I’ve said before about the inaccessible “accessible bathrooms”, and the transport for disabled people that put cost effectiveness over usefulness of service, and now I have a new one to add to the list.
Up until recently, I was in the process of trying to get an electric wheelchair. It’s all more complicated in some ways than you can imagine, and simpler in some other ways than I could have hoped for.
In order to get an electric wheelchair, it’s standard procedure to have a Visual Field Test, just to prove that the potential user (in this case, me) has enough vision and peripheral awareness to be in control of a powered chair safely.
Failing the test means that a powered chair will be unsuitable. I know for a fact that I have freaky (in a good way) peripheral vision, and such good Crowd Awareness that it’s like a 6th sense. Unfortunately, I also struggle so much with depth perception, thanks to dyscalculia, that I ended up giving up driving lessons. Distance measurements meant nothing to me, I could never tell if a gap was too big or too small for the car so i always assumed it was too small, and it just generally made it difficult to get comfortable with driving.
Still, there’s a difference between driving a car and steering a wheelchair, one being a metal box surrounding you and protecting you, and the other one being a chair on wheels that leaves you open to the elements, so overall I wasn’t all that worried about the test… until I actually saw the machine they did the tests on.
It was a box, like a television, on top of a desk, and inside the box was an LED Board. The idea was to focus on the red light and when you see one of the LEDs flash, you press a button. You’re meant to sit right up close and rest your head on the cushioned rests so that you can see the whole LED box.
Well, the first problem was that there was no good height to get the box at, and there was no way to get my wheelchair or me closer to the box. Sitting up as straight as possible, my back still needs to be supported to the point of minor reclination, and after a few minutes any leaning forward I’dve managed to do, pain sets in so I’d have to sit right back so that my cushion could support me properly again, making the effort pointless and taxing.
This device was completely wheelchair inaccessible, and I had no way of sitting to meet it half way. The 10 minutes I’d tried to was a complete disaster. I could see the red light fine, and if the flashes were happening in the top half of the box, that was fine. But any flashes at the bottom of the LED board was blocked by the plastic casing around the “window”. And then the red light disappeared completely. The optician who was seeing to me (no pun intended) had to leave the room to get the optician of a higher level in the staff chain of command, because it was quite clear I was failing this test through reasons not related to what the test was meant to be testing for.
The optician was lovely, don’t get me wrong, and both of them did their best to accommodate me. He had the device off the desk and onto a computer chair, tried various heights of both the desk and the chair but it just wouldn’t do. Unless you can rest your head on the cushioned casing, most of the LED board is blocked by the very casing it’s enclosed in.
He apologised, and did a basic manual test instead, which I passed by the way, but I couldn’t help commenting on the irony of the whole situation, and the very fact that the device is not fit for purpose.
In other opticians and in hospitals, there’s probably better forms of the device used to carry out these tests. I just always seem to be in the wrong places to get to them. But once again, I can’t just be the only one this happens to, it just feels that way from other people’s responses.
I’m just lucky the Optician was sympathetic enough, and confident in his own abilities, to trust a basic manual test instead of voiding my form due to being unable to carry out the test. But then if that had happened, I’d have been well within my rights to complain.
Instead, I’m settling for a letter of suggestion to send to their head office. I might not be fond of making myself some sort of spokes person, but if I want to see changes happen, what else can I do?
It’s like I said last time, if I want to see changes happen, I have to help make them happen because very few people will do it off their own say so.
And in case anyone is wondering, I am now a card carrying member of the Electric Wheelchair Owner’s and Driver’s Club. Well, I would be if that club actually existed…