Friday, 29 January 2016

White Canes for Visually Impaired People

White Sticks are more than just a white stick. You will see people with white sticks or canes and not realised the differences between the three different types.

The short white stick is to indicate that you have a sight loss to other people. It has no other use but does stop others bumping you. You will find others are more willing to assist you, and in particular to help you cross roads. Some white
stick users are very independent and sometimes appear rude when offered help. Most users will welcome help, particularly in busy areas. When you assist a blind person let them hold onto you and you guide them by example: don't grab hold of yhem and propel them forward. Obviously if you talk as you walk giving advice about traffic conditions it helps, so that the user is more aware. 

Incidentally most crossings now have audio as well as visual indicators so that helps someone who can't see. And in
addition many have a revolving fitting built into the pole that blind people can feel moving when they can cross. Under the control box is a metal cone with tactile ridges. This rotates when the lights show red. Try it for yourself. A point to remember, however, is that you should not start walking on feeling the movement, but use your other senses too, listen for moving traffic.

The second type of cane is the guide cane, and used diagonally across the body to feel for obstacles.

The third type is the tapping cane and is used to probe from side to side seeking out obstacles. You will see on ramps and pathways that there are upstand edges. These stop wheelchairs and buggies wandering of track but are also useful to long white stick users as they can feel the edge. Edges should be 100mm high to comply with the legislation. 

Blind people have used canes as mobility tools for centuries, but it was not until after World War 1 that the white cane was introduced. In 1921 James Biggs, a photographer from Bristol who became blind after an accident and was uncomfortable with the amount of traffic around his home, painted his walking stick white to be more easily visible.

In 1931 in France, Guilly d'Herbemont launched a national white stick movement for blind people. On February 7, 1931, he symbolically gave the first two white canes to blind people, in the presence of several French ministers. 5,000 more white canes were later sent to blind French veterans from World War I and blind civilians. 

In the United States , the introduction of the white cane is attributed to George A. Bonham of the Lions Club International . In 1930, a Lions Club member watched as a man who was blind attempted to cross the street with a black cane that was barely visible to motorists against the dark pavement. The Lions decided to paint the cane white to make it more visible. In 1931, Lions Clubs International began a program promoting the use of white canes for people who are blind.

The first special white cane ordinance was passed in December 1930 in Illinois  granting blind pedestrians protections and the right-of-way while carrying a white cane.
The long cane was improved upon by  Richard E. Hoover, at the Valley Forge  Army Hospital. In 1944, he took the Lions Club white cane (originally made of wood) and went around the hospital blindfolded for a week. During this time he developed what is now the standard method of "long cane" training or the Hoover Method. He is now called the "Father of the Lightweight Long Cane Technique." 

The basic technique is to swing the cane from the center of the body back and forth before the feet. The cane should be swept before the rear foot as the person steps. Before he taught other rehabilitators, or "orientors," his new technique he had a special commission to have light weight, long white canes made for the veterans of the European fronts.

While the white cane is commonly accepted as a "symbol of blindness", different countries still have different rules concerning what constitutes a "cane for the blind".

In the United Kingdom, the white cane indicates that the individual has a visual impairment; with two red bands added it indicates that the user is deafblind. In the United States , laws vary from state to state, but in all cases, those carrying white canes are afforded the right-of-way  when crossing a road. They are afforded the right to use their cane in any public place as well. In some cases, it is illegal for a non-blind person to use a white cane with the intent of being given right-of-way. 

So there you have information about white canes and some background history too. Your comments, questions and suggestions are welcome in the comments below.

Long cane photo by Sarah Chester

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Statistics with regards to Disabled People in the UK

These statistics cover Great Britain and are reviewed and updated throughout the year as new data is published. Sources are available under Official Statistics,Disability facts and figures, Published

General demographics and Employment

There are over 11 million people with a limiting long term illness, impairment or disability. The most commonly-reported impairments are those that affect mobility, lifting or carrying .
The prevalence of disability rises with age. Around 6% of children are disabled, compared to 16% of working age adults and 45% of adults over State Pension age .

