Thursday, 2 August 2018

Show and tell

[Image: Michelle, a white woman with red asymmetrical hair, sits in a red garden chair leaning towards the camera. Behind her, a red chook shed can be seen and a green bush is seen to the left of frame. Her right hand is holding a clear walking stick. She wears red accessories, black cats eye glasses and a green floral vintage-inspired dress.]



You can't miss my walking stick in the picture above. It may be clear but it still stands out. It is a thing of beauty. The bubbles floating throughout the clear lucite catch the light. Pop a LED in the base and it shines like a line of fairy lights. It sparkles in the sun. And showers the ground with the dots of light. It is a little piece of magic that I carry with me every day.

It can be seen in my photos. At times it is lying on the ground beside me. It leans waiting against tables, walls and doorways. It rides in the back of my powerchair, Lucille. I lean upon it. At times, on a good day, I use it as a tiny point of balance. Just enough to stay upright. A fraction of finger resting. Other times it is tangled in my dress, my legs, between chickens and dogs. A momentary photo caught before I end up on my bum or miraculously stay upright if with tweaked muscles and jarred and subluxated joints. It begins with practical usage and ends in an incidental point in the composition.

Similarly, Lucille, my powerchair, is present in photo after photo. It's hard to take her out of frame when my legs aren't playing ball or my blood pressure so perilous that standing is just asking for a topple to the asphalt. So instead she takes me down to the port to take photos by the boats. Or down to the wetlands so I can sit in my ball gown and Christmas decoration wearing splendour, gazing out over the reeds, trees, and marshlands. Like my walking stick, her everyday practicality makes her an incidental component in my photos, just like my life.

[Image: Michelle, a white woman with asymmetrical hair sits in her red powerchair on a curved wooden boardwalk. In the background tan reeds and grey-green gum trees can be seen. A dark stormy sky is threatening. She is wearing a red velvet and taffeta ball gown, black floral boots, fishnets, multiple rows of gold Christmas baubles, and black sunglasses. She is sitting with her right leg up on a wooden rail and the left leg bent down. She is pulling on the beads with her left arm and looking to her right.]


I have included my mobility aides in photos for years now. Initially not for any particular reason other than they were there at the time. Purely incidental to the image's intent. And to an extent, this has continued. Their incidental placement frequently occurs when I am taking photos for #UpAndDressed as they allow me to stand to show off a fabulous flared skirt, or roll to a great location.

Primarily I am taking photos of my outfits. Fabulous new dress? Photo. Mix and match from my wardrobe? Photo. Vintage? Photo. But in all my mobility aides are present. As are my compression stockings, bright or patterned. Incorporated into my overall look.

[Image: Michelle, a white woman with asymmetrical red hair, is sitting in her power wheelchair in an alleyway in between photo shoots. Ivy is covering part of the wall on the left of frame, trees, building and cars can be seen in the background along with a No Entry sign and 3 people. She is sitting side on to the camera and is wearing black cats eye glasses, a vibrant glittery green top with a bow, blue velvet shorts, yellow compression stockings, and blue velvet boots. She looks tired and flushed from the heat.] 

At times I am more overt in their placement. New walking sticks or fabulously coloured compression stockings must be shared. They can be hard to find so I want to let others know. Or I am clear and direct in my message (usually prompted by an unpleasant ableist incident) that there is nothing embarrassing about using mobility and other medical aides. That these aides make life easier, not harder. That it is not these aids that confine or bind, or mark us as less, but a society that views disability as less and access as an afterthought.


But more than anything it is that they simply are. Ordinary. Workaday. Average. With the odd bit of pizazz, but at heart a tool that solves an issue. They hold no implicit judgement except that which we place upon them.

Walking stick, wheelchair or compression stockings, are analogous to a pair of glasses. 

Walking sticks, wheelchairs, crutches, and walkers help with mobility.

Compression stockings help to keep the blood or other fluids flowing in our limbs.

Glasses help us see.

The only difference is that we continue to see glasses as a normal or even fashionable accessory, while mobility aides, compression stockings and other medical aids are seen as signifying an unpalatable difference. 



I would love to see other aids styled as these glasses are in the photos from the Specsavers catalogue below. Here glasses are seen as fashionable and importantly, desirable. They don't detract from the styling, instead, they are central to it. You can pick up a pair to suit your personal style whatever that may be. Fashion designers come forward to create whole lines. And yet at their heart, they remain a medical device.

Oh, how we could change perceptions of other mobility and medical aides if they were treated in the same manner.



[Image: a magazine sits open on a bench top. One page is a full page photo of a young white woman wearing glasses with beautifully styled make up hair and accessories. On the other page are a collection of other photos displaying fashion models with sunglasses and so black text on white in the middle.]


