Product review: Trabasack

Trabasack in use on a powerchairIf you watched my film “A short film about pavements” then you will have seen the tray that was on my lap during filming. That tray is called a Trabasack, and it is actually a lap-desk and a bag in one. I have been using an Original Trabasack Curve for a couple of weeks. It consists of a leather feel tray, with a cushioned rim running around it. On the other side there is a bean bag which allows it to sit comfortably on your lap. A zip allows access to the section between the two so that it can be used as a bag.

Since it has two functions, I will address them one at a time. First of all, as a bag. The zip goes nearly all the way around the Trabasack, allowing it to open all the way up if you like. There is one main compartment inside. There is a pocket with a zip on one side, but that contains the bean bag and is not usable for other storage.

Trabasack front showing zip

The actual compartment is smaller than I would like but probably as large as is practical. I was able to store a 10″ netbook computer inside, and had enough space for a few other bits and pieces. Since I am in the habit of carrying all sorts of gadgetry as well as pills and inhalers, my normal choice of bag – a messenger bag – has lots of pockets to keep everything tidy. Unfortunately the Trabasack doesn’t have that. A nice future improvement might be an elastic strap and / or a mesh pocket to keep my netbook charger cable tidy and secure my pills to the sides. Those complaints aside, the bag is perfectly adequate to carry what I need when out, such as wallet, medicines, phone, keys, and netbook.

For carrying, there are several choices. The bag has two handles and can easily carried by hand. It also comes with two long straps and two short straps, and six loops to allow the straps to be attached in various places. Using these straps it can be configured with a shoulder strap or worn as a rucksack. It can also be easily secured when using it in a wheelchair. The two short straps can be looped around the arms or frame of the chair and attached to the side rings of the bag, or a long strap can go all the way around the waist. Either way, it is very secure when used in this way, as demonstrated in my film.

A netbook on a Trabasack
A Trabasack in use holding a netbook

So what is it like as a tray? I would say pretty good. I have been using it indoors to hold my netbook (which otherwise can toast a lap inside 30 seconds) and it does a good job. The beanbag helps it mould to the shape of my lap and sit securely. I have used it both in bed and while sitting on the sofa. It’s also good for a mug of coffee or a plate. I had previously used a wooden tray for this but I always had problems with the sides of the tray digging into my arm because I don’t always have the strength to lift my arm up over the edge when picking up my mug. With the Trabasack this isn’t a problem since it doesn’t have a raised edge on the side facing the person using it. The only reservation I have in using the tray for hot drinks is that I don’t want to spill anything on it.

I actually used the Trabasack as a platform to rest my camera on while filming from my powerchair. It provided a steady surface and the raised edge helped prevent the camera from slipping off during the bumpy bits.

The Trabasack is also available as a smaller Trabasack Mini, and interestingly, both are available in the “Connect” version which has a soft velcro surface to which your possessions can be fixed by sticking velcro hook-tape to them. I didn’t go for this as I don’t really like the idea of sticking anything to my gadgets, but the option will definitely be useful to many.

Overall the Trabasack is pretty good. It’s even more handy if you are a powerchair user, and like me you end up carrying your bag on your lap. (Why don’t powerchairs have bag holders under the seat???) I initially thought that £40 was quite a steep price for it, but given that it serves two functions, and that my messenger bag cost thirty quid on it’s own, that’s actually not bad. If you need further convincing, an extra use that I have discovered for the Trabasack is that it can be used as a handy pillow if I need to take an unscheduled rest while out and only have a floor or a bench!

The Trabasack can be found on their website, at a cost of £39.99. If you’re feeling generous you could purchase it via this Amazon link which will give me some commission.

Thank you to Trabasack who provided this product for review.

Inaccessible world

After publishing my film “A short film about pavements” this morning I have already had people suggest that I should not use a wheelchair on those paths because it is not designed for them, that I should rely on family or my local church to take me to where I need to go, that I simply want the government to spend more money that we haven’t got to fix the problem, and that it is bleeding heart socialist to ask for things to be made accessible for everyone.

