rewarding – even it is just a simple “thank-you” and a smile.

Yes, the role takes up my time. The usual commitment is 6 Board Meetings per year, plus 4-6 Sub-Committees Meetings per year but if you have this time to give, there’s nowhere better to give it! All your expenses will be paid and you’ll be invited to some brilliant sporting and fundraising events that are family-friendly and lots of fun!

So why not come and join us?!  To apply to be a trustee, please follow this link or you can contact me for a chat if you’d like more information.

Challenges of a Disabled Mum: Finding support & information

Posted in Cerebral Palsy, Disability and kids, Disability Awareness, Disabled Parent, Does it wet the bed?, Family, Motherhood, My writing, and Personal

Before I became pregnant with Jack, I wanted to see a medical professional who would be able to advise me on the impact that pregnancy might have on my condition, Cerebral Palsy. I wasn’t naive, I knew it would be physically tough but I wanted reassurance I suppose, that it was possible and I wanted advice on the birth. Would my spasms and general movements make a natural delivery difficult?  Would I be able to have an epidural if I wanted to? Most of all, I knew what I wanted – reassurance that the events of my own birth, which caused my CP, wouldn’t repeat themselves. I knew it was unlikely, I knew there were no guarantees in life but I also knew talking to a professional about my fears would at least help in belittling them.

But despite asking my GP and searching online, I couldn’t find anyone who seemed to specialise in supporting disabled mothers. Eventually, we decided to go private and booked an appointment with a Harley Street Consultant in Obstetrics. He specialises in high-risk pregnancies, though thankfully he assured me that I wasn’t high-risk at all!  He assured us that a natural birth would be entirely possible and that my CP shouldn’t impact much at all.  He said an epidural shouldn’t be an issue and even recommended it. We were left wondering why we’d troubled him at all!

Nonetheless, it was just what I needed to hear and shortly after that appointment, I became pregnant.  At this point, I began looking for other types of information and support.  I wondered how I would cope with feeding, dressing, changing nappies and though I was aware of a couple of other disabled parents, panic set in!  Just how would I manage?!

But again, finding information was absolutely fruitless. It was as if disabled people just didn’t have children, like it wasn’t normal. Most of the support I found was for parents of disabled children and not the other way around.  I emailed the Disabled Parent’s Network but never received a reply and their website didn’t really provide much insight into the practicalities of being a disabled parent.

When our gorgeous boy finally arrived, I still wasn’t exactly sure how I’d do things but with the enduring support of hubby, I was determined to find MY way and in fact, it’s amazing how quickly and instinctively I learnt. I wore holes in all my jeans pushing Jack around the house in his moses basket because I couldn’t lift and carry him.  As he got bigger, my knees continued to suffer as I carried him short distances whilst walking on my knees!!

Although I developed my own ways, I still think it would have helped my confidence to talk to other disabled parents and chat about how they manage. That’s why I wrote my book and started this regular blog – even now, there needs to be much more awareness of disabled people and what we’re capable of.  We should be sharing our stories, good and bad, in order to support and encourage each other.  And as always, society as a whole needs to be more aware, as many people have been very surprised to learn that I’m a mummy!

If you’d like to share your story as a guest blogger, I’d love to hear from you!

Challenges of a Disabled Mum: A to B and beyond

Posted in Accessibility, Cerebral Palsy, Customer Service, Disability and kids, Disability Awareness, Disabled Parent, Motherhood, Personal, and Public Transport

Last week’s blog talked about the challenges I’ve faced getting my little boy from A to B as a disabled mum.  With some creative thinking, we’ve managed to get out and about locally, visiting friends and family.  However, going any further has presented bigger challenges which aren’t so easily resolved.

Since the age of 13, I’ve been regularly going over to Ireland by myself to visit family and friends. I’ll never forget that first time, when Mum entrusted me into the care of the airport staff, with my uncle waiting to meet me in the Arrivals Hall of Dublin Airport. I felt so grown up, travelling all by myself! It’s something I began taking for granted, as airports are obliged to provide support for disabled travellers.

That was until Jack arrived.  As he grew bigger and Dean returned to contracting, I thought I’d be able to pop home for long weekends and half-term breaks, once Jack started at school. Unfortunately, this wasn’t to be as I discovered that the airlines didn’t allow disabled travellers to travel with minors.  Well, technically I could book the tickets and not declare that I need support until arrival at the airport but even for me, pushing boundaries as I do, I’d fear I’d be on very dodgy ground!

So the first time this came up, we decided Dean would fly over with us and then return home for work.  Two weeks later, darling hubby drove back over to Ireland to bring Jack and I home. On other occasions, we’ve managed to work things so that Jack and I travel over with Dean and then return with my parents or sister.  As you can imagine, this takes planning and I find myself having to fit into other people’s plans, rather than making my own.  It has obviously been more expensive and on occasions, I’ve had to miss family events because Dean is working and there’s nobody to travel with.