I now have the words to explain much of my initial rejection of mobility aids and compression stockings, internalised ableism. That negative societal attitude to all things related to disability that seeps into your psyche when you're not looking. It takes up residence to let you know all the ways you are less or weak, that disability is shameful and that we are naught but a burden. We are tasked with the job to overcome and live despite. To not allow disability to define us and never give in or up. A medical perspective, common in chronic illness, that equates the use of mobility aides as failure or weakness of character, rather than a tool to increase functioning merely serves to cement the idea of failure and shame when they are needed. Most of what we are offered feels akin to carrying the bland clinical hospital with us. As is our weakness and shame don't deserve anything beyond bland greys and beige.

And where does that lead? For me and many others, it results in injury, a worsening of health, and increased isolation.

For a long time, I hated using aids. For a long time, I resisted their purchase. So much time wasted. And so much unnecessary burden added.

It's taken a long time to work my way through that narrative. In truth, it still rears its head on occasion. But I now find that those moments make me angry and more inclined to show them off. To celebrate my beautiful walking stick, to revel in the pops of red on Lucille's undercarriage, and purchase another bright pair of compression stockings.

These days my aides weave their way into my outfits. Part of the overall composition of my images. They don't hide away. And they are never cropped out. 

[Image: Michelle, a white woman with asymmetrical red hair, stands in front of a green brick wall. She is standing with a white walking stick. She wears black cats eye glasses, a red tartan dress, white with tiny black stars long sleeve sheer shirt, black sheer floral compression stockings and black ankle boots.]

When we whisper about disability and it's accoutrements the shame stays the same. If we never show ourselves to ourselves or others that shame takes root and makes it even harder to be in what is already a largely inaccessible world. When we never see possibilities beyond tired tropes and medicalised imagery, how do we change our views or the views of others?

The more we share our mobility and other medical aides without the shadows of shame, the more we care for ourselves and the more we care for others. Both those already using aides and those who will in the future. Together with the creation of our own content, we can move the narrative. Because:

We ARE 



and


There is 


and 

We are unapologetically visible. 

and we have


Choosing to be visible can be difficult at first. It can also have real consequences with regard to things like employment or relationships. But a quick check through the links above demonstrates that if you choose to be visible there is a huge community of people who have already made the choice who are there to support you and celebrate your choice. I am glad I found the community because it is they who continue to give me the confidence to tell society to suck it's negative disability narratives and just be myself.

My mobility and medical aides allow me to engage with the world. They let me go out to dinner, to a cafe, the library or the park. They let me feed my chooks and check the mail. They are both ordinary and amazing. And that is something to celebrate and share.

Michelle

I picked Madonna's Hung Up as the musical accompaniment for this post. I admire her reinvention, her staying power and her lack of fucks to give about what anyone thinks. She has always pushed boundaries and knows who she is. I remember when this came out and people mocked how she looked, ie she wasn't acting according to what people thought a woman her age should act or look like. Or when she was at the Met Gala and people were shocked that her bum was hanging out and there were cries about her being a mother and "won't somebody think of the children!" All throughout her career, she has had naysayers and detractors. Been told she was inappropriate, should be ashamed etc, and she just gives them a middle finger and keeps on being Madonna. Her self-confidence and ability to challenge the status quo is something I aspire to have one day.

Saturday, 7 July 2018

When the pickings are slim a single jumpsuit feels like a miracle. The state of accessible fashion in Australia.

[Image: two smiling women wear pastel tie-dyed jumpsuits. The dark-haired woman at the rear of the frame is standing and wears cat ears. The blond-haired woman sitting is sitting in a wheelchair. source: ASOS]

Yesterday fashion juggernaut ASOS released a two-piece waterproof jumpsuit designed in conjunction with BBC reporter, para-athlete and wheelchair user, Chloe Ball-Hopkins. The cut of the pastel tie-dye extravaganza designed specifically with wheelchair users in mind. And at £50 ($AU89.42) a midrange price point not uncommon in general fashion.

And the internet exploded.

I too was excited to see the images and to discover that the item was designed with rather than for a disabled person. Even simply seeing the item modelled on a seated body was incredibly powerful in an industry where such images are rare. As UK blogger Shona Louise pointed out in a recent piece for Scope, clothes both in advertising images and on the mannequins that fill bricks and mortar stores use standing as the default body position to display clothing. This despite that fact, not only for those of us who use wheelchairs, but non-disabled people sit at work, when out for dinner, at a cafe, the movie theatre etc. And clothing that sits well on a standing body, does not always translate to sitting well on a seated body.

But it's hard to move past the underlying current that this single item is currently so rare in the international fashion landscape that disabled people are overwhelmed with joy at a single item that non-disabled consumers have long taken for granted.

