A World Drained of Colour

beigePart of my job recently has been to source disability aids for a bathroom refurbishment. I rose to the challenge and visited a local showroom. Stepping in from the high street, I entered a grim emporium of bandage-beige and clinical white, an environment utterly devoid of style and colour.

Sun-faded posters depicted happy pensioners looking up at their carers, overjoyed to be using a walk-in bath or grab-rail. There were pictures of sunsets and autumn leaves, the subliminal message all too clear.

This is the medical model of disability in all its soul-sapping starkness. I asked the bored assistant for a fold-up bath chair. She waved a hand vaguely in a direction towards the back of the jumbled shop. One sad little model. White, wall attachments, two legs and a seat. The price for this utilitarian piece of plastic? £85. Someone’s having a laugh.

Hesitantly, I interrupted the assistant from her Hello! magazine again to ask what other colours they came in. The blank look on her face was my answer. Back at home, I searched the internet for modern, fun aids. You’ve got to look long and hard. I found cool crutches, funky wheelchairs and loads of brilliant walking sticks but struggled to find semi-decent home adaptations.

The heartening message is, visible aids that are seen in public have been updated – crutches, sticks. glasses, wheelchairs (but at a price). At home, however, where most of us probably spend the majority of our time, the manufacturers have helpfully recreated that hospital vibe, as if you need reminding that yes, you are disabled.

Disability aid design is a dusty, neglected area. I’m guessing there’s no prizes for designing a toilet chair that could actually be fun as well as functional. Perhaps in the shape of a throne, or a racing car? Or stair-lifts that might fitted neatly into a home, rather than looking and sounding like a clunky, depressing piece of functional machinery.

I used to know a young man with a severe disability. He hated having to use a urine bottle at night and  told me he wanted one that wasn’t so depressing looking – something brightly coloured, or designed to look like a bottle of beer. Something, anything rather than what he had. Not too much to ask?

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16 thoughts on “A World Drained of Colour

  1. Julie says:

    I know what you mean! My local disability aid shops are dark, dreary and depressing. They are also pretty untidy and dusty and I really don’t like going in them.
    My walking sticks are pink and flowery and I have replaced the beige bandage type fabric on my sock gadget with pink towelling.
    If I reach a point where I need the garage converted into an en suite bedroom (as opposed to upstairs) it is going to be bling city! Mainly red, purple and silver with an over the top dangly lightshade, oh and beads and jewels everywhere. (Can’t get away with it whilst sharing with the husband.)
    As soon as I can afford it I will be getting a mobility scooter too – and some spray paint!
    If I had a mobility shop it would be nothing like those I have been in, I am sure others must feel the same too.
    Julie x

    • stumbling in flats says:

      Hi Julie!
      I love your comment! Why oh why has no one opened up a really fresh, modern disability shop?? Surely there’s a gap in the market.
      When I was writing this blog, I looked at some forums and someone suggested using Plastikote on bathchairs, grab rails, etc. Not a bad idea!
      Colour is so important, I couldn’t live without it (you should see my house!). All these beige, drab things really depress me. Meh.

  2. Chris says:

    Hi Stumbles,

    Step out of the beige and into http://www.hewi.com

    Had a look at some of their products at Naidex.

    • stumbling in flats says:

      Hi there!
      Now that’s exactly what I’m talking about!! Beautiful design.

    • Hi,

      Natty but what is the price? So many adaptations are done on a grant by the council so stuff has got to be competitively priced.
      Another point is that so much stuff goes into institutions like hospitals and caring homes so once again £s rule.
      What is really missing is telling people about things designed for the public but are really good for the disabled. Kitchen things, lights, gardening equipment etc. There is stuff out there but you have to look. Take a look at http://www.aid4disabled.com/help-advice/ to get some ideas of what I’m talking about.
      If you have any more ideas then get in touch with me. The voice of the young disabled is really only 10 or 15 years old. Before that we were bunged into a cupboard and forgotten about. Actually I’m 58 but like to think I’m really only 28.

      • stumbling in flats says:

        Hi Patrick,
        Thank you so much for replying- this is definitely your area!
        And don’t worry, I’m *whisper* 39 going on 19….

  3. James Pagram says:

    God you can write. You really should consider taking it up as a career. Great creative writing courses at UEA……but enough of that.

    Beige is anonymous, hidden, unnoticed. I marvel at how twenty somethings of the 1960’s, the original flower generation, now wander around bedecked in beige. Butterflies to moths. Made to feel ashamed that they’re no longer Twiggy or Adam Faith lookalikes and at the mercy of high street designers who really couldn’t care less about anyone outside of the 25 – 45 year old marketing bracket. ‘Cos they’ve got the cash.

    So it goes with disability design; no money so no product. It’s a cycle that feeds on itself. Why risk producing something exciting when you have a proven seller in grey? It’s precisely posts such as yours which may make designers rethink things.

    • stumbling in flats says:

      Hi James,
      That was a lovely comment to wake up to this morning – thank you!
      Your point is excellent – what has happened to the colourful teenagers of the 60’s?? Why do they all wear beige? It’s got to be the least flattering ‘colour’. I hope they find their protesting spirit again and refuse to stand for the rubbish that is manufactured and passed off as highly-priced ‘independence’ aids. Meh.

      • I SO agree with Chris; you are a marvelous writer. I’d buy your book in an instant!! Loved this post.

        • For the love of Pete. I meant JAMES. I so agree with JAMES. Although I’m sure I agree with Chris too on something or other. (I was thinking how I like that Chris calls you Stumbles; hence, the name confusion.) (Plus, it’s 7:30…getting close to bed time!)

          • stumbling in flats says:

            Bless! That old cog fog friend. I do like the name Stumbles too, very cute.

        • stumbling in flats says:

          Thank you! That’d be two books sold 🙂 Wish it were so easy to write my uni essays!

  4. Sally says:

    Know what you mean about the prices. I was looking for a plastic stool for the shower in a bathroom shop. 95 euro they wanted. IT’S PLASTIC!!!!! Instead found a perfectly adequate one in he Belgian equivalent of B and Q for 8 euro. Hasn’t collapsed yet. Ps relied to your andy Murray tweet and in my excitement at posting my first tweet posted it twice duh! May hold of on more tweets for a wee while yet. 🙂

    • stumbling in flats says:

      Hi Sally!
      Welcome to Twitter – it’s fab. Just followed you.
      Know what you mean about sourcing cheaper stuff. Ikea’s pretty good for plastic things. These disabled shops are on a different planet with their random pricing!

  5. Sandy says:

    Selected my stairlift on basis of design & no- hospital colour. Face dropped when engineer brought medical beige seat but soon changed for chocolate to match decor when stock came in.

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