Part 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?