So what was my point with the video? What do I want?

First of all, accessible buses with low floors. This is a reasonable adaption, and in fact a legal requirement by 2015. Unfortunately it takes time to do, and my local bus companies do not think it a priority to implement on the route that goes through my town.

Secondly, I would like broken pavements to be repaired and grass, mud and hedges to be kept back from the path. I can put up with a rattly bumpy ride, but where there are holes in the ground that necessitate my 86kg wheelchair being lifted out of after getting stuck, it’s quite reasonable to ask for it to be filled in.

Thirdly, I would like dropped kerbs at corners. In three examples in my film there are corners with no dropped kerbs, some quite new. At best this is negligence, possibly incompetence. These ramps should have been built in to start with. They are not a special requirement for wheelchairs, they are also needed for baby buggies, and people that have difficulty walking, and even just skateboards and roller skates. I’m sure there are more examples. Where corners have been built without dropped kerbs, these need to be fixed. It’s not an optional extra.

Why do I want all this? If we have no money, why shouldn’t I settle for being driven to the doctor, the pharmacy, the supermarket etc by volunteers from my local church, or by family members or friends? Big Society in action?

First of all, there is no guarantee of getting a volunteer. When I make an appointment with the doctor, I can’t check if there will be someone free to take me there a week or a month ahead. I can’t be on the phone to the doctor’s receptionist and the local church at once, arranging a mutually convenient time. And I have no idea if my father will be available to drive me during the working day, a month ahead.

Then there is the fact that it should not be necessary! I have a powerchair, there are buses, there is a walking route that goes where I need to go. (And is used by other people.) I should be able to use all these things.

I don’t have a car. I am too ill to ride my motorbike. I can’t afford the taxi fare at £17 for a round trip. I can’t walk to the bus stop and then walk around town afterwards. I need to take my wheelchair with me unless I’m not walking anywhere and not standing when I get there. Admittedly, I am going to apply for Disability Living Allowance which will help towards travel costs, but DLA is to be replaced by the much harder to get Personal Independence Payments, and that is going to withdraw support from many people on the basis that disabled people no longer need so much help because everything is accessible now. Everything is NOT accessible now.

I don’t want charity. I don’t want embarrassing reliance on other people. I don’t want to have to beg for help, or to feel like I am an inconvenience, or that I am causing problems by dragging my family or friends out of work to take me to places. I should be able to go there myself. I can go there myself. If only the council and the bus company did their jobs.


A Short Film About Pavements

Two weeks ago I went out to take some photos to illustrate a blog post on accessibility  that I was working on. I took my photos, but then I took some video as well. Quite a lot of video. When I got home, the photos were useless but the video was quite interesting and so I changed my plans. Instead of a blog post with photos, I was going to create a short film.

I needed a few more scenes to create my film, and so my wife and I went out a couple of days later and recorded the rest of what we thought we would need. That night I stayed up selecting scenes and stitching it all together in iMovie on an old iMac that I have.

By the morning I had created several minutes of video that I was quite pleased with. It illustrated my point nicely, and had a nice flow to it. It was great, apart from one thing. It was appallingly bad picture quality. That was because it was all shot using a cheap digital stills camera which could only record video at 320×240, a quarter of the resolution of even low definition TV. In addition, the picture was horribly shaky and blurry.

What could I do about it? I didn’t have a better camera. My phone could also record video, but at exactly the same low quality. All was not lost, however. I was ordering a new phone that very week. By a happy coincidence, the phone that I wanted happened to include a full high definition video camera which had received rave reviews. I ordered the phone and waited in high anticipation of its delivery.