While I applaud ASOS for the creation of this item and for the earlier inclusion of disabled model Mama Cax in their activewear campaign, I am also cognisant that this is a single item in the catalogue of a brand that includes tens of thousands of items. A range similar to the recently release Tommy Adaptive line by US brand Tommy Hilfiger would be far more welcome for its clear dedication to designing for a range of disabled bodies and different style needs rather than a one-off item. As my original excitement had worn off I find myself approaching this development with cautious optimism. While I hope that this potential represents ASOS's tentative attempt to clarify if a market exists and is financially viable (understandable at a business level); I am also reminded of the track record of many companies across multiple industries who fail to follow through once the original clicks and brand enhancement dies down.

Such rarity in inclusive designs within the industry is not uncommon. While there are brands specifically designing with disabled bodies in mind, even these represent a very tiny segment of the international industry. And as a recent article in The Guardian pointed out, there are currently more clothing labels for dogs than there are for disabled people.

At present, most of the adaptive clothing product range available through the Australian market give an impression of an afterthought. Choices are limited to shapeless, uninspiring designs that fail to understand the varying style choices of disabled people. Even accessing these items independently can be fraught with gate-keepers who don't expect disabled people to be purchasing these items themselves. Having purchased medical grade compression stockings both locally and from overseas companies, many interactions are paternalistic and disheartening. Overly complicated and the underlying theme from some distributors is that personal inquiring is somehow problematic and that it is preferable for them to deal with organisations rather than those who wear the products.

Whether the industry sees the inclusion of disabled people and adaptive and inclusive design as too hard, not financially viable, or they simply cannot envision disabled people enjoying fashion and the self-expression and creative aspects of clothing, or we are simply not on their radar, the result is the same. Little to no adaptive fashionable designs in the Australian industry and little to no disabled representation in fashion media. In a world of aspirational advertising, it would seem that visibly disabled bodies are thought to not meet the brief.

As a group, we have learned to adapt available clothing to our needs. We are resigned, if not also frustrated by, poor fit, uncomfortable seams, closures that aren't fit for purpose, and frequently a lack of style. We get clothes re-cut or adjusted or simply go for comfort over any desire to express ourselves through personal style. For some members of the community, it is others who make their clothing choices. With convenience and ease, a more prominent factor in purchasing choices. A quick scan of local suppliers of adaptive clothing reveals little choice and an expectation that such clothing is only of use to older age groups. Though even that design style seems to be stuck in out-dated ideas of what constitutes fashion for an older population. In addition, when organisations have been responsible for purchasing low cost takes preeminence over every other consideration. This disconnect between the end user and the manufacturer lends itself to a perception that fashion doesn't matter to disabled people when in truth it is a lack of choice that is problematic.

I've written previously about the inclusion of disabled models and fashion that has been seen overseas and it's hard to understand why the local industry has failed to jump on this underserved, and as is demonstrated by the reaction to the latest ASOS item, a sector of the community desperate for options and willing to spend.

Recent modelling puts the international inclusive fashion market at US$278.2 billion in 2018 and expected to rise to US$325.8 billion by 2022. With local fashion brands, including well-established brands closing their doors, looking to the inclusive fashion market as an option to expand the brand and increase revenue makes financial sense. With many purchases already being made online from overseas manufacturers, well made, inclusive fashion lines, along with the well-documented loyalty of disabled communities, could potentially provide not only new local markets but the ability to tap into an international market of approximately 1 billion people.

"Coresight Research estimates that the global market for adaptive apparel, accessories and footwear will total $278.2 billion in 2018 and grow to $325.8 billion by 2022 (our estimates are conservative because the World Health Organization’s figures do not include children with disabilities under the age of 15)."

Glasgow based Vanilla Blush is an example of a fashion brand understanding that style and the practicals of adaptive fashion aren't mutually exclusive and can be profitable. The lingerie and now swimwear (soon to also include activewear) brand run by Nicola Dames creates pieces for those living with a stoma. The brand now with an 80% profit margin and annual sales of £500,000 (AU$ 894,214.61) demonstrates what is possible when a designer recognises and understands their market. Their commitment also goes beyond products on the shelf to working with UK universities to understand the psychological impact these types of items have on the psychological well-being of those who use them. Similarly, Belgian-based brand INGA Wellbeing are working with another two UK universities, London College of Fashion to understand the effect clothing has on recovery from serious illness.

Both of these companies are demonstrating a genuine commitment to the population of consumers they serve and recognise that just because an item may represent a practical need the need for fashion doesn't evaporate. Instead, it becomes innovative. It can also have a profound effect on the mental wellbeing of thse who wear these pieces.

