India Exploits

Imagine discovering the country of India which conjures up images of lush green paddy fields, brightly coloured saris, jasmine scented incense, ancient palaces and adorned maharajahs. A huge country, India is often known as the Indian subcontinent; at 3,287,240 km2 it makes number 7 on the top ten largest countries by landmass on earth.

Now imagine undertaking this challenge with a physical disability along with four able bodies guys from Rolls-Royce, discovering breath-taking mountains of the Himalayas as well as spending time in the slums of Delhi working on a local community project which caters for disabled children.

Julie McElroy from Glasgow, Scotland did just that, she flew out to Delhi with the boys from Rolls Royce naming Alan Mileham, Colin Summers, Graeme Hughes and Gordon Barr. She was born with Cerebral Palsy which has resulted in a mobility problem such as having walking difficulty.  She also has a mild speech impairment along with a manual dexterity problem and is profoundly deaf and wear two hearing aids.

Since childhood, Julie have embarked on various challenges and spearheading new initiatives however this latest challenge was going to take her into terrority  to see firsthand how some of the poorest disabled children lives in India and scaling new heights in the Himalayas. This exploit was to be completely different but was a desire that Julie had longed wished for to join an able bodies group on an expedition as she wants to embraced inclusion among her able bodies peers. When asking Alan and Colin about Julie joining them on the Indian’s expedition ‘The team have had limited exposure to disabled people and no prior experience with disabled adults. However we have a good team working spirit and early on we wanted Julie to be part of our team. Though good spirit and intentions are not always enough, I think that a little more research about the terrain and techniques for assisting people could have better prepare us for the Himalayas with Julie’.

In the build-up preparation, Julie forged a firm friendship with theboys as they set about climbing Ben Lomond together. This was great day out Julie recalled as it was good team-building day and this allowed the boys to see firsthand how I coped with the uneven terrain however she confessed she was extremely lucky to be given this opportunity and felt reassured to be in capable hands with the strongest boys on the planet!

Julie’s easiness and her ability to get on with anyone, she alleviated the fears and concerns that the boys of Rolls Royce had as Alan cited from ‘Our initial contact with Julie was via e-mail and a good rapport was quickly built up, I guess putting us at ease with each other. The team were a little nervous prior to meeting Julie mainly down to concerns around communicating (deafness and speech)this was quickly put at ease when we realised we could easily understand Julie and with a little thought Julie could understand us (if we were talking directly to her).  “Also I found myself adapting very quickly after meeting Julie. In the way that I talk, ensuring not to put my hands over my mouth when speaking and always addressing her face to face to allow her to lip read more’.

On arrival in Delhi, the team’s first stop was to visit the slums of Delhi and to pay a visit to the community project that the team would be working on. The project is runs by a charity called Deepalaya, is a non -government development organization working on issues affecting the urban and rural poor, with a special focus on children. It is because ‘Every child deserves a chance’ that the organization exists and works towards making that possible. For the past 32 years Deepalaya has been working in the urban slums of Delhi and has also made inroads into rural development in the states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

For Julie, this was a personal and emotional journey to see some of the disabled children that lives in the slums as she commented when you see it on the TV’s news, you take an interests in it but when you come out to witness it for yourself it gives you a completely different prescriptive on how these children live and survive daily. It also made me realized how fortunate we are to have access to good health service.

Just walking through the slums of Delhi with Alan and our guide, it was unbelievable, poor sanitation, malnourished children, the smell says it all. It truly opens your eyes to how these poor disadvantage children survived. One thing that I was constantly aware of although I got used to it, is the amount of Indian people looking at you, if you were Western then they were bounce to scared at you but if you had a disability the scaring becomes noticeable as in India, people with disabilities are not seen in public, we saw some Indians with disabilities crawling on the street.  Even working on the community project, we interacted with the children who have profound learning disabilities.

What really saddened me is that during my years of education we had technologies to aids us with our learning and I believed without a doubt if these children were provided a basic laptop this would enhanced their intellectual ability rather than struggle to write on a piece of paper. India is still a developing country and still has a long way to when it will embrace people with disability as in the same way as the UK, they are now recognizing the talents of disabled people.

On meeting Julie, she possesses the drive and determination to leads an independent life however during her trek in the Himalayas she admitted this was far harder than all her previous exploits as she was among an able bodies group. I found the terrain in the Himalayas tough at times to walk on. It was so frustrating and emotional at times because I kept falling a lot whereas at home I rarely fall.

First thing she noticed that the terrain was completely different as when she out in the countryside back in Scotland, she uses her walking poles to assists her whereas in India she relied on help from the boys and the boys were happy to provide assistance saying that
When Julie finally allowed us to support we quickly developed a good technique, that with the support of two of the team we could get over a range of different obstacles on the assent. It was very clear to me that Julie was having to work around twice as hard as her able-bodied team mates. The main thing we all noticed was Julies determination and she gained the respect of the team through her tenacity and toughness’. Nobody there was in any doubt that Julie gave 100% effort on the day and pushed herself to the limits of her abilities‘.