It is obvious that the number of adults over the State Pension age is going to be high. This group usually fear and expectthat they will gain a disability as they grow older. 

Disabled people remain significantly less likely to be in employment than non-disabled people. In 2012, 46.3% of working-age disabled people are in employment compared to 76.4% of working-age non-disabled people. There is
therefore a 30.1 percentage point gap between disabled and non-disabled people, representing over 2 million people. The gap has reduced by 10 percentage points over the last 14 years and has remained stable over the last two years despite the economic climate
The number of disabled people of working age is a concern because many are unemployed despite being capable. Employers are supposed to take on the most capable person for a position but because some don't see beyond the disability they feel the person will not be able to carry out their duties: it will be difficult for the business to support them: a fear that the person will need extra time away from work: or many other reasons. I feel that we still have an upward struggle to get the message across that often the disabled person will be a real benefit to the business.   

Living standards

A substantially higher proportion of individuals who live in families with disabled members live in poverty, compared to individuals who live in families where no one is disabled.
19% of individuals in families with at least one disabled member live in relative income poverty, on a before housing costs basis, compared to 15% of individuals in families with no disabled member.

21% of children in families with at least one disabled member are in poverty, a significantly higher proportion than the 16% of children in families with no disabled member.

The gaps here appears to be a direct tie in with employment. I believe that education plays an important role here as so many disabled people have suffered a poor education in the past which will be reflected in their initial CV and lack of scholastic achievements compared to others at the interview stage. The disabled people who are unable to find work will find that they stay in the poverty zone and are unlikely to be able to pull themselves out. And as we know, this group are fighting higher prices across the board, often shopping at local convenience stores where goods can be slightly more expensive. This also applies to utilities where they are tied to higher rates or even on paid meter charges.  And all of these slight increases add up and eat into low incomes.

We all realise too that low income families often buy less nutritious foods, sometimes through necessity but often through ignorance. We are bombarded with cooking programmes on TV, most of which take some experience to duplicate at home. Convenience foods rule. But home cooing from raw ingredients is cheaper and nutritious.


And now for some good news.

Between 2005 to 2006 and 2010 to 2011, the percentage of pupils at the end of Key Stage 4 achieving 5 or more GCSEs at grades A* to C has:

  • increased from 66.3% to 88.9% for students without Special Educational Needs (SEN)
  • increased from 19.8% to 59.2% for students with SEN without a statement
  • increased from 8.7% to 24.9% for students with SEN with a statement 
    pupils at the end of Key Stage 4 achieving 5 or more GCSEs at grades A* to C has:

The gap for students with and without special educational needs without a statement has dramatically closed which means that there will be more opportunities for work in the future for these disabled people. They will be able to compete at the interview stage and hopefully will have sufficiently strong personalities to impress the interviewer.

19.2% of working age disabled people do not hold any formal qualification, compared to 6.5% of working age non-disabled people. With the educational success in recent years this will improve as explained above

14.9% of working age disabled people hold degree-level qualifications compared to 28.1% of working age non-disabled people. There is a wide gap here but it is hoped that universities are making a bigger effort to fulfill the needs of disabled students and putting them on a more level playing field.

Independent living

Over a quarter of disabled people say that they do not frequently have choice and control over their daily lives 


Disabled people are significantly more likely to experience unfair treatment at work than non-disabled people. In 2008, 19% of disabled people experienced unfair treatment at work compared to 13% of non-disabled people.

Around a third of disabled people experience difficulties related to their impairment in accessing public, commercial and leisure goods and services. 

Despite the different legislation, starting with the DDA 2004, only a small percentage of businesses and organisations have taken any practical steps to remove obstacles and there is still a lack of awareness about disability that creates discrimination.

Leisure, social and cultural activities

Disabled people remain significantly less likely to participate in cultural, leisure and sporting activities than non-disabled people. Latest data shows disabled people are more likely to have attended a historic environment site, museum or gallery than in 2005 to 2006. However, disabled people are less likely to have attended a library over the same period.

