Hi again everyone. This blog is a blog of two halves! Both halves relate to a really exciting opportunity I was given to speak at the Senedd in Cardiff on 22nd January 2020; read on to discover more.
Part 1: Being an ostomate can throw many challenges at you; using public toilets – even so-called “disabled” toilets- is one of these. A story covered in the news recently highlighted the case of Amber Davies, who was treated badly after being confronted in a Wetherspoon’s restaurant regarding her frequent visits to their disabled toilets on a night out. It was clear that the staff had no clue as to why she was using the facility so often, and the situation then went horribly wrong.
I am honoured to have been approached by Respond to be part of a panel of people they have set up, alongside Pelican Healthcare, to address this issue with signage, along with the issue of waste disposal and collection that many face with their ostomy supplies. The panel consists of ostomates and students from Cardiff Metropolitan University whose aim is to educate the public about the problems that ostomates and others with ‘hidden’ disabilities face on a daily basis.
On January 8th 2020, four of the group, including myself, got together for the first time at the Senedd in Cardiff. This was for an informal meeting with Jenny Rathbone, AM for Cardiff central, to give her a brief idea of what our campaign might achieve. Once there, I found it interesting tackling the security system, knowing that the staff had recently gone through an ostomy awareness training course. After removing my belt to send it through the scanner, the lady security officer noticed my now visible ostomy wrap. I informed her that I had an ostomy and asked if she needed to check further. She said it was fine, so I was encouraged to think that Respond’s training is already having an impact in these situations.
It was great to meet up with Nicola Ingledew from Respond (who I met several years ago on a Respond swimwear photoshoot… but that’s another story) and Paul Shackson. Then we were joined by fellow ostomates Alan Jeffries, Amber Davies and Angelina Truman, we all hit it off from the beginning and we had a great day together. We met up with Jenny Rathbone AM, who was really amenable. She chatted to us about our individual stories and our reasons for taking part in this campaign. She was happy to help us in any way possible to achieve our goal.
So what is that goal? We aim to educate and raise more awareness regarding people who need access to a Disabled toilet facility on a daily basis. Some of these people have suffered verbal abuse, and even physical abuse which is totally unacceptable in my view. We want to open eyes and change opinions and perceptions. We really hope that this campaign will do just that.
I am incredibly excited for the day at the Senedd. Welsh Assembly members will be joined by representatives from businesses across Cardiff who have been invited to listen to our stories. The Cardiff students mentioned earlier will show their work for the campaign and six of us will have the chance to speak from personal experience about the issues. Hopefully, with media coverage as well, we can get this thing off to a flying start. All we want is to get on with living our lives and not to be judged.
Part 2: Wednesday 22nd January, 2020: Reflections on what was an awesome day. Wow! I would like to say that I am so incredibly proud to be part of the team that launched the #BeTheChange campaign. Mrs T and I have been able to meet up with friends old and new today and showed what belonging to this fantastic community is all about.
BUT THE IMPORTANT JOB WAS TO GET THIS NEW CAMPAIGN OFF THE GROUND. The six ostomates, myself included, who spoke about their individual stories demonstrated that there is still discrimination out there towards those of us with hidden disabilities; they made an excellent case for making disabled toilets more widely accessible. Amber Davies, Rachel Allen, David Bevan, Allan Jefferies, Angelina Truman and I felt that we gave a clear message, expertly delivered, to our captive audience.
The students from Cardiff Metropolitan University also revealed their design for a new logo to be displayed on disabled toilets to replace the current signage. They told the audience about how they came up with their idea after having followed the Crohn’s and Colitis In My Shoes App. They gained a small insight into an ostomate’s life as they had to cope with the everyday problems faced by so many people. The signage is now in the final tweaking stage, so we eagerly await the finished article we hope will be displayed around Wales.
Today has been an amazing day of raising awareness and we hope the start of a massive change. People need to be re-educated to change their attitude towards those of us in the IBD community alongside others who have hidden disabilities and illnesses. We have a massive opportunity to show the world that hidden disabilities are very real, they do exist and attitudes must change.
Thank you to all who gave us the chance to be part of this campaign – may it go from strength to strength.
You can find out more about Keith and follow his journey on his Twitter at @keiththom2014.
Thank you to all of our wonderful panel members for using your voices to raise awareness and break stigmas associated with having a stoma or invisible illnesses. We would also like to thank all the associations, charities and organisations for coming along and supporting us in our campaign.
If you would like to learn more about our #BeTheChange campaign or get involved click here.
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