Whilst in some respects, I accept these limitations as a disabled mum, it is frustrating that it has kerbed my independence! I know that, God forbid, in the case of emergency, Jack and I would need assistance but on the other hand, I don’t think the airlines, like much of society, have considered that yes, disabled people do have children!!  What if I was a single parent wanting to take my child away on holiday? Would I have to wait until Jack was 11 to do what the majority of parents take for granted? 

Whilst it’s not a huge problem, it’s something I didn’t think of when I was considering all the challenges I would face as a disabled parent and once again, we’ve had to think in a different way to other parents. 

I wonder whether airlines and businesses as a whole, could consider ways that they can support people like me, thus raising awareness that disabled people are parents too?  Maybe offering a £20 chaperone service which would be cheaper and easier than the arrangements we currently have to make, would be a start!

Challenges of a Disabled Mum: A to B

Posted in Cerebral Palsy, Disability and kids, Disability Awareness, Disabled Parent, Family, Motherhood, and Personal

I knew when I fell pregnant with my son that motherhood would present more challenges to me than most and the thoughts about how I would cope gave me a few sleepless nights. I knew that I wouldn’t be the same as other mums, that I’d have to think creatively to overcome my disability in motherhood.

My hubby was amazingly supportive and even when I doubted myself, he refused to believe that there was anything I wouldn’t be able to do. His stance gave me so much confidence and from then on, we’ve focused on the solutions and ignored the problems.

Most parents have a pushchair at the top of their shopping list but that wasn’t even on our list. Two sets of wheels don’t work.  So to ensure I could get out and about with Jack, albeit never too far from home, we brought a baby harness which strapped to me and worked really well even though I was sat down.  It wasn’t perfect as I still needed help with all the clips but it at least allowed me to visit family and friends and take Jack for short walks. Jack loved riding on my lap and I called him my little joey!

 

Jack soon grew out of the harness and I had to look for other ways of getting us out and about safely. For a while, I strapped Jack on to my lap using the wheelchair seatbelt, which was long enough to go around us both.  Hubby also brought us some reins but we found that they were too short – if Jack stopped suddenly or fell over as he sometimes does, he’d be in danger of being caught by my wheels.  We had to give him more slack, so reluctantly, we replaced the strap on the reins with a much longer dog lead!  It meant that Jack could go further ahead of me and I’d have more time to stop if needed. I told you we had to think creatively!

More recently, as Jack is now at school nursery and approaching his fourth birthday, I started to feel that Jack had outgrown the reins.  Most mums, by now, would just be able to hold their child’s hand but there’s still a risk that Jack will run into the road and being in a wheelchair, it’s not that easy for me to react as quickly as other parents.

So we’ve now invested in a wrist strap, which finally allows me to “walk” holding Jack’s hand but gives me the security of knowing that he can’t run off! I can’t tell you the joy I’ve experienced, holding his hand in mine, just like any other parent and I think it’s probably something that we all take for granted.

Being a disabled mum isn’t easy – it took me about 20 minutes last night just to put a clean duvet cover on Jack’s bed! – but I wouldn’t change it for anything!

Writing is lonely but feedback helps!

Posted in Cerebral Palsy, Disability and kids, Disability Awareness, Disabled Parent, Does it wet the bed?, and Family

I love writing and always have. I remember being in the final year of primary school and winning a writing competition for a short story.

My last book, “Does it wet the bed?”, had been in my head for years before I finally began putting it on paper.  For those of you that might not have read it yet, the book tells my story of living with Cerebral Palsy and becoming a disabled mum. Though emotionally difficult at times, as I relived painful events, the book was relatively easy and a joy to write.  Though I wanted to get a message across and raise awareness of Cerebral Palsy, writing my life story was also therapy. It gave me fresh perspective and helped put to bed issues which had played on my mind for years.

My new book is a children’s book which I hope will help to educate kids about disability and encourage them to ask the questions that come to mind.  It’s very different to my first major writing project – a complete shift in mindset is needed. I’m not writing for myself anymore and am constantly trying to think like a child!  From the words I use, to the style and overall message, it all has to appeal to a world that I’m struggling to remember!!  There’s also other issues, such as the illustrations to think about so the process of producing this book is very different to the first. It’s been said that writing is a lonely job and it’s easy, I think, to lose confidence in yourself and your work.  But I’m so passionate about the fact that kids need to understand these issues in order to help shape their future attitudes. That’s what keeps me going when the doubts try to put me off.

However, reading to my little boy Jack, is helping in focusing my mind and generating ideas. Though I’m aiming my book at children slightly older than Jack, his school have kindly agreed to “test drive” the book and provide some valuable feedback.

I’d welcome hearing from other parents and children who would be happy to do the same! Please contact me if you’re willing!