This week's debate: What is life like for those coping with a disability in Sheffield?
'˜I feel very fortunate as I have a real insight into my autism'Grace Parry, Peer Advocate
One of the main ways in which autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, affects me is with my developmental and sensory issues.
I found that on growing up, getting older, I did not identify with the usual interests and feelings of most teenagers and adults that I came in contact with and I was devastated when the activities I loved were no longer accessible to me, such as bouncy castles and going to adventure play areas,
However, I feel that I am very fortunate in many ways, as I have an insight into my autism.
I feel that a lot of the reason that my communication, insight and emotional well-being has improved over the years is because I managed to access the play that I needed.
The very first leisure activity that I found in Sheffield was “Leisure Time”, which is now to be found at the Concord sports centre.
The leisure activity is a disability sports group; and we have a bouncy castle for adults, which I had campaigned to secure as a permanent feature at the sports centre.
The play I am involved in includes imagination, role-playing and secret agent games, which I can now use in real-life situations.
The cuts that are happening are an ongoing worry to me and places are under constant threat. I am involved in campaigns against these cuts.
I am engaged in public speaking about autism and some of its related issues.
I am a peer advocate in these areas and I help people with hidden disabilities.
Many people that I know are not even able to access the basic support needs that they have and they also have stress-related illnesses.
There is no clear support pathway or enough understanding of what some hidden disabilities are.
I have found facilities that many people require purely through chance and also by meeting the right people.
And over the years I have found that information is seldom accessible though the “correct channels”.
Because of this I have found that this can maginalise those who are not equipped to find things in this way.
I feel that I am particularly good at this, even though I have substantial support needs in other areas.
Barriers can be broken to keep everyone fit’ Kathryn Littlewood, Development officer, Disability Sheffield
Sheffield is a great place to be if you enjoy swimming as there are no less than around 14 swimming pools in the city – we are very lucky to have these.
Places like Graves Leisure Centre with its newly built swimming pool and also its fitness facilitates showcase just exactly what outstanding physical accessibility looks like.
I know that most gyms are accessible, but access to swimming pools tends to be a bit hit-and-miss with only a few having hoists.
Also, with some leisure facilities there is only access to certain parts of the building and these are usually the parts that are not wheelchair-accessible – and they tend to be the best parts like the sauna and the steam room.
Being disabled and having a mental health problem means that exercise is a vital part of staying fit and well but sadly, even with the physical accessibility of quite a few of the gyms, the actual times that they open can be a real barrier to a lot of people.
However, there is a big drive to get people who have long term health conditions back into work and, being in work and maintaining a job, can be quite challenging.
Accessing the things that you need to stay well and to get back into work, like gyms, pools and GP surgeries, can be more difficult given that their opening times are generally in the daytime.
There is a big problem with pool opening times in Sheffield, especially if you are like me and relatively poor. And paying for a private membership where the opening times are better is impossible. I rely on the affordable health centres, but at a cost, because I mostly cannot use them at the weekends when they prioritise lessons and private hire, above memberships.
A cab driver totally ignored my requests’ Andrew Crooks, Development and engagement worker, Disability Sheffield
Start the engine, taxi for Crooks… well there would be if I can get one to give me a lift. Previously a long term fan of public transport in our city, including taxi services, I now have cause for alarm.
For example, I took one journey where the cabbie refused to look at me or acknowledge anything I said until I requested politely that he go slow around corners, to which he then shouted at me quite loudly, “are you accusing me of going fast?’ – ‘I am not going fast!” I was gutted at the way he pointedly ignored every word I said as though I were invisible.
On several occasions at Barker’s Pool I have had incidents which have left me quite scared by the treatment received from taxi drivers of hackney cabs.
One time I was with my ten-year-old daughter, quite late after a school show at City Hall, when four cabbies refused to accept my wheelchair.
Another time, I was myself late at night in the cold and dark and was turned down on no fewer than seven occasions. Thankfully a cabbie with a Euro’ cab finally came to my rescue and loaded me no bother at all – what a nice guy he was. I find there is many a beautiful moment as a disabled person in the city where something like this happens to restore faith in our fellow citizens. But, again at Barkers Pool, last November a young cabbie was about to load me when he said: “my door doesn’t work”. Another young cabbie came along, whispered to the other cabbie and he said: “I don’t have to take you as your wheelchair will damage my cab”.
‘I was aware of acting differently to others’ Neil Simpson, Trustee, Disability Sheffield
I was wobbly from birth and I did not have the natural waywardness of babyhood. That is soon gone.
However, the rocking gait I had as a baby remained with me – I move like a drunken sailor.
The way my feet were positioned was set at ten to ten. I now walk on my tiptoes with my heels rarely touching the ground.
I find that my overall balance is difficult.
I cannot tie my own shoelaces, but I can manage a scabby little knot with a mass of trailing lace around it. I also find that buttoning my shirts is a slow task. I can look a little bit scruffy.
The reason for my physical limitations is due to me having cerebral palsy. I was diagnosed at birth but I was never told about my condition.
I was always aware that I was different to others because I went to Bents Green special school instead of to the local secondary school, Wisewood. I found out the true nature of my condition when I took a peek at my medical notes while I was studying at college.
My reaction to this was to adapt and cope with what I had. I buy slip-on shoes, what I call my sock machine and I also have a special little trick that helps me put my underpants on – but that remains a secret. Many other tasks just take a bit longer.
Three years ago after I had suffered a minor car accident my limbs got a thorough examination. A young nurse told me I had one leg shorter than the other. I never knew.
During an appointment with a chiropodist she noticed my funny walk and I told her it was cerebral palsy.
She asked me if I was offered either an operation or physiotherapy. I said no, she was amazed. I was sent to a specialist who told me that I was too old for surgery and they didn’t offer physiotherapy. Perhaps I managed my condition too well, as I have worked for most of my life.
I didn’t complain enough, I was being punished for being good.