"You don’t have to be a fashionista to know that what you wear impacts how you feel about yourself. Yet, fashion is unrepresented in contemporary psychology.' - Dr Liza Morton

New York's Open Style Lab (OSL) is a model that Australian fashion design schools could learn from and implement. Established in 2014 OSL is dedicated to the development of fashionable clothing options for disabled people. They work with disabled people, occupational therapists and engineers to develop innovative fashionable clothing designs. The group aims to increase awareness of the need for accessible clothing, equipping their community with the skills to develop accessible designs and to develop and distribute designs and technology that will increase clothing accessibility. As reported in Vogue last year OSL take a leap to liaise with their clients and understand their needs. Although the report's headline suggests that they are designed for disabled clients, the reality is that the organisation employs a clear design philosophy of with; 

“We talked a lot about the user experience, asking clients what subway line they take, how they navigate New York City, and what their day involves, to [reinforce] that design is a holistic process.” One client wanted a formal jumpsuit for her frequent dinner parties and events; another needed a tailored jacket to wear to an upcoming wedding; and two asked for rain jackets." 

Liz Jackson's piece for the New York Times, also demonstrates the potential benefits brands would have in employing and collaborating with disabled people. The opportunities for innovation and a point of difference, both of which can secure a market niche, are elements such collaboration can bring. Living in a largely inaccessible world disabled people become natural innovators as we modify existing items or create new ones to be able to undertake tasks in our lives and this also translates to the clothing we wear.

At a time when many Australian fashion labels are closing their doors surely thinking outside the established box, a look to new markets makes logical financial sense. Add in the opportunity for innovative design that would serve all sectors of the community and the potential market opportunity increases further. As the aforementioned piece by Liz Jackson mentions, many items in general use in the community began their life as an innovative disability-related product. Accessibility be it within the fashion industry or other aspects of life enhances the experience of the whole population not just the disability comunity.

The first Australian fashion brand to demonstrate a genuine commitment to the disability community will tap into a largely underserved, and as the recent ASOS experience demonstrates, willing to spend, market.

If one jumpsuit can make the international disability community so excited imagine the buzz and financial potential that a complete line of adaptive clothing could create both here in Australia but also internationally.

It's time for the industry to step up and embrace innovation and inclusive design principals. To include us from the beginning of the design process, on the cutting room floor, on the catwalk and advertising, through to ensuring accessible shop fronts and change rooms. To do less will leave the industry behind and our dollars flowing to overseas brands who are actively engaging with the disability community.

Michelle

Friday, 8 June 2018

Finding a Moment

 [Image: a woman's pink and purple-clad legs and pale feet can be seen lying on a fluoro green yoga mat on a green lawn. She is lying in a backyard and a brown brick house, hedge, white plastic chair and pot plants can be seen in the background. To the left of the mat, a clear walking stick can be seen. At the foot of the mat four chickens, two gold, one white and a large brown and gold, are moving towards the woman's toes.]


I'm up and dressed today and then I'm not. I have pushed too far and finally landed on my bum. My descent to the kitchen floor a tangible reminder that my body continues doing as it pleases. I am over it. Adrift and finding it difficult to navigate a path out from the familiar exhaustion and wave of ennui that has made its presence known repeatedly during the past 12 years of illness.

I'm not one to do New Year Resolutions but somehow I've found myself needing to just do. There's been no real thought about the doing. What shape it'll take or how long I'll keep it up. But it's happened all the same.

Summer is not my time of year. I am an Autumnal spirit and with the practicalities of my body, the milder days of golden leaves are the only time of year I feel somewhat myself. So finding a tug to motion in the midst of clear hot days left me in unfamiliar territory. On reflection perhaps that was the key.

I'm an all or nothing kind of gal. Pacing is still not my friend and I often find myself taking photos in the morning and in bed by mid-afternoon, sore from exercise and connecting my left bum cheek to my thankfully cleaned-yesterday tiles. I have been getting #upanddressed more often than not. Spurred on by participating in a Shop Your Wardrobe project, #syw18. And I have been doing yoga every morning as part of Yoga with Adriene's 30 Day Yoga Program: Truth.

I get up, slug down coffee and meds, and try to find a spot in the backyard where there is a patch of shade and less chook poo (free-ranging your chickens has a downside). I smother myself with Bushman's in the hope of keeping the Australian Summer fly invasion at bay and lay down on my beaten old yoga mat.

And now I find I've made it to day 30 doing as much of the program as I can and lying in Child's pose when I cannot. My chooks dance around the mat. Their inquisitive noises drowning out much of the native birdsong and frequently, the voice emanating from my phone. A surprise early on, in the form of a large steaming chicken present deposited on the mat, has me leaving one eye open every time I am instructed to close my eyes and think about my breath.

