The Feng Shui of the Class 321 equilibrium

On Friday 16 December, I was invited to join Greater Anglia aboard a newly refurbished class 321 trainset.  This unit in particular has been internally refreshed to meet the needs of the 21st century customer.  Built in the 1980s using the Mk3 bodyshell, there has been very limited redesign of the internal layout… until now.

My own experience has shown me that a clean vehicle can hide a multitude of sins, so I was keen to have a good crawl all over to identify the pitfalls I could – not to shame, instead to seek rectification and improve the new product further.  I believe in quick wins, too – usually the simplest improvement can be the cheapest and best.

For me, as a wheelchair user, the door I should was obvious from the traditional blue symbols – what awaited me was anything but traditional.  Once on board, I had a choice of turning left into the central saloon, or right to the carriage end and a space beside the lavatory.  Let me emphasis that word again a moment: choice.

Daddydoink in the wheelchair spaceThe space is at the minimum the standard dimensions and is slightly larger in the central saloon.  In both cases there are several tip-up seats available, both also with a fold-away table.  Yes, you read that correctly – a table.  This is invaluable, especially if you get hand shake or need to be able to put your sandwich down a moment.  The table would take a seat out of availability and can only be used if the seat is empty.  Opposite the wheelchair space beside the toilet is a luggage space, big enough for two large cases or eight small, laid flat.  There are seats opposite (proper seats) for friends and family, meaning friends no longer have to give up a tip-up seat for another wheelchair user.  There is a choice between sitting next to the toilet or not.

Toilet door entrance with no lipThe toilet is a standard loo, with both a toilet bowl and a sink.  There is a baby change table and a multitude of signs warning and instructing as to the use of various buttons.  The entrance has no lip (and therefore is a level ingress/egress).  The buttons are clear and the labeling is due to be improved to be clear that unlocking the door opens it, too.  Moving from a train with no loo to this is a huge step forward (or not, as there is no step).

The doors come with audio warnings and buttons at a decent height.  The width of the vestibules has expanded by over 6 inches, giving additional space to both wheelchair users and fellow passengers.  The grab poles that previously restricted access have been moved closer to the vehicle walls and further apart, giving over a meter of space for wheelchairs to get through.

The seats are now higher off the floor and have a good angle between the seat and back for a comfortable journey.  This means it will be easier for an ambulant disabled person to stand from them.  There are grab handles at nearly every seat.

All of this means a journey is very possible.  A journey can be a very emotional thing for a disabled person, too.  By making this easier, with better wheelchair spaces, more priority seats, higher seats – the emotions are positive ones.

This train is not a case of too little, too late.  It’s a case of benchmarking what can be achieved, with the life of this train now extended beyond 2020.  The re-traction project will only extend that life further.

The question is, who’s going to follow suit and copy this brilliant bit of work?  And for Greater Anglia, what is the next good idea?

Photos below – for use please contact me via twitter or a comment.

Refurbished Class 321 – Greater Anglia

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The Petroleum Recharging Quandry

I have a bit of an issue and its not one that I can resolve easily on my own without either a bit of trial and serious error (if it goes wrong its a big error) or help.  So, I’ve opted for a bit of help:

Well, actually, that needed a little quick clarification, just in case:

So, this sparked a few conversations, including first cars, comparison of what I’m getting, toys, wheels and so on… but this also showed me several things:

  1. Some people use Service Call
  2. Some people use PinPoint
  3. Some people don’t use anything
  4. One person is waiting for their child to hit 16 so they can learn how to fill the car for them!

So what are Service Call and PinPoint?  They are remote keyfobs that send a signal to a receiver in a petrol station which would, in theory at least, alert a member of staff to assist you refuelling your car.

Service Call Receiver

Service Call Receiver

Service Call I had, I confess, heard of before but forgotten the name of.  It is usually a bright orange box on the window of the petrol station kiosk.  The box tends to sit up high and require line of sight in order to work which, according to the website, has 50m of range.

During my Twitter conversation, I found one user said the following:

Now that is useful in itself, but given the competition…

So, this then makes me ask a question of will I see more use of one more than another.  At this point my mother had already very kindly told me to order a PinPoint device for my birthday present which is upcoming (hint, hint you lot).

