And now for the hard part…

Starting my own business consultancy

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Life as a disabled person is endlessly challenging, so keeping a sense of humour and seeing the funny side – in a twisted kind of way – is a necessity.

How can you not see the irony when you approach reception desk for an appointment and the woman behind it says: “please take a seat” when you’ve just wheeled up in a chair.

I’ve been in a wheelchair now for more than two years, and ever since then I’ve been discovering endless hurdles to life stuck in a seat.

Gallows humour certainly helps.

You have been reading my blog, right?

I’ve always tried to offer suggestions as to how I think places could be improved (mostly toilets). Sometimes I get listened to, often I don’t.

Now though with my life as a tv journalist in the background for now, I’m taking a new direction. I’m not gonna give out free advice any more – I’ll tell you as a consultant.

I’ll still be in KL for now, but am happy to travel, as I know things ain’t perfect wherever I go.

My aim is to assess existing facilities, make recommendations for changes (if needed) and offer advice on where to find equipment as necessary.

In new buildings, or those under construction, I hope to hook in with the architects/designers before they make mistakes.

Certainly in KL I’m sure I’ll need to hook up with health & safety, and the fire department so I’m working on the nitty gritty right now. But that will be done in a few weeks, and then the really hard part:

Getting the first client.

Watch this space 🙂

 

 

 

Disabled but…

You can’t explain what the problem is

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You may remember the movie The King’s Speech from a few years back telling the story of Britain’s Prince Albert (and later King George VI), who over came a crippling stammer. The movie earned actor Colin Firth an Oscar.

The future king beat his disability with the help of a speech therapist, and the film shows in excruciating detail how he achieved it.

Albert was fortunate enough, as the heir to the throne, to have the help he needed, but in the poorer parts of the world often there’s no-one. Thousands of people disadvantaged by the fact they can’t communicate effectively, regardless of whether their thoughts and ideas are award winning or not.

In Cambodia it’s thought that up to 600,000 people are affected by a communication disability or swallowing disorder, yet until a few years ago there wasn’t a single qualified person able to help them.

Their chances of completing even a basic education stalled because they couldn’t speak or express themselves clearly enough.

Australian Weh Yeoh is trying to change that. A trained physiotherapist he arrived in Cambodia after a year working in China. He hooked up with a local NGO CABDICO helping rural communities.

His lightbulb moment came when he learned children with speech or communication difficulties had no-one to help them.

I was shocked and angered by the fact that there was virtually nothing to help these children and decided that I had to do something,” he told me.

Communication disorders present themselves in a variety of different forms. You might have a stammer, where you can’t quite get the words you want to say out. You might have difficulty pronouncing words correctly, or understanding what is being said, or asked of you.

There can be multiple causes too. Neurological – like Downs Syndrome or autism; physical like a cleft palate or a person might be deaf; or they may have suffered a stroke or sustained brain damage in an accident.

All these things can potentially be helped with a trained therapist and is crucial to allow people to be part of society.

Says Weh: “The impact of communication disorder can range from mild to severe, with issues that can be temporary or last a lifetime. Even mild communication disability can have a serious impact on how a person functions in their daily life, like speaking in class, ordering a meal in a restaurant or finding a job. Communication impairment can impact on interactions at home, at work and socially.”

But rather than do the therapy himself Weh is training up Cambodians themselves to do the job, assisted by volunteers from home. His aim to set up speech therapy as a profession with recognised university courses.

Weh wants to change attitudes that many people have about those who can’t communicate clearly.

“Many people in Cambodia are unaware of this problem. Many of [those affected] are thought by others to be ‘stupid’ and are not allowed the privilege of going to school or interacting with others in their community.

“They are held back as they cannot communicate properly or have trouble receiving communication and the community is unaware of how to accommodate and tailor their communication styles to these children.”

Therapy comes in many different forms – depending on the exact condition.

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Photo credit: Anna Bella Betts.

Something as simple as blowing bubbles can help children like Tai (above) coordinate the movement of her tongue and lips better – necessary for speaking more clearly.

