Contact details

As well as being a freelance writer I am also a qualified counsellor and I work for a low cost counselling service in Exeter and for the NHS Gender Clinic also in Exeter.

Simultaneously, I work as a Disability Member of the First Tier Tribunal, Social Entitlement Chamber sitting on disability benefit tribunals on an ad hoc basis.

As a writer I specialise in writing about disability and health.

My articles have been published in the Guardian, Times, OUCH! [BBC disability website], Disability Now, Broadcast, Lifestyle [Motability magazine], The Practising Midwife, 'Junior, Pregnancy & Baby', Writers' News, Able, Getting There [Transport for London magazine], Junior, Community Care, DPPi [Disability, Pregnancy & Parenthood International]. I have also had articles commissioned by Daily Mail.

For more information about me and for examples of my writing please see below.

If you would like me to write an article for your publication, about any aspect of disability, please do get in touch:

Friday, December 11, 2009

Tesco's response to their appalling disability access at their Newton Abbot petrol station...

Here's Tesco's response to my complaint about the appalling lack of access to their petrol station in Newton Abbot sent to me on 10 Dec 2009:

Thank you for waiting for my to your enquiry about the Newton Abbot Petrol Filling station and the adjustments you would like to see in place.

I have contact our Business Support team andthey have advised the below:-

There is currently no additional rule in the DDA for outdoor payment terminals at pumps provided our standard DDA "reasonable adjustments" are met. Our reasonable adjustment is to use the Service Call facility which enables customers to call for assistance from the kiosk. We do not offer the Service Call facility at times when a PFS operates unmanned, and this is deemed as acceptable.

We have to have the PayatPump terminal at certain heights due to explosion zones and restrictions on the pumps - there must be a set vapour barrier distance between nozzles, motors and electronics which cannot be altered. We have designed the current PayatPump terminals to accommodate our varied pump estate and meet the requirements of the petroleum regulations.

As for the step, we can look at getting this removed and having a ramp fitted this has been pass to the correct area of business.

I hope this helps and thank you for you enquiry.

One of the key problems with the DDA [Disability Discrimination Act] is that service providers use 'reasonable adjustment' as a get out clause rather than providing a truely equal service to all its customers.

So in this instance disabled people have to buy petrol in a different way to their peers.

I hadn't realised before but you actually have to pay for a 'Service Call' transmitter - so let me get this right in order to buy petrol at a petrol station that they haven't bothered to make accessible I have to PAY for that privilege?

How would non disabled people feel if they had to pay to use a petrol station in this way? OK it's only £14.95 but it's £14.95 that non disabled people don't have to pay and surely if anything the inaccessible petrol stations should be giving out these transmitters for free it's not my fault the petrol station isn't accessible.

Also as the response points out 'Service Call' doesn't always work and there have been many many complaints from disabled people that people working in petrol stations don't recognise it or ignore it anyway.

As for the response about the 'pay at pump' machines, step in the old 'safety' excuse.... whilst it is possible there are certain rules/regulations about this I am sure there are also ways round it to providing an 'accessible to all' solution. You can't tell me that you can't position the machine at a suitable distance at a suitable height next to the pump for example?

The bottom line is that disabled people in spite of their £80 billion/year income are still regarded as second class customers who don't have the political clout that other minority groups do.

To put it in perspective what would be the reaction if petrol stations said Black people or women had to use petrol stations differently to the rest of the population? Enough said.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Disregard of disability access eg1 Tesco's petrol station

I went to a petrol station today [Tesco's by the way] which has installed pay at pump facilities. This would be all well and good if they were at a height I could reach.

To add insult to injury there's no way of avoiding having to access the panel because you have to press a button on it to declare whether you want to pay at pump or at the kiosk.

To acheive this I have to precariously balance on a ledge, pulling myself up on the bottom of the pump to reach my choice. Physically I can do it, just, but it's also the sort of manouvre that could easily go wrong and cause me an injury.

Tank filled I went to pay. I was then greeted by an enormous step into the shop. Great.

I asked why on earth they didn't have a ramp and was told that the council were aware of the issue and are doing something about it - er just how long ago did the DDA [Disability Discrimination Act] kick in? 1995, yes that's a wopping 14 years ago.

I then stated that the pay at pump facility isn't accessible either - "ah yes, we've got round that one by having service call". I believe this is some system where disabled muggins has to sit in their car and wait for help, presumably not possible in the dead of night [yes disabled people do go out at night] when there's only one person locked into the petrol station kiosk.

