23 March 2010

Sport Relief and child carers

As I type there's a builder putting my kitchen back together in a slightly more accessible way after demolishing it last week. My home is in utter chaos. All the contents of my kitchen have been piled up in my living room so I can't get in there. My whole flat is filled with demolition dust. It's all pretty grim. (If you're at all interested you can see the photos here. So far I've managed a photo a day.)

I'm spending my days sat in my bedroom with my laptop atop my lap mostly watching TV shows on it. With all the dust and the complete lack of kitchen I'm staying at Lilwatchergirl & her Girl's during the week and then staying at my dad's at the weekends. The BettyCat is staying at dad's while the builders are here so she doesn't end up like the cat in A Bucket of Blood so the weekends are my chance for some Betty snuggles.

It's a well known fact that I'm a telly addict, or I like to think of myself as a 'professional telly watcher': My MA is in Cult Film & TV so watching TV is currently my occupation. And yes, I really am still doing a supposedly one year course that I started in 2007; chronic illness, surgery, mum dying, injury leading me to spend 8 months on painkillers that make me sleep all the time, 2 months of swine flu because my immune system is buggered, dad in hospital and still several chronic illnesses have made the course last somewhat longer than intended. Thankfully Brunel have been great about how utterly shit my life is.

Despite being a massive consumer of TV I generally only watch scripted drama TV, I almost never watch chat shows, game shows, the news (which I prefer to access online), panel shows or general daytime tripe. And I also almost never watch TV as it's broadcast, preferring to make use of services like iPlayer.

I'm not living in my own home at the moment though because it's a building site. Staying with other people I'm finding myself watching things I wouldn't usually watch. When someone's good enough to let you sleep at theirs you can't really grab the remote and turn off their favourite show. So on Friday night I found myself watching Sport Relief, which I almost certainly wouldn't have watched if I could get anywhere near my own TV. It was pretty funny. Smithy's sketch, the Olympian and Paralympian Choir and the Ashes to Ashes sketch were the highlights for me.

Some of the appeals were heartwarming. Chris Moyles crying because he'd just seen a baby die from malaria prompted such generosity that they repeated that appeal again an hour later.

But a couple of the appeal videos made me want to smash dad's tellybox in frustration: The videos of children who care for disabled parents. Obviously I wasn't annoyed with the children themselves; their lives suck. They've been forced into a terrible situation and absolutely deserve to be helped.

What made me feel sick was that in a supposedly first world country in the 21st century child slavery is still legal. There's no need for it to be, and it's not something that can be fixed by Sport Relief providing these children with a befriender for 2 hours a week.

If those disabled parents had all their support needs met then the children would be free to be children and would be able to have the carefree childhood they should have. It's a simple fix.

It all starts with a faulty assumption that if a disabled person has a child, or a person has a child then becomes disabled that that child will automatically care for their parent. Laurence Clark once wrote a brilliant article about this assumption. I'm a child of not just one but two disabled parents and I never once had to perform any care roles for my parents. (Yeah, OK, I was more severely impaired than the 2 of them put together up until I started secondary school, but we'll just gloss over that.)

My parents had a care package meaning that I never had to worry if mum would need help getting things down from a high cupboard or carrying the shopping home. When they both had separate accidents in 1994 resulting in a reduction in mobility for both of them that package was increased dramatically. By this point I would've been able to perform a lot of "care" tasks; no longer breaking my bones with such regularity I'd learned to walk a little and was able to push a manual wheelchair infinitely. I could've done the shopping and the cooking and picked up things one of them had dropped on the floor, but I never had to, they had assistance to do the things they couldn't allowing me to be a teenager.

All children in the UK should be free from slavery. All disabled people should get their assistance needs met. If all disabled people got their needs met there would be no need for any child to enter into this one form of legal slavery.

Right now we are in an amazing position to change the lives of young carers. We have a general election coming up. A £5 donation to Sport Relief might give a young carer an hour with a befriender to go bowling but demanding that the politicians gaining power in 2 months time meet the assistance needs of their disabled parents can give those same children back their childhoods.

So please take this opportunity to lobby the candidates in your area about this issue. You have the power to make a real change for these children and their parents. Change that no Sport Relief project can bring. With disabled people being enabled and their children allowed to be children your £5 can then go to buying mosquito nets to save the lives of babies like this one in a country where we Brits don't have the power to effect political change.

12 March 2010


On the International Day of Disabled People I mentioned that the EHRC had used the day to launch an inquiry into disablist harassment in the wake of the Pilkington murder/suicide.

Something occurred to me a couple of days after posting: Plenty of disabled people have been killed in hate crimes - people like Brent Martin who was killed over a bet - but they hadn't really entered the consciousness of non-disabled people. What made the "Pilkington case a Lawrence moment for disability hate crime"? Eventually it hit me: Fiona Pilkington was not disabled. She committed murder/suicide out of frustration at the disablist harassment of her two disabled children. For the first time disablist hate crime was responsible for the death of a non-disabled person. And I think that's why the public suddenly gave a shit. If disablist hate crime was still only killing us mere disableds, no-one would care.

Fortunately disablist hate is now getting the attention of both non-disabled people and at least one disabled person who had previously thought that disablist hate crimes were fiction.

This week we've had the sad news of the death of Mancunian David Askew. Unusually for this kind of story it has been news. For a while yesterday (Thursday) the BBC story about his death topped the list of "most read" stories on the site. Many publications note that he was 'tormented to death' yet I've not seen one article remark that the harassment was probably fuelled by disablist hate.