So – this seems like a good time to review the PinPoint offering.  This was developed by a company called Contacta and has been endorsed by Disabled Motoring UK, which is a campaign group.  It is not widely installed at the moment but claims to be more reliable than older beacon systems, which I suspect includes Service Call.  A quick check in my local area shows 2 installations, compared to Service Call’s 8 or so.  Neither of them included Tesco though, which is where I am most likely to fill up because of the pay at pump option and club card discounts.

Indeed, PinPoint is widely known:

So – I’ve ordered PinPoint with thanks to my Mother. I’ll probably end up ordering a Service Call too.  Alternatively, I could follow this idea:

Got a bit of a wait though until my eldest reaches 16 though…

 

The Disability Transport Consultancy Quandary

I don’t think its any secret that I work in Public Transport but also have a vested interest as a disabled person and a transport user.  So this post is closer to my work than usual but I must state – this is my opinion.

Since 1985 the Transport Act 1985 stipulated that there would a board dedicated to advising the Department for Transport (or whatever it is called at the time) about the issues being faced by disabled people and the ways to resolve these issues.  This board is known as the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee – DiPTAC.

DiPTAC have been hugely instrumental in making disabled peoples lives more independent.  Public Transport is a gateway industry – it enables people to access other services.  Health, leisure or chore – if you can’t drive or afford a car because all your money gets sucked up by other costs, public transport is essential.  Accessible public transport only came about because of the hard work of the panel and the standards they helped set out.

But following the various spending reviews, its been recommended DiPTAC be abolished.  I believe this to be wrong.  So I’ve been reading the consultation and I’ve got some strong thoughts and fears.

My first fear is that the experience of disabled people is going to be lost.  At the moment, DiPTAC is made up of disabled people and professionals.  However, what changes are made for one disability can negatively affect another.  For example, a lift could mean people who have claustrophobia may be unable to access a building or replacing a receptionist with an intercom could prevent a hearing impaired person from accessing the building unless it had a working loop.  On board buses, a wheelchair space and priority seating could mean that someone might have nowhere to sit with their guide dog.  Its vital that when making changes, every type of disability is considered and consulted with – and not lip service – proper consultation.

My second fear is that because such experience incurs expenses and costs to bring together and discuss, this will be used as an reason not to use face to face consultation or there could be no more than one meeting with a few people who may be based local to the department.  Recently, the Department for Transport were convening a meeting with just a few organisations about what disabled people wanted from public transport in the future.  They did not go to consultation as it was another department’s white paper.  However, this meant that a lot of voices were not heard and there is a strong risk that this could be the case again in the future on much more serious issues.

My third and final fear is that disabled people will not be made aware of legislative changes properly because there is a lack of pressure from within for the department to ensure they are targeting the right people in the right manner for information, views and consultation.  It might be that the department would commit to doing so, but should they fail to properly consult and carry out an Equality Impact Assessment, it is down to the public to take the department to court.  In the mean time, any changes carried out in law could have already had a negative affect on disabled people and at worst, could mean that disabled people are finding themselves unable to access public transport.

So, it is vital that you respond to this consultation.  I will not tell you how to respond – this is up to you.  But I implore you to consider carefully please the needs of not just yourself but those with other disabilities.  Share the word.  Ask your local council transportation department if they have responded.  I will also be responding in a personal capacity and I hope to share my views on here in due course.

The consultation ends in 14 weeks but you should consider your answers now.  If you want to discuss it with others, log on to twitter and use the hashtag #DPTAC.  But most of all – please tell others.

Consultation

The Inter-Departmental Policy Ball Tournament

It has been brought to my notice that the Department for Transport are contributing to the Government’s “Disability Strategy – Fulfilling Potential” with its own disability action plan, to be produced by the Summer of 2012.  The aim is “to address some of the concerns that have been raised on transport for disabled people in documents like RADAR’s guide “Doing Transport Differently” and the Trailblazer’s Transport Report “End of the Line”.

They are organising a small workshop and have invited representatives from groups but concede that there will be no consultation nor will there be any involvement from stakeholders who do not regularly connect with such access groups – disabled people who are usually living their lives as parents, employees and socialites – and might not have the time nor the interest in the ins and outs going on around them – such examples might be a disabled student attending full time college and not in contact with social services or a disabled parent who can get themselves out and about and doesn’t interact with other disabled people or the organisations who represent their disability.

