Our World. Without Boundaries Podcast: Ep3 In The ‘Inclusive Designer Series’ With Sarah Wills

In this episode we hear from Sarah Wills who talks about her experiences with a broken foot and how it has made her more understanding of how mobility issues and disability impact on people around her. It clearly shows how designing for excluded communities like disabled users can benefit us all.

Perito:      Welcome to the Perito Podcast Our World Without Boundaries. A Podcast all about creating inclusive environments, to create an accessible world for everyone, everywhere.  Perito believes that we’re all designers in some capacity even if we aren’t the Principal Designers like Town Planners or Architects.  This podcast is out there to help everybody become a community expert in recognising exclusion and someone who can then contribute to a design process and make or advise on creating better inclusive design decisions.  The podcast will help listeners learn from the day to day experiences and the challenges of our interviewees so we will all have a greater understanding of what can exclude people from participating and what can be done to create our world, without boundaries.

In this episode we are pleased to be joined by Sarah Wills who will be talking about her experiences moving around two of the nicest and touristy cities in the UK, Edinburgh and London, (0.52) but Sarah there’s a bit of a twist isn’t there, there’s a leg injury involved here?

SW:           Hi James and thanks very much for inviting me to contribute to this podcast.  There’s not really much to say about myself just an ordinary person with an ordinary lifestyle but I was used to being able to go anywhere without thinking about how I would get there or how I would get around when I was there.

Perito:      (1.12)  Can you tell us about the injury and how it’s impacted on your life before your trip that we’re going to focus on today?

SW:           I injured my foot and as a consequence I find myself experiencing what it was like to be disabled both where I was on holiday in Edinburgh and also during my day to day life in London.  The injury wasn’t serious it was a broken foot but it certainly made things very different for me, so I broke a fifth metatarsal which, as I was frequently told was what David Beckham had done.

Perito:      (1.38) Principally in good company then?

SW:           Well yes supposedly but I’m sure he had better treatment then I did, but never mind.

Perito:      (laughter)

SW:           It wasn’t that important but as a consequence of that break I had to wear one of those moon boot things, I don’t know if he did, but also use a crutch, where I found that wearing a moon boot and using a crutch at the same time took quite a bit of coordination and as moon boots are designed to prevent your foot from moving they are obviously completely rigid.

Perito:      (2.02) That’s really useful to set the scene.  Perito believes that we’re all designers as I mentioned at the beginning, what would be good to go into is really knuckle down into your day to day experiences so maybe we could speak about Edinburgh first or London first. The listeners will really want to understand the challenges that you had to go through, to get a better understanding of how to design for your situation.  I think the most important thing is to focus on the idea that this was a temporary situation for you as well.  Do you want to start with Edinburgh or London?

SW:           No Edinburgh’s good because I went there very shortly after the accident.  I went there for a holiday and I was there for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Perito:      Oh that was nice.

SW:           Very nice, well could have been nicer (laughter).

Perito:      (2.40) But you go there every year don’t you?

SW:           Yes, I do. So I’m very familiar with what it’s like to get around, how easy it is normally to get around and how difficult it was on this occasion.  Edinburgh is a very touristy city and it’s also very busy because of the festival. A very popular time to go there and I found that the pavements were very crowded with people, not surprisingly, but having enough space to walk was an issue.  People were oblivious to my difficulty, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised but I was.  They got very close on the pavements and it was really quite unnerving to think that they might trip my boot, or my crutch and I might end up on the pavement and become extremely vulnerable. Not something that I was used to even thinking about so that was an issue, probably what was even more problematic, although this was nobody’s fault why Edinburgh’s so touristy was that the streets are mainly cobbled.

Perito:      They are, yes.