This routine is more the unexpected development of a moment each day rather than a prescriptive completion of a yoga session. The 30-day program continues on whether I turn up or not. And some days I haven't. Life happens. Visitors come. After an overly eager attempt at yoga followed by making a brunch for my family I ended up a tangled mess of limbs on my bed, the rest of the day and part of the next lost to the oblivion of coma sleep. So I do or don't do depending on what is happening with fickle flesh and bone.

But I miss it. Not necessarily the cautious stretching of limbs and still awkward poses, but the moment. The part that is calling to me, leaving me itching to grab my old green mat and head out the back door headless of the state of my body, is the small patch of life outside my backdoor. I find myself concentrating on my breath and slowly relaxing and then the natural world begins to find it's way in. I often complain about the sterile world that is the housing estate in which I live. My barometer for nature is heavily skewed from years lived on the outer edges of temperate rainforest and national park. While I have no echidnas in my backyard and my heart still aches for the two-story tree ferns whose dust I once bemoaned as it found it's way through even closed windows in our rattly old house, there is still nature here.

[Image: a view of a small part of my backyard. Green hedges, grass and gum trees. Our aquaponics and blue sky. Pops of red can be seen in the firm of my umbrella and the geraniums and my yoga pants]

While I lie on the mat, eyes closed forehead to the mat, and arms outstretched I hear it all around me. The bees and multitude of other flying insects create a hum that underlies all other noise. There are large groups of birds flying overhead towards the large dam on the floodplain come cow paddocks the next street over. Red-wattle birds bathe and snap in Freyja's water bowls or sit chartering in the boughs of our neighbour's gums. Various wrens bounce delicately around the yard finding safety in the bushes along the fence line, along with the native blackbirds who enjoy the safety of tight twigs after digging in amongst my veggies. Magpies sing and crows set the chooks into fearful alarm. The cacophony of life swirls around me.

Place my mat near the small patch of the dappled shade of the gums and warmed eucalyptus swims in my nostrils while small gumnuts rain on my prostrate body. Gumnuts, natures Leggo. A body's weight focused on a knee under which a tiny wooden caltrop has made its resting place is not one I'd recommend. But the smell of the oils and the sound of the wind through the leaves are like a drug lulling me to quiescence.

And always there are my chooks. Never content to leave me alone on the mat, especially when there's a chance I may have treats tucked away somewhere between pasty skin and colourful lycra. While my toes are nibbled or the mat pecked the constant inquisitive cooing is hard to not love. They have unique personalities all of which are reflected in their interaction while I am at their level. Evie II is incredibly inquisitive. In my face attentive as I speak to her. Gloria, in her senior years, has taken a liking to my purple toes. Lola engages in drive-bys demanding treats or strutting beneath my downward dog. Little Blue and Zsa Zsa wouldn't spit on me if I was on fire and rarely come close unless there are treats which they'll deign to eat from my hand before treating me with disdain once more. Rose is oblivious. She might follow the others as they run over for an initial investigation into the possibility of treats, but if none arise she's gone back to investigating the rest of the yard or kicking my garden beds all over the lawn. And so it is each day. My feathered girl gang part and parcel of the experience.


[Image: 3 chickens can be seen at the foot of green yoga mat which has a woman's pasty feet at the end. They are all on the lawn. A brown brick house and general yard junk can be seen in the background.]

And then there's Freyja. My every present shadow who cannot understand why she can't lie on the mat. Who slowly rolls her weight onto my head as I lie in savasana. Who snuffles my face or ear while I try to concentrate on my breath. I breathe in her comforting doggy smell. My nose wrinkles at her need for a bath and breath that tells me once more that she has been hoovering chicken poo and other rancid treats, but it is familiar and calming nonetheless. My constant companion of 9 years and after last years stress and heartache I'll take every gag-inducing whiff. I can't move her heavy body with my weak arms so I endure the press of hot fur with half-hearted irritation. She has brief, seemingly uninitiated, moments of excitement that leave me pummeled with long limbs and broomstick tail. Before, energy spent, she returns to her passive encroachment on lurid green rubber.


[Image: a large merle Great Dane snoozes with her head and foot on the side of a green yoga mat. A woman's pale feet can be seen. She wears black pants and a grey top. In the background the besser blocks supporting the bottom of the aquaponics system can be seen.]

I hear the quiet Namaste from my phone and the short burst of music. I can't move. In truth, I don't want to. I want to hold the moment for as long as possible. Before the outside world encroaches and I have to engage with the day to day.




I'm trying to carry it with me. Some days are easier than others and some it's simply not possible. I sit here months later as Winter begins. Lying in the backyard is exhausting though I still try to find the moment in shorter and shorter forays. I've had a tough couple of months but the pull remains.