Because of this, the Department for Transport has said that disabled people are welcome to email them what they perceive to be:

  • The gaps that need to be addressed by the public transport industry
  • The priorities and practical solutions for an inclusive transport system

You can email these in bullet points to: elena.barcan@dft.gsi.gov.uk.  When emailing, please outline your disability and how it affects you as well as your method of mobility – wheelchair, cane user, guide dog, companion dog, walking stick, etc…

The idea is to give her the problems that you face in terms of the issue and how it prevents you from travelling – an example:

  • Lack of level access on rail station platforms to train
    • Prevents me from boarding independently
    • Makes me reliant on a member of staff
    • Prevents me from disembarking independently
    • Makes me reliant on someone else advising my destination of my impending arrival

Their deadline for this is around the 1st May. 

The education quandary

I’m always looking to further myself and learn.  I believe its part of life.  Many things are left for me to learn…

Apparently sharing is one of them.  This came about because of an acquaintance of mine called Sheila.  Allow me to explain.

Sheila told on a Social Micro-Blogging site about how she had seen a friends house that was adapted to enable someone to live independently – sinks you can wheel under, wet room, flat access, laminate flooring.  So I told her I had all of these toys… and they are all mine.  MBW told me off about this and said I had to learn to share my toys.  Sheila agreed.

Then I got a new wheelchair and Sheila admired it.  I warned Sheila that if I were to see her, she could have a little go, but I am a little possessive over my new toy and I might not let it be anything more than a little go.  Sheila told me I need to learn to share.  MBW agreed.

Now I have got my new laptop.  My Grandmother, when I told her, asked if I was sharing it with MBW.  I explained I was… sometimes.  A little bit.  Once a week. Month. Jupiter Lunar Eclipse.  My Grandmother told me that I need to learn to share.  MBW agreed.  I’ve not told Sheila about this.

So far, what have I learnt?  Well, I suspect MBW and Sheila are in cahoots for one thing.  This is all too similar for my liking.  When pushed on it, both Sheila and MBW seem to laugh.

I explained all of this to my colleague at work.  He wasn’t sympathetic, telling me that one person telling me something is opinion, two people telling me the same is coincidence, but three is that there could be something there.  I think he’s right…

I think I need to… umm… help people by… not telling them about my toys.

Yeah.  That’s the one. 

MBW thinks I’m wrong.  I’m not telling Sheila or my Grandmother.

Living on an inert gas phenomenon

I’ve been living with my new Sunrise Xenon for about a week now, having taken delivery on Tuesday.  It is a complete change from my last chair, a Sunrise Q2, which had a 100 degree footrest angle and weighed in at about 10kg.  By contrast, I’m now weighing in at little under 9kg and with a 92 degree footrest.

xenon-logoI’ll start with some basics about the Xenon.  It’s green – a nice, dark green – with 24 inch rims on the back and soft-roll 4 inch on the front.  The seat is 40cm by 40 cm and on a tilt back, nesting me into the angle adjustable back.  I’ve also got an auto folding foot plate.

There is a definite difference in this chair to other chairs – its very well balanced for such a short chair.

frogleglogoI have got some major differences to the previous chair that make a huge difference though.

The first is the Frog Leg suspension, which, coupled to the 4 inch soft roll wheels, mean that I am not feeling every single lump and bump any more.  I like them a lot and they were worth the investment.

Secondly, I have got a lot of pockets – 3 to be exact but considering most chairs have no way to store anything around them, this is a major plus.  One of the pockets is locked under the cushion which offers a secure storage point for things like my wallet or a Double Decker.

xenon-pocketI am no longer seated on vinyl but instead on a Visco memory foam cushion, which is offering my derriere previously unknown levels of comfort.   Actually, in truth, its nice for my rear end to not be sweltering away and it is complimented by the vented upholstery on the back as well.  On the end of the upholstery are the other two pockets.

xenon-brakeThere are other useful bits too – the fold down handles prevent someone from helping me without first asking if I need or want help.  The wheels have a simple change camber, meaning I can switch from 4 degree to 0 degree with the useful tools, supplied.  The brakes sit neatly beneath the under frame to prevent interfering with a side transfer.

As a chair goes, this one is light enough for me to push myself uphill.  That, for someone with a muscle disease, takes real effort.  It is smooth and will roll with minimal effort.  I’ve already taken it on a few trains with some success – its been welcomed by taxi drivers so far too.  It looks smart, I feel comfortable and I trust it not to do something silly like tip back randomly.

The downside is that I’m afraid to get it mucky or the hand rims scratched.