SW:           And a very attractive feature normally of Edinburgh but not really one that was really attractive this time but not much can be done about that. I did find that there were often no alternatives, no alternative routes, you couldn’t really avoid the cobbles and that kind of made me think about how people should consider what if you can’t manage something. You can’t manage the staircase or you can’t manage a deep kerb that there should be alternatives provided for people, obviously my injury was temporary but for people who are permanently disabled it’s really, it leaves you with no options, the only options really are to try and get someone to help you. But that’s not always possible and it’s sometimes rather demeaning.  So walking was hard, buses were difficult, it’s hard to get on a bus when you’ve got a crutch and a moon boot and you don’t really get enough time, if you can find a seat you don’t really have enough time to sit down or if it’s standing room only then you definitely have to find somebody to hang on to.  The buses always seem to move off faster than I could do anything.

Perito:      Yeah (laughter) I can relate to that.

SW:           As a consequence of the pavements and the buses I decided that the only sensible thing to do really was to use Uber unless I was gonna stay at home all day and see nothing and that was interesting too because you’re paying for a taxi, though you know you’re the client, but some of the drivers clearly were not at all happy about having a disabled person in their car. I mean I was relatively able, I could get in the car relatively easily but maybe they were worried about the car getting bashed with my crutch or something like that, some of them are fine, some of them were a bit sort of unhappy and it was interesting that my rating, my Uber rating as a passenger, actually went down, which is a bit galling I had a very good rating up until that time.

Perito:      (5.03) (laughter) So Uber actually downgraded, potentially downgraded, you essentially because of that reason.

SW:           Yeah, yeah.

Perito:      That’s just unbelievable. Okay.

SW:           Well I mean you don’t get a chance, well you get a chance to tip them afterwards so I don’t think it was because of that, it was, you know, because, I suppose because it sometimes took more time to get in the car than they would have liked, that might have been an issue as well but from my point of view the biggest issue really was that it was extraordinary expensive so it was.

Perito:      (5.29) And I guess that the roads are jammed as well aren’t they so it must have been very difficult to be able to drive to all the different locations that you were trying to head to?

SW:           Yes quite stressful, you’re quite right.  The only upside to all of this really was that the venues where I went were really good. Obviously, it’s very tourist focussed and therefore tourist friendly festival, largely cheery students who are having fun, but I always found at the venues that they were very happy for me to go to the front of the queue which meant I always got into the venue first which meant I always got a front row seat, so it wasn’t all bad. I was able to take a bunch of my friends along with me so I was very popular, and I had people asking whether they could borrow the moon boot next year (laughter).

Perito:      (laughter)

SW:           So they too share the experience of being first in the line.  So that was Edinburgh, that was a mixed holiday really. I did enjoy it but I probably didn’t do as much as I would have done just simply because it was really tiring trying to find alternatives and having to think is it going to be difficult to get there, will there be too many people, will I just be stressed out by it but I wouldn’t say it was a complete disaster.

Perito:      (6.29)  What was the most difficult to manage was it the moon boot on the cobbles in the, say shock impact or was it the way the crutch would not sit on the level ground, or was it something else?

SW:           You know I think, yeah, it’s difficult to say really I mean the moon boot on the cobbles was a complete nightmare because the cobbles were obviously lumpy and the moon boots completely rigid at the bottom.  I don’t think it was either of those two things physically I think it was just, just the difficulty really, like I said earlier that coordinating the moon boot and the crutch is actually quite an art or maybe even a skill but whichever it was I didn’t really develop it terribly well, cos you have to think about what you’re doing which means you can’t think about what’s going on around you as much as you need to and that was consistent throughout the whole of the time that I was temporarily disabled. You’re very much focussed on your disability and you realise that other people are completely oblivious to it.

Perito:      (7.17) That’s an interesting note, lack of awareness isn’t it seems to have impacted on you and obviously everybody else who’s suffering the same within Edinburgh.

SW:           Yes. Moving onto London where I spend most of my time. London was a bit different, the bus issues were the same but also added to that were the issues to do with stations and they were a bit of a nightmare because again there’s a large pressure of people, but in some tube stations you get sloping ramps, when you’re, you know, you can walk normal the sloping ramps seem fine but some of them are quite steep, quite surprising steep and whilst there are lifts at many tube stations the signage isn’t good so you’re left thinking there must be a lift here somewhere but I can’t see where it is and obviously…

Perito:      (8.03) Yeah but then you get more tired looking for the lift because you’re having to struggle to get there aren’t you?