I know from experience as a disability access consultant and auditor that many public facilities are in older building where access is difficult and barriers cannot always be removed, and I believe that this, together with the difficulties around crowds of people has lead to less disabled people attending cultural, social or sporting activities. The Paralympics have done much in the last few years to change our perspective regarding disable people and this can only lead us towards a more inclusive society.

Civic involvement and volunteering

Disabled people remain significantly less likely to participate in cultural, leisure and sporting activities than non-disabled people. Latest data shows disabled people are more likely to have attended a historic environment site, museum or gallery than in 2005 to 2006. However disabled people are less likely to have attended a library over the same period 
Disabled people are significantly less likely to engage in formal volunteering. In 2010 to 2011, 23% of disabled people engaged in formal volunteering at least once a month, compared with 25% of non-disabled people.


Around a fifth of disabled people report having difficulties related to their impairment or disability in accessing transport 
Between 2004 to 2005 and 2011 to 2012, the percentage of buses with low-floor wheelchair access increased from 52% to 88%.

But I see that this has changed now. The deadline for having level access onto public transport was 2015 and all new buses have been suitably equipped. I have seen that locally pavements have been raised to accommodate older vehicles. This must be good news for wheelchair users.


Although the gap in non-decent accommodation has closed over recent years, 1 in 3 households with a disabled person still live in non-decent accommodation. 1 in 5 disabled people requiring adaptations to their home believe that their accommodation is not suitable.

Good news today. 

The bedroom tax has been declared unlawful by the appeal court due to its impact on vulnerable individuals, dealing a significant blow to the  Work and Pensions Secretary. Judges ruled that in two cases – those of a victim of extreme domestic violence and grandparents of a severely disabled teenager – the government’s policy amounted to unlawful discrimination.
The disability case was brought by Paul and Sue Rutherford, grandparents of Warren, who is seriously disabled child and who needs overnight care in a specially adapted room.

In both cases, the claimants faced a cut in housing benefit because they were deemed to be “under-occupying” the additional rooms which were classified as spare.

This should be good news for those caring for other severely disabled people needing similar care in similar situations.


Friday, 15 January 2016

Useful LIving Aids for Disabled People

Here are some great ideas for visually impaired people that you might not know about, particularly if your blindness has crept up on you, maybe in your older years. 

Most people born blind or become blind in their early years will probably have been told about and supplied with many useful aids that will help them lead an active life. But as we become older and our vision deteriorates we aren't often aware of what is available and with modern technological advances prices are dropping so that the products are more accessible to all.

Being blind you can lose track of time and there are talking watches will keep you informed. But I discovered this table-top talking clock and calender which is really useful. It is self-setting, just place on a window-sill and it will pick up the radio Greenwich meantime signal. Its particularly useful when you are alone. For example in the night you will have no idea of the time, whether it;s daylight or darkness and whether you can afford another 5 minutes in bed. Just reach out, locate the clock and hit the big button on the top and it'll tell you the time. How easy is that.

For sighted people making a hot drink is simple. Put the tea bag or spoon of coffee in a cup, add sugar if necessary and add water. The top up with milk. But imagine if you are blind and can't judge how near the top you have poured the boiling water. This handy water level indicator is brilliant. Firsly it's magnetic so you could always leave it on the fridge door, for example, where you could easily find it. 

Slip it over the side of your cup with the prongs inside and our in the water. When the level hits the lower prong it bleeps and vibrates and then when it reaches the shortest prong it bleeps and vibrates continuously. Great result. Now you could stop when it reaches the longest prong, then add mild up to the shortest prong and you'll get a perfect drink, no spills no burns.

For deaf people a useful device is the doorbell/telephone/fire alarm light flasher. This is installed by a competent electrician onto the main lighting circuits and operates on all the lights in the house. When the door bell or telephone rings all the lights in the house switch on and off giving different sequences for the phone and doorbell or even a fire alarm.