Also this week we've had the rather ridiculous Ofcom decision that TV stations should broadcast the word "retard" because to not do so would be a breach of viewers' human rights. In other words, encouraging disablist hate crimes is good. Mencap have launched an Email campaign against Ofcom's ruling

Today the Independent ran a column filled with offensive language, praising Ofcom's decision, and slamming 'political correctness'. Yes, the same paper that also today declared David Askew's death a "tragedy" and asked "Could nothing have been done to protect him?" The Independent's right hand wants the right to call disabled people offensive names while the left hand wants to protect people like David Askew. Apparently the editor is completely oblivious to the fact that Askew was no doubt repeatedly called a "retard" during his decade of harassment.

The Pilkington case might have brought the public's awareness of disablist hate some way forward but with Ofcom and the Independent declaring that disablist hate speech is not only acceptable but a good thing we've still got a long way to go.

Edit: For those of you who think that not wanting to be subjected to hate speech is "political correctness gone mad;" Here's Johnny Knoxville (really not known for his PCness) and his friend and colleague Eddie Barbanell on why the word "retard" is not acceptable:

Edit 22nd March: Today there are finally a couple of news stories containing both "David Askew" and "disability hate crime" on bbc.co.uk and in The Independent.

01 March 2010


Just for a change, I am ill. I was going to do all sorts of constructive things today, but between pain and painkillers I have the attention span of a gnat (hat tip to Sheldon for the gnat quote). So I'm going to rant. Because that comes naturally and requires little concentration. As you've probably already gathered if this isn't the first post here you've read.

iWant an iPhone. I really, really, want an iPhone. The phones themselves aren't all that special; but they've captured the imagination of every software developer so there's literally an app for everything. Want do do your shopping on the move? There's an app for that. Watching a film and you want to know where you've seen that actor before? There's an app for that. Trouble sleeping at night? There's an app for that. Trying to find a laptop-friendly café? There's an app for that.

I've got an iPod Touch which is basically like an iPhone without functioning as a phone. So you can send Email using it as long as you've got a WiFi connection, you can surf the web on it as long as you've got a WiFi connection, you can Tweet on it as long as you've got a WiFi connection... Basically it's a useful little gadget until you take it out of the house and then it only functions as an mp3/mp4 player. But that's OK, because I only needed it as an mp3/mp4 player. Having an iPod Touch has given me an insight into whether or not the iPhone would be accessible to me: And the answer is a great big no.

It's a great little gadget for playing music on, browsing the web on and checking my Facebook notifications on. My access problem with it comes as soon as I start to type: It's excruciatingly painful. Typing on a touchscreen means you have to keep all your other digits held back well away from the screen otherwise they'll brush against it and type something random. And I really need to rest my fingers on my phone's keyboard like you do when proper touch typing. Having to keep my digits curled up away from the screen makes my RSI-addled arms scream "pain! Pain! PAIN!"

I know I'm not the only person to have access problems with the iPhone, check out Geoff Adams-Spink's review.

And I thought the days of inaccessible phones died along with those stupid pokey pen things ("stylus" I believe was the technical term). I can't grip an actual pen, so why on earth would a small poking device be any easier to hold?

ATMac's article about Dragon's dictation software for iPhone/iPod makes it look slightly more manageable, but a big problem with speech-to-text software is background noise. I use Dragon's NaturallySpeaking on my PC and my upstairs neighbour's TV interferes with it, so I can't imagine that dictating a text message in a noisy pub is going to work. At all.

I'm not anti-touchscreen. I think they're ace. Wanting to click a link and just being able to poke it is a brilliant thing. I just can't type on a virtual keyboard because of "ow". Which is where Google's G1 comes in. It has both a touchscreen and a slide out QWERTY keyboard. I've had a play with Lilwatchergirl's G1 and it seems to be a piece of genius. So why haven't I got one of them? Because they're only available on T-mobile and their network coverage is rubbish. Virgin Mobile use T-mobile's network and I know from trying to use my Virgin mobile broadband dongle that you basically can't get a T-mobile signal outside of London.

So I'm stuck with a rather crappy BlackBerry Curve 8520. I call it "crappy" because in many ways it's worse than its predecessor, the 8310. The 8310's camera had a flash, the 8520's does not; so you can't take photos indoors. The 8310 had GPS, the 8520 does not. And the 2D limited palette icons on the 8520 look miserable compared to the 3D multicolour picture icons on the 8310. So why didn't I return my 8520 at the end of my 14 day evaluation period and keep on using my 8310? 2 reasons: 1) The 8520 has WiFi so I can get decent speed internet on it indoors. 2) It has a web browser that works adequately, the one on the 8310 was utterly useless.

While the iPhone has an app for everything, the BlackBerry has very few apps, and most of them are rubbish:

The App World store has just about 2,000 apps available for download, compared to the iPhone App Store’s 90,000 apps or Android’s 12,000.

From http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2009/11/blackberry-innovative-edge/

In my experience Tweetie for iPhone is the best way to access Twitter. It's wonderful. It makes ÜberTwitter look pretty pants in comparison (but I will admit that ÜberTwitter has got a lot better lately). The Facebook app for BlackBerry has, again, gotten better recently; but it's still rubbish compared to Facebook for iPhone and I usually end up accessing Facebook on my phone via http://m.facebook.com. Absolute Radio have had an iPhone app out for ages. I got all excited a couple of weeks ago when I found out that they'd finally released their long promised BlackBerry app, only to discover that it's only for 3 models and the 8520 isn't one of them. And Safari on the iPhone makes BlackBerry's built in browser look like it belongs in the 1990s.

After all this ranting, what would make me happy? Simple: If Apple made an iPhone with a slide out QWERTY keyboard like the G1 phone. If they did bring out such a thing I'd sell a kidney to be able to afford one on the day of release. As a consolation prize I'd be satisfied if BlackBerry joined the twenteens.