SW:           Absolutely, so a huge amount of your time is taken up by trying to find ways to compensate the disability that you’re suffering. There are stations, not so much tube stations but other stations which are actually only accessible by stairs and I was really surprised to find that because you don’t take any notice normally but that was very excluding when you thought I can’t go to that station because I can’t up or down the stairs and also at stations which normally would have lifts wasn’t uncommon to find that the lifts weren’t working so you find yourself getting off at a station which you knew had a lift to discover that you would have to try and find some way to get up the stairs anyway, not so good.  And very excluding. It makes you feel very unwanted really, I think, that’s probably how I’d put it.  So the pavement issues that were again the same as in Edinburgh and again there’s no awareness of other people of what, of how hard you’re finding it to get around and although, because obviously there are regulations, there are disabled entrances to buildings but it’s actually often quite difficult to find them and that makes you feel even more isolated and I guess that’s one of the things that came out of this altogether was that it was a very isolating experience. It made me feel very alone and very lonely and rather, sort of, an inconvenience to other people.  Fortunately it was only temporary but it has made me think a lot about how I behave around disabled people which isn’t sensitive enough I realise I don’t give them enough room to move in front of me or take account of the fact that they’ll be moving more slowly then I will be, so it’s been quite a learning experience for me too.

Perito:      (9.44) So how long did you have your leg in the boot for?

SW:           Oh, only six weeks, as well as everybody telling me that it was the David Beckham injury they all seemed to know, but I didn’t, that it would take six weeks so not really that long but long enough from my point of view to be very, very pleased on all sorts of levels to be able to get back to a more normal lifestyle.

Perito:      (10.05)  I think you’ve shed a little bit of light on the impact it’s had on you but how was this temporary experience with mobility issues and lack of access in Edinburgh and London impacted on you since the boot’s come off.  I guess it’s demonstrated quite clearly that inclusion and access benefits everybody regardless who they are. Has it changed or perhaps enhanced your understanding of people with more long term and permanent impairments?

SW:           Disability is seen as something that is to be ignored. it’s something that exists in this world and I think if there was more signage and better access to those things that help disabled people then people who don’t suffer from any disability of any sort, it would maybe make them more aware the fact that other people do and maybe they would then be more understanding and more accommodating of those who are, and I’m thinking of, you know, giving people who are disabled a bit more room to move around, not making them feel that they’re unusual or abnormal but just being a little bit more sensible in the way that they approach people.

Perito:      (11.04)  So it’s an interesting point you make with the signage so it wouldn’t just be signage to help with directions but it would also be alerting people to be like a visual remainder that there are lots of different diverse population using this facility or the train station or the roadway, don’t just assume that it’s okay for you to go about your business without taking into consideration and due courtesy.

SW:           Yes I think that’s a good way of putting it, I mean it’s not to identify disabled people particularly as a special group but just make it obvious that they are a group within the whole population. You know, just like there are able bodied people and young people and children and pregnant ladies, you know, disabled people around. I think disabled in itself is rather a negative word, but it would just become more normalised.

Perito:      (11.55)  Thanks for joining us today Sarah so I found the conversation enlightening and so important because you shed such articulate and well informed light on a subject of inclusion at access by demonstrating that it’s not just people with permanent disabilities that are impacted on. So thanks for sharing your six weeks of experience and I think what struck me about it is that it’s obviously it had quite a deep impact on you just from being in the boot for six weeks and to see how the world isn’t really ready for people to go about with a crutch and a boot on.  Thanks again for coming along.

SW:           Thank you.

Perito:      You’ve been tuning into the Perito Podcast Our World. Without Boundaries thanks for listening everyone, everywhere.

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