New phone in hand, we set out again to spend an afternoon filming. I had cleverly attached a car windscreen mounting kit to my powerchair and arranged it so that the phone camera had a clear shot from in that holder. We shot hours of video. I recorded pieces to camera many times over until it was right. It was repetitious and tedious. However, we eventually finished and returned home. After a brief rest (I was so worn out I couldn’t stay upright) I reviewed the footage that we had shot. It was AWFUL. Mounted on the powerchair, it was so shaky that watching it made me feel like my head was in a blender. Nevertheless, I grabbed what I could out of it and I made it into a rough approximation of the film that I wanted.

Since then we have been out filming several more times, I have spent many many hours editing the results, and there have been several preview showings. I restarted the editing several times, learnt how to use Openshot in Linux and then Movie Maker in Windows, and eventually spent a mammoth 17 hour session producing the final edit and subsequently crippling myself for two days (and more to come) from the effort.

It has all been worth it though. I have finished. And I present to you:

A Short Film About Pavements

Fear and mobility

My new power chairI have been given a power wheelchair that used to belong to my wife’s grandfather. I am very grateful to my wife’s grandmother for giving it to me. It will be very useful when I have to go to the local shops, or be somewhere where I am expected to stand around or stay on my feet a long time. It will also mean that I can go to protest rallies which I has so far been left out of. I have a problem though. I have a very large psychological barrier to actually using it.

So what is the problem stopping me using it? Put simply, fear. Fear of what people will think and say, and embarrassment at people seeing me in it. I have previously written about similar problems with using my walking stick in my blog post Embarrassed to be me, where I talked about fear of abuse as well as fear of people thinking that I use a stick to look more ill and claim extra benefits. With a chair, I have an additional fear that people will think I am trying it on because they have seen me walking. My neighbours will have seen me in various different levels of health; on my best days they have seen me stand for a couple of minutes talking, and stroll across to the car park, get on my motorbike and ride away. More often, they have seen me walk using a stick, sometimes leaning on it more heavily than others. Now, they will also see me leave the house in a chair. To people that know me it is obvious that I have a variable condition that leaves me less able to move or stay upright the more tired I am or the more pain I am in. To people that see me away from the house, I worry that they won’t understand this and will simply think that I am faking my illness to get money from the government. I also worry about abuse if I stand up from the chair for a bit – I don’t have to stay in it all the time, but some people seem to think if a person can walk at all then they should always walk.

I also have a problem using the wheelchair, and, indeed, the stick, because I tend to be stubborn about what I can do. I start out in little pain and able to stand and walk, so I insist on going out without mobility aids. It doesn’t take long for me to start falling over because of exhaustion and pain though. Sometimes I can manage more than other times, and so I can quite often be capable of walking to the village shop, perhaps with a stick, and maybe walk back again too without too much pain, but the payback afterwards is high. I should use a wheelchair in this situation because that way I won’t exhaust myself just from going out to buy milk and won’t have to spend such a long time resting to recover.

When I talked about my concerns on twitter a friend sent me a link to this blog post which summarises the problem nicely. The writer has help at home with tasks like showering and dressing, yet she tries to do these things herself anyway.

“So last Thursday, when I had to explain it all over again, I told her that I *can* do all those things, but that I had to pay a price for it. And I showed her that my wrist was dislocated because of the transfer I just made. And then she said the most wonderful thing. She said: “but if your joints dislocate when you do something, that means you can’t do it right?” And she was so right…”

The problem is that she can complete these tasks, but the result of doing so is pain or even dislocation. I can walk to the shops (sometimes!) but the result of doing so is pain and exhaustion, leaving me helpless for some time afterwards.

Today I took my new powerchair out to the local shops for the first time. It’s not far, just five minutes walk away, but it’s a big step (roll) forward in making myself use the chair. I was worried through the whole journey, worried about what people would think, but I think I am getting there. I intend to use the chair to make local trips a few more times, and then I will take it out to the protest in either Birmingham or London on the 30th. I hope I will get over my fear by then.

Related links

Embarrassed to be me

Rise in abuse of disabled people is shocking but not surprising

A new definition of being able