Now I am surrounded by ruffled chicken pom-poms who fluff and brace against the wind, and Freyja refuses to come outside for more than dinner and a pee. I add layers and mugs of steaming coffee. The buzz of insects is lost in winds filled with Southern ice and the enthusiasm of the local birdlife muted until they chatter on their way to evening roosts. Every now and then I pull out my mat and just sit. It's enough at present to simply allow the echo of the Summer ritual embrace me.



Michelle

Friday, 6 April 2018

Review: Sigvaris Doff n Donner.


[Image: Photo of the Sigvaris Doff n Donner. To the left of the photo is the fluid-filled and corrugated beige Doff n Donner 'doughnut'. To the right is the taller black and red cone part of the device. Photo source.]

This is not a sponsored post. I purchased my Sigvaris Doff n Donner from my local Access Rehabilitation Equipment store last year. They can be purchased directly from Sigvaris stores and online from most of the larger compression stocking retailers.

I would strongly suggest anyone interested in the device ask their local distributor to get one in for them to try. If possible get a Sigvaris rep familiar with the product and proficient in its use to give you a demo and instruct you on how to use it with your personal stocking. 

And to get the laughs out of the way. Yes, it looks phallic. And yes it looks suss putting the stocking on. My youngest son was giggling hysterically when he accompanied me to trial the product.




Putting on compression stockings is difficult. There is no pretending otherwise. The higher the compression the more the difficulty increases. If you have poor dexterity, weakened hands, joints that sublax or dislocate, a bad back or a host of other medical issues getting compressions stockings on and off can be problematic and exhausting.

On a personal level, I have popped finger joints, punched myself in the face, and grunted and groaned while writhing on my bed trying to put them on. I've tried various techniques and used various donners, but still somedays popping them on is simply beyond me. On occasion, my husband, Mr Grumpy, helps but as my weakened legs frequently offer little resistance it ends up more hapless Mr Bean skit as he applies a little pressure and instead of applying the stocking my whole leg moves backwards or bends up again and again, than actual effective donning.

At the end of the day I am faced with the problem of removal. While I can get the top of my thing highs rolled down to about an inch above my knee the rest frequently remains beyond me. I often hassle Mr Grumpy back into action to help in their removal while I try and grip onto something so as to not slide forward as he attempts to pull them off my legs. Yet another Mr Bean skit in the making as I move in unison with the stockings thus falling off the bed or lounge.

I spotted the Sigvaris Doff n Donner in an advertisement last year and was intrigued by the design and apparent ease of use. My local rehabilitation store ordered in the Doff n Donner for me to try out (something I recommend as it is a substantial financial investment). After a demonstration and trial, I decided to purchase the Doff n Donner and brought it home. I've had it for about 6 months now so thought it was a great time to review not only it's ease of use, but it's usefulness over time.

Product:

The Sigvaris Doff n Donner comes in two parts that can be purchased separately: A cone and the Doff n Donner (DND) itself.

The cone is made of smooth black plastic, flaring at the base and has a suction cup that allows it to fix onto a flat clean surface with a silver lever to lock it in place. There are two red strips of material extending down the cone to provide some grip to hold the stocking.

The (DND) is a squishy fluid-filled silicone "doughnut". The stocking is rolled onto the DND to both don and remove stItsngs. It's texture reminds me of some of my children's old squishy and wobbly toys.

It is suitable with "calf stockings and A-G thigh high stockings with/without grip top in all sizes and compression classes as well as open or closed toe" (Source)

Trial:

I tried the product in the store with the help and instruction of the assistant, again with a Sigvaris rep who came to the rehabilitation store and here at home now for approximately 6 months.

Results:
In Sigvaris branded products I wear a Small Long, closed toe, thigh high, in 20-30mmHg, and equivalent in other brands. It was in using these that I base my opinion regarding the product. If you use a different sized stocking or compression level you may have another experience, although as mentioned above neither size nor compression should matter.

Technique is everything with this product and will make or break its usefulness. There are a number of videos from both Sigvaris and various sellers as well as a small instructional leaflet and none of them really give enough information for the average user. Having used the product for months now all I can think is that the stockings used in the videos are of a larger size and lighter compression than what I use and/or the demonstrators have no level of disability or reduced functioning, as it is yet to be as easy as is shown in the videos.

There is simply no way that the stockings I use can be easily lifted over the DND as shown in the video below. Neither the assistant in the store nor my husband were able to manoeuvre the stocking as shown, though using a larger stocking the Sigvaris rep was more successful. The rep did give me some alternative tips which I have been using but are not covered in any of the official videos.



[Video: this instructional video from Sigvaris demonstrates how to use the Doff n Donner for both knee-high and thigh-high compression stockings.]

My stockings cling tightly to the cone and are still tight at the base when stretched over the cone. This makes them difficult to gather onto the DND. Even following the videos and watching the rep demonstrate the product (she was also lovely enough to let me video her so I could rewatch her technique at home) I still have difficulty at times. These days I can mostly get them on, but on days of weakness, or when my finger joints are particularly sublaxy I cannot use this part of the device.