Others like Ling (below) slurred his speech because of the cerebral palsy he has. He didn’t go to school. But after therapy it’s a different story.

“He’s able to communicate better with his family, ride a bicycle, make new friends and attend school. Before speech therapy, many people, including his family, labelled Ling ‘stupid’. Now, he’s second in his class. He also jokes that he now has “too many friends”.

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Photo credit: Hugo Sharp

Cambodia has its fair share of people with physical disabilities – victims of war and unexploded remnants of war – people are still being maimed and killed by the leftovers of conflicts which ended decades ago.

And in reality people with more obvious disabilities – like an amputee for example – get a greater share of the attention. Says Weh: “It’s much easier to give somebody a prosthetic limb than to do speech therapy with them for a year.”

Still that’s not deterring Weh. “At OIC, we believe that all people with disabilities deserve the support needed to live independent lives, even those who have been left behind.”

And there’s more than one way to tell a story.

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You can find out more about the project by visiting OIC Cambodia

 

 

 

 

Disabled in…

Just about everywhere you can think of…

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Yup, the world’s a big place. This shot from Nasa was taken about a million miles away. (Just down the road in space terms, earthlings.)

And there about seven billion of us sitting on top of that.

But did you know the World Bank reckons about 15% of the people on the planet is disabled in some way?

You might have lost a limb, be partially sighted, you might be deaf, have a mental disability, or like me, have a physical one.

But think about it. 15% of seven billion is a whole bunch of people – more than a billion – slightly shy of the number of people who live in China

Fancy political 3d map of China, satellite outside.

And of that billion around 10 per cent of those need a wheelchair to get around. That’s a shade more than the population of the Philippines – around 100 million.

Fancy satellite 3d map of Philippines, shaded relief outside.

Imagine that, an entire country in a wheelchair?

And of the 100m the World Health Organisation reckoned in 2003 that 20 million of those did not have access to a chair at all. Twenty million people or the population of Sri Lanka on the floor unable to move around.

Satellite 3d map of Sri Lanka.

Doncha just lurrve statistics?

And while it’s relatively easy to get the assistance you need in the developed world, think again if you’re in the poorest or most troubled. Places like Africa, or the war torn Middle East or remote and isolated communities like those found in Papua New Guinea.

And what if you’re a kid?

Well a small project in Wangara, Australia is trying to make a difference in the lives of disabled children by making wheelchairs for youngsters living in those hard to reach places.

Wheelchairs for Kids began in 1998 through a Rotary Club in Western Australia. After some trial and error the project is now staffed by more than 100 mostly retired volunteers making the parts for the chairs and assembling them.

One such volunteer is Bill Culbertson. He’s the father of a former colleague of mine. Lucky enough to be able to retire at 59 (I wish:) ) Bill first got involved as he needed something to do with all his free time.

An engineer by profession, Bill had spent this working life fixing stuff. Now he spends his free time making stuff. The wheelchairs the group makes are not just your average chair. These have got to be robust to cope with less than ideal conditions.

He says: “There are many parts that go into an all terrain and adjustable child’s wheelchair, some of which we import from China due to cost, but all the aluminium parts are manufactured in the workshop. I am one of many who cut, drill, bolt and rivet together  the parts required by the volunteers working on assembling the wheelchair.”

Bill and his colleagues know they will never be able to help everyone who needs a chair – 20 million’s a BIG number – but he says: “I see a need for the finished product in different places all around the world and we will never be able to fill each requirement so its good to be able to do at least what we can.

“I do it to get as many kids as possible off the ground with some dignity and where possible [allow them] attendance at school to get some degree of education.”

So far Wheelchairs for Kids has made over 33000 chairs and sent them to every corner of the globe. Vietnam’s been the biggest recipient (7000+) followed by Sri Lanka (2200+) and Tanzania (1500+) But one lucky child in Afghanistan has got one and two have made it all the way to Peru.  Seventy eight countries in total.

And you don’t have to understand how much it means to the kids who are getting these chairs; you just need to see the smiles on their faces.

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You can find out more about this project by visiting http://wheelchairsforkids.org