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The rain was horizontal and cold, like needles. The wind was whipping up everything in its path; wheelie bins, leaves, bits of tree and odd paper bags. I was struggling into the office with a flimsy umbrella and far too many bags, cursing the rain and wind and battling to avoid losing my composure, hair grips or will to live, when I almost collided with one of our care team and a Service User.
Sensing a path
The young lady in question and her youthful carer were appropriately dressed in waterproof clothes for the trip across the way to day activity. The carer was walking backwards, three paces ahead of his charge, and patting his pocket to cause a rhythmic jangling of keys. The young woman (let’s call her Anna) was walking towards him in time to the jangling. Anna has no vision, and the trip out every day without contact guiding is a huge step in independence. She listens to the noise the carer makes and this guides her steps. Anna can discern the obstacles along the path by the differences in sound, a form of echo location.
Of course this is amazing. But my interest was sparked particularly by the enormous smile across Anna’s face as she stepped out in the howling storm. She lifted her face to the sky and the rain streamed over her upturned face, the wind blew her curls into chaos around her head and she was laughing. Her stoic carer continued to jangle and step, clearly enjoying the journey rather less than Anna was.
Whether to weather…?
We spend a lot of time protecting people with profound disabilities from the things we encounter every day. When we were designing the home Anna lives in, the architects wanted to build a covered walkway between the separate elements of the service, to protect residents from the weather. We fought this plan and won.
People with disabilities often don’t get to experience extremes of weather due to the over-protective attitude of their carers. They live in heated, sheltered bubbles. I have witnessed care staff saying “no outing today, it’s too wet / cold/ foggy” – I applaud the spirit of ensuring people are comfortable, but are we denying them the right to experience what all of us experience in the living of our life? The crispness of a frosty morning. The sudden burst of warm summer showers. The silencing blanket of new snow.
Life is not about being indoors and comfortable all of the time. We regularly enable our Service Users with sensory impairments to experience what the crackle of a storm feels like, what windy days sound like in the trees and how rain can change the sound of footsteps on pavement, grass and gravel.
The next time you swear about the weather, imagine life without ever knowing how it really feels.