However, when I do get them on the DND properly then it works a treat and it is incredibly easy to both don and remove my stockings.

Donning the stocking

The base of the cone has a suction cup that you lock in place with a small metal arm. Finding a place in my home that worked with the suction cup was difficult. It needs a very clean very smooth table top or bench to adhere properly. I note this having gone to roll the DND up and smacked myself in the face after the whole device came unstuck from my bathroom bench.

Tip: to increase adherence I wipe down the bench with a damp cloth to remove any specks of makeup, toothpaste or dust. The small amount of water also helps increase the suction. 

Placing the stocking on the cone properly is essential. The toe of the stocking needs to be firmly smoothed over the end of the cone. Take the time to smooth down the stocking over the cone, with the extra stocking bunching down around the base.

Tip: Make sure the heel of the stocking is facing you. You need to keep note of this as you roll up the stocking so you can later place it right way down as you don your stocking.

Gather the stocking up around the DND. This part is tricky with a smaller, higher strength stocking. It has taken much trial and error to get this part worked out. The DND is very mobile. This would be less problematic with a larger or low compression stocking, or a knee-high stocking. The length of the cone is perfect for a knee-high stocking, but with a thigh-high, it leaves a lot of material bunched at the base which really needs to be stretched up over the DND to be able to use the DND all the way up the thigh when donning your stocking.

Tip: make sure to tuck the top of your stocking into the inner part of the DND to make it grip as you roll it up the cone. It doesn't need much as the silicon tends to have enough friction to get it to grip with even one small section tucked in.

Once the stocking is rolled onto the DND you need to poke your fingers in push the stocking further to make the toe seam clearly out and visible. This is why it is important to know where the heel is (something I learnt the hard way early on). You should only need a little pressure to get the stocking to begin to roll over the toes and onto the foot. The fluid action of the DND allows it to flow easily over the foot, ankle and up the leg with little pressure required. While I mostly tend to bend over and feed the DND over my foot and leg I have also placed it on the floor (carpeted, you need that grip) once my toes are in and used minimal force to roll the DND over my foot and heel.

Tip: You will still need to smooth the stocking once on to ensure even compression. A pair of washing up gloves works well. Just use gentle upward strokes. Evening out your compression will also make them more comfortable to wear. 

Removing your stocking:

This part of the product is an absolute dream. You simply roll the DND back up your leg, pull down the top of the stocking down over the DND and roll. It moves like a dream down the leg. I do still find the ankle a bit tight, but I simply position my foot so the rolled DND is on the ground and pull my foot back gentle and the stocking rolls right off my foot. The stocking can then be simply unrolled from the DND.

Tip: carpet is again your friend for gripping the DND when it is at your ankle to grip as you pull your foot back. I have used it on tiles with success but carpet is much easier.

Tip: to remove the stocking from the DND I grab the toe of the stocking and shake, letting the weight of the DND help to unroll the stocking.

Tip: make sure your clothing is clear of the DND and stockings as it grabs everything. I have caught my clothes in the DND time and again.



[Video: short video of Michelle sitting at her kitchen table removing her stockings with the Doff n Donner. She wears a green and black dress and her stockings are black and white batik compression stockings from Juzo. She removes the stocking quickly and with little effort. At the end of the video, she jiggles the stocking and Doff n Donner to separate the two.]


Verdict:

The Sigvaris Doff n Donner is unlike any other donning products on the market and the unique design has many pluses.

It removes stockings like an absolute dream. I love this aspect. It means I can remove my stockings when my husband isn't home to help and anything that increases independence is a plus in my book. Given that by the end of the day my energy levels are pretty much non-existent, I'd say this product is excellent for removing my stockings.

But it also has problems.

The price. A comparison of prices from various outlets is relatively consistent with the $157 I paid here in Australia for both pieces. This is a significant outlay for users who are more likely to be on limited incomes. Like all disability-related products, cost can reduce accessibility.

While the cone is designed to be used with both knee and thigh-high stockings it feels too short for thigh-highs and the bunching of stocking material at the bottom makes it difficult to stretch up adequately onto the DND (especially on a smaller, higher compression stocking). Having also practised with a knee-high I can say that this worked really well in comparison and was far easier, ie worked as advertised. While for storage the compact size is better, perhaps a telescopic option that can extend the cone for a thigh-high might be a consideration for any future design revisions.

The suction cup relies on a completely smooth and clean surface. It doesn't maintain suction on other surfaces. Even my gloss paint coffee table was not sufficient. I was left with my bathroom bench as the only place in my house I could achieve suction, which can be problematic on the days when I am unable to stand.