I'm sorry this isn't an acceptable solution for me - I don't want to have to rely on someone else to do a task I can do myself anyway. The solution is not to install the pay at pump facilities at an inaccessible height, hardly rocket science and it wouldn't cost the garage any more either.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Archie starts school

Well it seemed like yesterday that our little scrap of a baby was born and this weekend marked the end of his first week of primary school. Next week the real test begins as he steps up from going half days to all day, I'm not sure what that will do to him on the tiredness front...

The transition has been amazingly smooth, I guess we have to credit Archie [and maybe ourselves a bit] that he is confident enough and articulate enough just to step into a new environment and get on with it. What was crucial was that it was the right environment for welcoming and dealing with a disabled child.

The school has risen to the challenge with thought and enthusiasm which has been great. They asked my advice on how to explain Archie's disability to the other children and they have also consulted with Mike and myself about how to get round various access issues eg using the toilet.

They are going to get in an OT but we have been quite clear that we don't want him to have any 'special' [spazzy looking - as it always is] equipment. So far so good really.

What's clear is that Archie is set to become his school's internal celebrity - Mike says whenever he picks him up all the children [even the older ones] are saying goodbye to him, using his name. I do hope that in a way the fact that they have Archie in their school means that all of the pupils there will at least have a bit of understanding about disability that they might not have done otherwise.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Two Little Boys article in Sept 09 'Junior' magazine

Check out my latest article in Sept 09's Junior magazine. The article talks about my experience of having one disabled and one non-disabled child and is accompanied by some nice photos of all of us.

We're just about to move again, Archie is due to start school and Ben will start a new preschool once the dust has settled I'm hoping to get back into writing a bit more... watch this space.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A cover girl at last!

It's not quite Vogue or even Cosmo but Archie and I are on the front cover of the Summer 09 edition of Transport for London's magazine 'getting there'.

The photo of me on my mobility scooter with Archie beside me relates to the article I wrote in the magazine about mobility scooters, profiling 4 scooter enthusiasts. So if you get the magazine have a read - otherwise I'll try and sort out a link!

In spite of having to turn my attention to house renovations at the moment I'm still managing to keep some brain cells working by writing some articles and I must admit I do get a kick out of it which is great; I really want to be one of those people who loves what they do for a living rather than someone who just moans about their job.

Once I've got the new house sorted, [deadline Christmas?] Archie installed in school and Ben in preschool [both deadlines Sept] I should be able to find a bit more time to develop my writing even further. Watch this space.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

3 Articles in the Guardian this week

Check out my 3 articles which were in the Guardian this week:

My articles are headlined - "The ratings game", "Independent thinking", "Willing and able" about education, independent living and employment respectively.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Channel 4 'Born to be Different' - more story, less recap please!

I watched a couple of C4's 'Born to be Different' [BTBD] programmes last night, which I'd taped a few weeks ago. Given that there is so little about disability on TV I always keep my fingers crossed that what is on will do justice to the subject.

The trouble with BTBD is that each programme is basically a recap of each child's life with an added sentence or two to move their story on per programme. The series delights in graphic operations and if you missed them don't worry they are definitely part of the recap. How about more story, less recap.

It's such a missed opportunity as there are some great disabled children in the series and some amazing parents too, in particular Shelbie's mum Vicky - how she kept it all going on her own initially with 4 children, one of who was quite ill...

And whilst many parents might comply with the consultant suggestion that Vicky should basically agree to let Shelbie die at the next opportunity - he would have done it ages ago [well thank god you don't have a disabled child then] - Vicky looks at a very well cared for Shelbie and says she still has plenty of life in her yet.

The thing is that people who don't have disabled children just have no idea what it is like to have one; you don't just snuff them out because they are a bit of a practical or physical hassle or [hopefully not] because your consultant says he would have done it ages ago.

Having a disabled child is an emotional rollercoaster, you get lows but you also get highs. You get a sense of that in BTBD but I just wish you could get an even greater sense of the lives of disabled children and their families rather than wasting so much time on recaps and showing us graphic operations.

Monday, May 18, 2009

When I grow up....

Archie has decided he wants to be a space shuttle driver when he grows up and Ben is going to be a police car driver. Oh great.