The community project was my most rewarding experience out of the whole trip because she could understand and empathized with the children’s difficulties. Whereas the Himalayas presented her with even greater challenges however this trek in the Himalayas has inspired Julie to decide what she will do next!

For Julie and the boys of Rolls Royce, although this intensive expedition was challenging, it has changed them in how the perceived about life, forces Julie and boys about assumptions of someone having a disability who equally capable as Colin puts it ‘travelling with Julie has changed some preconceptions I had around people with disabilities in a positive way’.

Personally for Julie, she feels this trek had marked a new vision in her life. When asking what she will do next she says ‘That would be telling!’

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Disabled People VS Online Forums

From my disability connections, I was approached by MRUK, who are a research company. Firstly, Scotrail has asked them to conduct online focus groups with respondents who travel by rail and have mobility or disability issues. Capability Scotland pointed out that online focus groups are often not fully accessible and face to face can be better, but MRUK have said that they have previously conducted face to face focus groups so this time are just looking at conducting online groups.

Due to one of my many areas of interests, is with accessibility with assistive technologies, I decided to share my thoughts on learning experiences after taking part in the MRUK research.

A question to ask yourself: is web-based forums in danger of replacing real interactions with people?

It is clear that web based technologies is on the rise and they all have their benefits to everyone and those who have disabilities. When it came this forum which I clearly enjoyed very much and transport accessibility is a major issues for some disabled people especially with the revamp of Queens Street for the Commonwealth Games, I was keen to ask the question how does Scotrail plans to cope with disruption to passengers safety without even mentioning disabled passengers too. Do they also plan to embed assistive technologies in and around the station?

During my recent trip to London last week, I was introduced to a new useful contact who is the Head of Disability and Inclusion of Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) was keen to gets my views on public transports i.e. why do like the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) in comparison to not using Scotrail much. It was merely down to accessibility issues. If more assistive technologies on the trains and at station that may assists me better.

Anyway, back to the topic agenda about online learning experiences, I feel there is necessary place for e-learning and online forums as participation process as it encourages people with disabilities to come forward and from what I gathered from the online forum’s experience more disabled people feel comfortable being upfront online forum rather than voicing publicly in open-spaces. (I know all too well – doing and delivering presentations is a daunting experience for anyone). Overall, MRUK were excellent and more forums research should be conducted this way as long as these research companies continue to meet the accessibility needs of participants through various means of technologies then this will go a long way in terms of time and cost-saving issues for everyone involved. We are inevitable going to see more web-focused programme being delivered all types of education sectors as it is their best response to slashed budgets and other factors. My generation are responding to social media and using the web as their study and to keep in touch with their peers.

The balance on the otherhand need to be strike with real interaction with people as that equally important or we risk becoming too dependent on remote learning on the web!

INAUGURAL WILDERNESS WEEKEND SUCCESS

On behalf of Forestry Commission Scotland:

An innovative new outdoors project that introduces disabled people to woodlands and green space has taken its first six participants to Arran to take part in an inaugural ‘Wilderness Weekend’.

This project is to encourage more people with disabilities to access woodlands and green space and is part of Forestry Commission Scotland’s widerCentral Scotland engagement strategy.

Delivered in partnership by Forestry Commission Scotland and The National Trust for Scotland they have worked with Scottish adventuress Julie McElroy to develop the Wilderness Weekend, which saw the group taking part in a range of outdoor activities.

Participants, aged between 20-74 years old, got involved in a series of pursuits including arts and crafts and woodland walks. They also explored how people lived on and off the land and learned how to light fires from sparks, gather food and build a shelter.

Hugh McNish from Forestry Commission Scotland said: “As an organisation we believe in encouraging everyone to access woodlands and
experience the outdoors. “Current evidence shows that disabled people do not access the outdoors as frequently as able-bodied people. We want to tackle this and encourage more people with disabilities to access their local woodlands.

“By running unique weekends such as this, we are actively helping to remove any obstacles for disabled people to enjoy the outdoors and benefit from the experience too.”

A keen adventurer, Julie was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when she was a child and is eager to help more people with disabilities experience the advantages of the outdoors.  She added:  “I have always had a love of the outdoors and I was really passionate about getting this project off the ground. It has been a real challenge, but finally being able to get participants across to Arran to take part is a great feeling.

“This course is designed to enhance the confidence of the participants and also increase their personal development, by allowing them the chance to take part in a series of tasks and adventures that they haven’t before.”

Notes to news editors

  1. Forestry Commission Scotland works as the Scotti Government’s forestry directorate www.forestry.gov.uk/scotland
  2. The National Trust for Scotland is one of Scotland’s leading conservation charities, which relies on the financial support of its members to funds its important work of caring for the natural and cultural heritage of Scotland for everyone to enjoy. The Trust cares for a range of sites on Arran, including Brodick Castle and Country Park and Goatfell.