Tuesday 30 July 2019

Access all B-reas

The parallel piece Access All Areas yesterday dealt with the somnolent railway station which serves the village where my mother lives. The connexion is stairs. The station admits to being wheelchair inaccessible and indeed inaccessible to the able bodied under adverse weather conditions. It would take a particularly doctrinaire Inclusion advocate to insist that Chetnole Halt be upgraded to full access to all given that only a couple of handfuls of people use the station every day. Upgrades would cost £100,000s with no guarantee (or even suggestion) that it would encourage any wheel-dependent passengers to use the train service. My mother, for example, moved to Chetnole in 1984 at the age of 64 (the ~age I am now). Last week she told me that it took 13 minutes to stride off to the station because occasionally she'd leave SS Independence, her car, in the garage and launch herself on the buffets of that uncertain and unreliable public transport system. 20 years later when her failing eye-sight finally precluded using any car, she was not really up for walking to the station along country roads without sidewalks but with face-high questing brambles and bat-shit-bonkers car-drivers.

Whoever runs transport infrastructure in Britain continued to send one bus a day to shuttle across N Dorset picking up an irregular supply of passengers, almost of all of whom were on their pensions and having subsidised travel. Most weeks my mother would cast off from home and feel her way across ye village green to the pub where she would wait for the one bus a day. That vehicle passed through about 1030 in the morning and eventually unloaded its passengers in the nearby market town. As the village shop and village post-office had been deemed uneconomic several years ago, this was the only way that these oldsters could buy food with their pensions. Over the years, several people helpfully pointed out to my patient mother that the pub wasn't going to open for a couple of hours: assuming that my sainted mother was only waiting there for the gin.

When Dau.I, Dau.II and BobTheChauffeur went to visit in early June, my mother had just sustained some minor damage in an almost fall and we watched her tottering up the stairs to bed and inching down the incline the following morning. We reckoned that the odds were about 20:1 that she'd miss her footing, but were not quite callous enough to place money on it. As a family, we are a little sensitive to such issues because a fall down those same stairs was the last accident my father had in the house: he died of his injuries four days later. M'sister, as primary carer, wasn't going to take the risk of losing two parents in this undignified and painful manner; so she ordered up a stair-lift as a more-or-less instant gratification solution to that anxiety. One of my tasks on the visit last week was to check out this Elder Launcher <vrrroooomph> and see why my aged, almost blind, slightly wobbly mother experienced such teething problems getting used to using the new technology. "aged, almost blind, slightly wobbly" must be the median demographic for stair-lift customers and there might be a design flaw.

Accordingly, after lunch, I sat into the chair while my mother told me how to make it Go! But nothing seemed to be happening . . . because the chair is designed with a 3 second lag to make sure the passenger is properly settled.
After half a dozen voyages, even the slightly demented can make the muscle memory connexions, expecting the big pause [bear goes into a bar joke here], and go Up [move blue thumb switch right] and Down [move blue thumb switch left] on their own. But for first-time users it is not obvious to all thinking people that an electronic switch is designed to have no immediate effect. Certainly not obvious to me when I gave it a go. A week after delivery, just as Mum had gotten into a normal working rhythm with her new toy mobility aid, the thing packed up on her - totally unresponsive accelerator. She called m'Sister, 140km away to the North. Sister's solution was to call the next door neighbours in Chetnole [both of whom are engineers]. The engineers' solution (have you tried switching it Off and On again?) led to a search for an On/Off switch. It turned out that the young woman from the home-cleaning service, in a bid to hunt out dust under the new machine had accidentally tripped the mechanism [located down near the floor] Off.  Stair lifts are a solution for bringing 20thC (and older) two storey houses up to 21stC inclusion-and-disability specs. The alternative, which we have looked at, is to write off the bedroom floor and build an en suite wet-room somewhere in the foot-print of the ground floor. That is a much greater expense and there is no guarantee that the next owner of this 2 storey, 3.5 bedroom, execuhome-with-garden will see that as an asset. Like upgrading the local railway station to include hypothetical users, it may not be economically sensible.
Design for living must surely include design for a mobility-impaired future.

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