Formulation of a new methodology implementation

To say I am a little scared, apprehensive and worried is fair, on this situation. Many times previous in this blog, I’ve compared a new wheelchair to a new pair of legs, this continued choice in mobility being preferred over the options open or should I say singular option open to me – that being electrical propulsion.

EPIOC. Electrically Powered Indoor/Outdoor Chair. Although one wonders how they can be limited to indoors, the outdoor limited chairs so big I couldn’t imagine fitting them in my house. Digressions, procrastinating actually here. Mostly because I’m still having the odd doubt.

Someone said on twitter recently during a #hashtag conversation called #whilstdisabled that independence means sometimes asking for help, which is something I’ve always been reluctant to do. One thing that did bothering me is although this chair will improve my own general mobility, it will mean relearning all my tricks. Tricks like kerb jumping, train dismount, climbing steps. Its like going from freerunning to crawling again. This old dog will be learning old tricks again…

Plus side will be a severe amount of comfort and mobility around tight spaces. I’m looking forward to the FrogLegg Suspension on the front. Fold down handles. Breathing, comfortable fabric. The pros far outweigh the cons.

I suspect its the Old Dog in me, trying to stop change. I have a milestone coming up too which I’m also apprehensive about but I can’t stop that one. So the Old Dog can stay in his basket.

Because change is happening. Tomorrow at 09:30.

The completion theory

I have done it. I know what I want and how I want it, in the way I would like it.

I have made a choice for a new wheelchair – the ease to push, the feel of the ride, the seat comfort. There is so much I think this chair will offer to me that I will be quite happy with it – the method of moving about leaves me really comfortable.

I barely used my feet with the wheelchair, I could move it with ease. I could push it up hill, roll it down again. I found it balanced nicely, requiring very little to for a gentle lift, requiring less to just bounce up a kerb.

Choice made. I am going with the chair that left me happiest – now I am going to be an impatient child awaiting for Christmas day again. Out of the Champion and the Xenon, I know which I want to arrive at the end of this long journey.

(And I still need to choose a colour!)

The Informed Travel Hypothesis

It’s all very well me getting a new wheelchair to improve my independence (but not the one shown here!).  I reckon although I’ll get further on my own, there is still something that is important, which is having confidence in getting somewhere in the first place.

Locally, I live in the peace of mind that Essex County Council is installing raised curbs at bus stops to improve access but when I want to travel further afield, what then?

Some people may recall that in the summer I took part in something called ‘Free Traveller’ where I carried out some journeys with Chris Parker of Loughborough University.  The idea is to combine both amateur (user) views on transport and the provider supplied information to offer the best of both.

free-travellerSo, with all the information that Chris gathered on the journeys from all the different users who took part, he put together a survey to find out what works, what doesn’t work and what is useful. 

However, now he needs to know what you think of the information.  By visiting www.freetraveller.co.uk you can take part in the survey and offer him your thoughts.  In return, there is £150 up for grabs in a prize drawer… think of all the bus journeys you could do with £150!

I’ve already filled mine in… twice. Please share the link with other wheelchair users and encourage them to take part – who knows, this project could make the difference between wondering if a journey is going to be a nightmare and knowing that the nightmare can be avoided.

The commuter thesis

I think I have narrowed down my 5 worries or so. 5 is an arbitrary number and it might change – just bear with me.

1. I will have to re-educate myself and everyone else required in how to fold the new chair and listen to their bellyaching about how good the old chair was. I won’t care about the old chair if I’m given a chance to like the new one.

2. Travel. I will have to learn how to travel everywhere in a new style and way. This means ramps, buses, trains, the lot. I will need to learn my coping distances with the seat and how long before I want to transfer.

3. Speed. I am used to my ability to rocket off when I need to. I am used to being able to go really fast downhill. This could change and probably will change. This is the hardest thing for me to accept.

4. The girls. I don’t want Monkey, Nuzzle and Scratch to feel like they don’t recognise the chair, to get hurt by new chair or be afraid of it. Unlikely but they don’t really like kittens either so you never know.

5. MBW. I want her to be happy with my choice, with something she will have to look at, push, lift, fold and unfold. She has to put up with my sullen moods as I understand everything I worry about before penning it into this blog. I am glad she came along with me to the first try because as she got to feed in to the chair too – how it looks, colour, position, how I look. I think the MBW factor is always underestimated in new posterior transportation shopping. It shouldn’t be.

5 thoughts there. What have I forgotten? Probably lots but those kept me awake last night and the night before.