Given that he'll probably end up around the 4ft mark I'm kind of hoping that he'll be changing his future career every week and will eventually settle on wanting to be something that he can be, rather than something that you have to be ultra fit and probably a certain height to do...

We might have to spend the rest of his childhood avoiding a trip to Cape Canaveral in case that fuels his enthusiasm for the job even more.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Bouncy castles

We went to a fabulous children's party on Sunday, the children loved it and I had a nice relax with a few glasses of red wine whilst chatting.

It was interesting to see how far Archie has come in the last year or so. A year ago he wouldn't have strayed away from either Mike or myself, if a child had approached him he probably would have cried and he would never ever have wanted to go on a bouncy castle if anyone else was on there.

Now it's a completely different ball game. Half the time he was off chatting to other people and mingling with other children, the other half of the time all he wanted to do was go on the bouncy castle and he didn't care how many children were on there.

Of course this leap of confidence is brilliant but poses a dilemma because half the posts I read on the SED/Kniest mailing list I belong to are about neck instability and children needing fusions of the neck bones to increase its stability.

An unstable neck is not a good thing. If something goes wrong at that level... it doesn't bear thinking about really. It just comes back to that balancing act - wanting Archie to have a normal life, doing what his peers and his younger brother are doing, and not wanting him to injure himself.

I often try to be a laid back parent and it's normally only after the event that I go into a 'oh my god what if XX had happened'.

Since the party Ben has also started trying to do head over heels, he obviously saw another child do it... now if Archie tries to get into that activity I really will need more than a few glasses of red wine.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

New 'Rough Guide to Accessible Britain' available now

After reviewing the first edition of the 'Rough Guide to Accessible Britain' for OUCH last year, see: I was asked to write a couple of reviews for the second edition.

So 'en famille' we checked out the Abbotsbury Swannery and Sherborne Castles, both in Dorset. The Castles are more of a 'grown up attraction' but the boys thoroughly enjoyed the very accessible swannery - seeing the multitude of birds at close range, wandering along very flat paths and swinging on the rope by the 'bouncing bomb'...

The guide is even bigger and better than last year and is available from - it's free to blue badge holders. If you do get a copy check out the rather dinky photo of Archie and me on page 97!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Growing confidence and growing up

There are a lot of attributes we'd like our children to have but when you have a disabled child I think one quality you hope for is for them to have confidence.

Having just moved house again Archie has had to start at another new preschool. But thanks to having been at a superb preschool in Devon which built his confidence levels up no end he has just taken it right in his stride.

He wasn't at all fazed about being left with people he'd never met before in a new setting and actually complained about having to go home on the first day, and I don't think he hates being at home!

The great thing about being where we are now is that Ben is also able to go to preschool for three sessions/week even though he isn't quite 2 and 1/2 yet.

When I left them for that first session together I felt really happy because they were both happy to be left - that made me feel like I'd done something right - I'd managed to produce two children who had enough confidence to do their own thing and who had complete trust in me ie that I was going to come back for them as I told them I would. There wasn't a tear in sight - a far cry from the image I had had of leaving my children at a school for the first time I have to say!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Growing pains

Archie, my short statured son, is on a bit of a munchathon at the moment - I'm not sure whether it's a growth spurt or whether he has decided if he eats more that he'll grow more - an idea that might have been installed from reading the book 'Marvin Wanted More', about a sheep that wanted to be bigger so he ate and ate and ate. [In fact Marvin wasn't happy being gigantic but I think Archie has ignored the moral of the tale at this point]

He talks a lot about being bigger and about how other children are bigger than him. He also asks questions like "when do we stop growing?", "if I don't eat or drink anything I won't grow will I?"

Whilst I want to encourage him to eat I don't want to lie to him and say, if you eat all this you'll be 6ft tall when you are older. It would just be a lie. I guess the thing is to make sure he enjoys eating and doesn't worry too much about the outcome. But it feels inevitable that he's going to notice more and more that he's smaller than his peers - something I just can't remember feeling when I was young at all... maybe I was just a bit thick!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Appreciating my mobility

Three weeks ago I was pretty much karate kicked in the knee by my beloved 2 year old who was in a strop.

I didn't think that much of it until I could't walk. Even 6 days later I still couldn't walk. I went to A&E who were fascinated by the fact I'd had a baby - er hello I've hurt my knee....