With regard to fire alarms the vibrating pillow is another useful aid and this does the same, it alerts you to a fire alarm, but can work off other devices too. The vibrating pillow works of noise and so doesn't have to be hard-wired into the alarm system. 

A really simple system for the door-bell is a vibrating or flashing wireless free system, available from many shops. This replaces a standard door bell push. The receiver is carried and when the door=bell is rung, then the receiver flashes or vibrates

Many people with hearing aids still find it difficult to hear the TV without the volume being turned up, which can be a distraction for other people in the room or even neighbours. Fitting a low cost domestic loop system is easy. This is a simple wire that runs around the room, either at ceiling level or floor level. Its plugged into the TV. By changing the setting on your hearing aid to "loop", you'll pick up a clear signal and hear well without being distracted with other background noises. 

Most people don't realise that hearing aids just magnify all noises and don't filter out background so its often difficult to use anyway.

Another good device is a portable hearing loop which will be battery operated. It either stands in front of the TV speaker or plugs in. It transmits to the hearing aid. Some people use these in meetings whether the look transmitter is placed on the table centre and picks up all voices.

Use disability aids to improve your life.

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Saturday, 9 January 2016

RADAR Disabled Accessible Toilet Key

Hi Everyone

There are now so many useful aids to help disabled people to live a more fulfilling life. But I've been surprised how many don't know about them. The simplest and most useful is the RADAR key.

The RADAR disabled toilet key has been available for years but many don't know about them. There are an estimated 9000 disabled toilets in the UK that are operated by these keys. I believe there are many 1000's more. Many toilets that may
have been unlocked are now locked. The key is large and so very easy to manage by most people. They are available from RADAR or Age Concern, possibly your local authority and even Argos. But watch the price. Normally they are around £2.15 (best price Age Concern) to £3.95 but Argos sell at £7.99 which I think is really excessive. 

You don't need to provide any proof that you are disabled and in fact they are available to anyone. So if you feel you can benefit just look up your local Age Concern and call in. Age Concern do a great job but I'm disappointed that they
have become so commercialised in the last few years. I understand they need to fund themselves but I feel in some areas they have gone too far. However, the low RADAR key cost is extremely low and well worth buying.

It's interesting to note that Disabled Toilets also known as Accessible Toilets are not restricted to disabled people, they just have the necessary design to suit everyone. For example the had-basin is within reach when sitting on the WC. There are adequate support rails each side of the WC and either room alongside for a wheelchair or room in front. There is a large door handle that's easy to grasp and usually you simply revolve the door handle 90 degrees to lock, and there is a way to open the door from outside in an emergency. There will be a horizontal door rail at 700cm from the floor so anyone can easily pull the door closed. The mirror is of sufficient length for anyone standing or in a wheelchair, and there should be a coat hanger at a suitable height. 

In addition there will be an emergency pull cord and reset button. The size should be sufficient for a wheelchair and a carer. and the hand-basin should be low enough for wheelchair users as should the hand drier or towelling. Colours should contrast so its easy to pick out facilities. There should be a sign outside as this example. Ideally it should be large enough for visually impaired people and not just a few cm across. It should have a contrasting border, a symbol and have both raised text and Braille.

These are just some of the design features of an accessible toilet. But it's important to note that these are not solely for disabled people but can be used by anyone. I have heard the contrary and also that they should be just available to disabled people because their needs may be more urgent. I know many people, particularly those who are older, who have a really pressing need for immediate use of a toilet, particularly in colder weather. So if you are one of those don't be harangued, you have as much right.  

Accessible toilets in the main are cleaner than other public toilets and I would urge anyone using them to maintain this standard, particularly keeping the floor dry, and flushing to basin after use. Simple good hygiene and manners. 

If you have an accessible toilet in your premises and want any advice please leave a comment at the bottom. It's better to get it right and give your customers a better service, they'll come back again.

Your comments are always welcome