Enabled by your Environment

What a positive world we live in. Apparently I am not disabled, I am differently abled. I guess being negative is seen as… well… negative. One day, Bam! I was hit in the face. Not literally you understand. I have not been attacked by people who disagree with my blogs. Although that might well start after this. Then, Wham! Not the 80’s pop duo. You see I had an epiphany and it’s not even Christmas.

My wham, bam, epiphany came last year actually. Don’t accuse me of rushing of a blog every time I have an idea. It was when we moved to our new house last summer. I would say our beach view house, but I don’t want to make you jealous. Too late, I said it. I realised, We can be, enabled by our environment. Let me explain:

We moved in to this new build house. Now I need to pause a moment. This house is M4, no it’s not in the middle of a motorway. The M4 category of housing is an accessible housing category. It means that a house is built to be wheelchair visitable. That means exactly what it sounds like. You are meant to be able to visit it in a wheelchair. The government have a strategy to make all new houses M4… eventually.

An aside here, I cannot visit the majority of my family and friends. I can think of one house that might (I haven’t yet tried) be accessible to me; in part. You might be unmoved by that. But imagine being unable to visit your family and friends. Got that in your mind? Would you find that hard? I know I do.

Having moved into this house with its wide doorways and corridors I noticed something. I could access the whole downstairs. Wow! You’re thinking, access all of downstairs. What’s novel about that. Sometimes I think everyone should spend a year in a wheelchair. The world would change pretty quickly. I imagine blind people may wish everyone could experience blindness for a year. Or deaf people may wish people may wish people could experience profound deafness for a year. I say a year, because a few hours don’t give you any idea of a disability. Many carers have sat in a wheelchair to see what it feels like. People have put on blindfolds or blocked of their ears. But such very short term trials, give no idea as to the long term implications of a disability. I have only mentioned three obvious disabilities. I am not suggesting that other disabilities are lesser.

Back to my sudden realisation. We can be, enabled by our environment. In a wheelchair, even a 1” bump is significant. When you walk you just step over every bump and step, without even seeing it. I have lost count of the places I have phoned to ask about accessibility, to be told they are wheelchair accessible. On arrival, they have steps, steep slopes, gravel or narrow doorways.

We can be, enabled by our environment. When we moved to this house I wheeled around freely for the first time ever. Then after the Disabled Facilities Grant, added a through floor lift, I wheeled around upstairs. I can now access every part of this house. It has been years since I could say that about a house.

But access alone is not the point. Access is only a means to an end. Access is reaching a place or thing. Getting somewhere.  There are still ‘things’ I cannot reach. High cupboard, light fittings, high shelves.

The realisation that I came to was that being able to reach things, get to places, approach a location, enter a room, changes my outlook and gives me opportunities. I did not gain health or strength when we moved here. But, with the same limited strength I already had, I could do more. I gained opportunities. I was enabled by my environment. Rather than make this a very long blog, I will talk of the details of that another blog.

I have deliberately talked of being enabled by my environment. It is the positive side of the better known expression, ‘disabled by your environment.’ We can be, enabled by our environment. All it takes is the political will for housing and buildings to be made more suitable. It is life transforming.

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If You Could Live Forever

I’m not a doctor. A fact which will very quickly become apparent. Have you ever wondered why we don’t live forever? Evolutionary biologists, will be talking about cellular competition. Geneticists, will talk of mutations. Pretty much everyone has an answer.

Forget all of that. The real reason is that as we age, five things happen:

1/ Our ears continue to grow.

2/ Our noses continue to grow.

3/ We shrink in height.

4/ Many of us put on weight, (especially around the middle.)

5/ We often lose teeth, (unless we get them capped. In which case they aren’t our teeth anyway.)

The result of all this, if we got too old? We would all look like characters from Lord of The Rings.

That’s the real reason we don’t live forever.

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Something From Nothing

I love the latest crop of adverts in my card games. Apparently, there is a new photo app that can take a blurred poor quality photo from the past. One taken of your relatives, yourself or your friends and make them colour or black and white HD. All the details become miraculously visible. No, it’s not possible. It’s the stuff of sci-fi.

I always love it in those detective movies when they have a CCTV film of the culprit and the detective says, ‘can you enhance that?’ then the tech guy, runs an algorithm and hey presto, you see the culprit as if they are in front of you. A few magic swipes on the screen and an image that was a fuzzy mess, become fully clear. That is what these ads show.

But you cannot create something from nothing. If an image contains no, or very little information, then you can only guess at what is missing. Like a puzzle, one of those images that you have to guess what it is. A computer is no more clever than you at that. It fills in the missing bits of the picture with guesses. It looks at each part, then based on what it sees, makes as guess at what comes next.

Let me explain. You have a photo from the 1960’s. It is out of focus and was taken too far away. So that the people in it, are hard to make out. You scan it into your computer or tablet or phone. Looking at it, you think, ‘I can’t make out the people.’ What do you do?

This image of me, as a child, is a good example. You cannot see my eyes. No programme in the world can add those in. You can make out some of my teeth. A programme could guess at where the others are, in the dark cavern of my mouth. But it would look odd. The point is, ‘you cannot create something from nothing.’

These adverts make it appear that there are apps, that can take these pictures, and give you a pin sharp, HD repair. That just isn’t possible. Sorry to burst your bubble.

You see you cannot create something from nothing. If the image has no information within it about, let’s say eye colour, where can that come from? Guess work? If the image lacks information on nose shape, lip shape, eye shape, where can the programme get that? Guess work? It’s called extrapolation. The programme takes what it has and ‘extrapolates’ what it lacks. This process can work really great for an image that has a lot of information. But it is really rubbish if the image lacks information. So a slightly out of focus image, close up of a person. That can be improved greatly. Because the image contains a lot of information. The programme sharpens it up and hey presto, you have a pretty good image. But an blurry distant image of a person. Where you can see little of the detail in that person. The programme has no information to start with.

But the advert shows images that lack ‘all detail’. They lack eye colour, face shape, basically everything. There is no way that the before and after images are possible. That is, unless it can work with another HD image of that person. It needs to get the information from somewhere. Otherwise, your green-eyed, red haired grandma, could become a blue eyed blond.

The internet, and apps available on smart phones, seem to be an unregulated area of advertising. Buyer beware. The app will improve an image. There are many, many apps, a lot of them free, that can do that.

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Let Me Summarize

I have found a lot of factual books contain about an A5 flash card worth of content. It is a wonder that they manage to spin it out into a 300 page book. Really, they should get an award for that. You could just read the blurb on the back and know the content. Or, maybe read chapter one. All the other chapters, just break that first one down, or tell you what the first chapter said in a different way. Are we really so dumb that we need to hear it in multiple ways?

I am being incredibly harsh, not like me at all. But I have had enough of reading training books with no real content. I know why they do it of course. A publisher can hardly publish an A5 flash card, instead of a book; there’s no money in it.

Mike Nevin has just produced his latest self-help book, ‘How to sit up straight in a wheelchair?’ Available in hardback for £29.99, paperback for £19.99, as a free download in A5 flashcard or A4 sheet format. Now I ask you, which one are you going for? Great, I’ll put you down for 10 hardbacks.

It’s not just factual books that fall into this trap. A speaker at a conference can be just as bad. There are a lot of conferences that are glorified book publicity tours. If it’s one of those books, that should have been on an A5 flash card, then a two day conference is going to real drag.

Let me summarize. Here’s were you get your hopes up, in all those situations above. At last! They are going to finish. But they go on for another half an hour. I won’t, I have made my point.

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