They thought I'd cracked the tibia but a visit to the fracture clinic a few days later confirmed I hadn't. The explanation given was 'bone bruising' which my partner Mike referred to as a fob off.

Two weeks later I was still hobbling albeit on crutches, that I had sent to me from storage at Mike's parents, as A&E didn't have any small enough for me. Umm. In desperation I double the dose of anti-inflammatories and it's like a miracle cure. I keep pumping myself with them and find I can walk again which does seem to knock the 'bruised bone' theory on the head.

The morals of the story are:

- Don't let your two year old kick you in the knee [or anywhere]
- If you have a rare disability you pretty much need to suss out your own diagnosis and treatment

In fact the biggest thing I've learnt from this episode is that my mobility might not be great but it's a damn sight better then when I've been kicked in the knee and having to hobble around in excruciating pain on crutches...

Monday, February 16, 2009

CBeebies disabled presenter

Of course she might not describe herself as a disabled person... but I caught a glimpse of a very animated new CBeebies presenter today and all of a sudden noticed she was an arm amputee. Of course Ben, my 2 year old didn't notice, although interestingly he did remember her name when he saw her again later in the day.

When I googled to find out more about her it was interesting. Some posts were from parents not knowing how to answer their offsprings questions eg how does she cut up her food, get dressed, what happened to her etc.

Others were from people saying how great it was just to have a disabled person presenting, getting youngsters used to the idea of disability in a very casual way.

The rest were from people saying how attractive they found her because she was an amputee... devotees. See previous post.

Disabled presenters are not new to BBC Children's TV - Ade Adepitan being the best known example but they are rare/non existant for no valid reason on adult programmes. The big question is when are we going to see equivalent presenters on adult programmes because it's actually adults that are more prejudiced and ignorant about disability, children just accept it.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The perils of being disabled on Facebook

Like many others I eventually succumbed to the lure of Facebook and have steadily built up my list of friends - some are great friends of old, others I have met more recently, mainly through work.

The danger I've found of being open about your disability on facebook is that you can attract 'devotees'.

For those of you not in the know 'devotees' are apparently aroused by disabled people not because of their vivacious personalities, sharp wit, intelligence or flirtatious nature, but purely because of their disability.

Perhaps devotees think they are doing us a favour because they think no one else will go for us. My personal experience is that there are plenty of very 'normal' people who do want to go out with disabled people because of their positive qualities, rather than just because they have a disability.

There's far more to me than my disability so when a 'devotee' picks me out and asks me to be their friend it is really not flattering in the slightest. Ironically in my younger, less experienced and at times more deparate days I might have been flattered.

Nowadays it just seems perversed that someone should pick me out when they don't even know me and for some reason has the audacity to think I might be so desparate as to sign up to be their friend. Who's the saddo, not me.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Finding an accessible home - what a nightmare!

We're currently lucky enough to be living in a very modern, spacious, single storey home, in fact it was built on Grand Designs so you can imagine what it is like - think lots of glass! Unfortunately it has also recently been sold so we have to move.

This is actually the first time in my 38 years that I've lived in a house without stairs, I'm not sure why it's taken so long for me to realise that it is a good idea. At least in our house in London we did fit some stairlifts, just as well as there were 4 flights of stairs...

Having to rush to find an accessible home is not a situation I would recommend. We've had to stretch our search to two counties to increase the likelihood of finding somewhere.

The problem is that single storey homes are near next to impossible to find. When I say single storey I'm thinking of the more modern concept of single floor living, more 'Grand Design-esque' than bungalow...

Bungalows you see seem to be a very different beast to what might be described in estate agent speak as a 'single storey home'. I've only seen one property described as bungalow that was spacious, modern, inviting and that was a new build. Most seem to be stuck in some bygone age, multicoloured carpets, borders halfway up the wallpaper, pink bathroom suites... arggghhhh.

Anyway better get back to house hunting...

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Am I bigger yet?

Archie is now 4. I've told him he is a little bit bigger now he is 4 but I get the impression he had expected to shoot up on his birthday. Indeed on the day he asked "can you see me growing bigger"...

He is now increasingly aware that although he might be older than some other children, including his younger [but not little] brother, he isn't bigger than they are.

I find it's a balancing act - not wanting to make him have a hang up about his height whilst at the same time not wanting to pretend that he will end up as big as everyone else when he won't be.

The bottom line is that he could do just fine in life if it wasn't for the prejudice that exist in others....