While I use the DND regularly to remove my stockings, I do find myself not bothering with the cone and DND to don my stockings when it doesn't work the first time around. I simply don't have the energy or patience to try it over and over on the days that I can't get the right grip from the start. The nature of my home is that I am unable to leave the cone set up, meaning I have to get it out and set it up and take it down every time it is used. And while this may seem a very small step, it can be a step too far on a particularly low energy, low strength day.

Even after all this time I have only been able to really position things enough to use the DND to just over my knee after which I simply manoeuver the lower compression material up to its correct position on my thigh (stockings provided graded compression which is strongest at the ankle and decreases as the material goes up the leg). This can be problematic. While getting a stocking over the ankle is frequently the most difficult area, many patients will require the DND to work all the way up the thigh as they are unable to pull the stockings up that far, especially if they wish to don them independently.

Like many disability devices, this product seems more targeted to non-disabled carers and all the instructional or product videos are shown by demonstrators who have no visible disability. It often seems that there is an expectation that those requiring compression garments are more likely to have a carer rather than live independently. Admittedly, the product does say it is for "wearers themselves" but given my experience, and many reviews I have read, I would suggest that you still need to have a significant level of functionality to be able to use the product as demonstrated.


Personally, I want products that increase my independence.  


The Sigvaris Doff n Donner partially meets this brief. 


Since purchase, I have found a number of instructional videos of people who purchase only the DND (both pieces can be purchased separately) and use their arm to roll the stocking onto the device. This works surprisingly well. My only issue with this technique is that I am unable to hold my arm up long enough to do it well or often. But it may be an option for those with better upper arm strength.



[Video: a short demonstration video from Sigvaris using the DND portion of the device on an arm (no cone) to roll up a compression stocking.]

Would I buy the product again?


The DND potion 100% yes, being able to take my stockings off so easily is brilliant. It means I am no longer reliant on my husband to help, especially important when he is working nights and I am home alone to try and manage their removal. Having been caught out by myself with them partially and haphazardly rolled down, causing excessive painful compression, knowing I can now easily remove them by myself is a relief. This part of the product is simple and easy to use. Perfect for increasing independence.

The cone I am unsure. When it works well it is brilliant. When it doesn't it is nothing but frustration. With technique so important especially with smaller and higher compression thigh-highs the available instructional videos are useless. They simply don't reflect the reality. One on one instruction from someone experienced with their use is essential (thank you again to the Sigvaris rep who was very patient and allowed me to video her technique) otherwise the device is simply expensive frustration. I do also think some form of telescopic extension for longer stockings would increase the ease of use.

Have you used the Sigvaris Doff n Donner? I'd love to hear feedback from others.

Michelle

Sarah Vaughan's version of Shiny Stockings feels like the right musical accompaniment.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

A day in the life.

[Image: a pale brown round wooden table can be seen in the top left corner. A glass of champaign a book, The Dressmaker, sits on top of the table. Down the bottom and right of the photo a pair of bright red flat shoes, jade stockings and grey floral dress can be seen. The feet rest on a wheelchair footplate a small front wheel from the chair can also be seen.]



Demanding chickens circle my feet as I sit outside with my morning coffee. Two days ago Mr Grumpy bought cracked corn for treats and already they are hooked. Waddling feathered bodies burst from under trees and amongst the pot plants making a beeline as soon as they see my silhouette closing in on the back door. Slow awkward bending fills my hand with hard chips of sunshine yellow corn. I stumbled out today. My gait wide and shuffling. Coffee in one hand, the other held out awkwardly attempting to provide balance to my unsteady limbs whilst maintaining its grasp on the corn fragments. Flop on the chair and lose half my coffee. Chickens jostle for prime position and I lower my hand. The feeding frenzy begins and I wonder if I will have any skin or fingers left by the time the ravenous great whites finally retreat.

* * *

Negotiating the front step is always tricky. Lift high enough or risk catching. Thin wood on brick not wide enough for any thoughts of stability. Rest my bum on the left side of the door frame, my hand on the right, slide step my way down. Land with a jolt. Twisting thin concrete paths and overgrown grass await as I position my hand on the curve of my clear lucite walking stick. I pause to access our poorly placed letterbox. I negotiate the garden, the long green whiplike native that whacks my wrist, the newly piled bark chips and the ever-present spider webs. A short plea to the universe that my exploring hand won't find a furry or sleek eight-legged inhabitant. The haphazard web suggests one of the bulbous black spiders that inhabit our windowsills, but I push that to the back of my mind and think happy spider-free thoughts. Puppies and kittens. Puppies and kittens. My brief Indiana Jones moment passes as my hand emerges from our Bunnings budget black letterbox, with thankfully spider free junk mail.

* * * 


My walking stick is hooked on the chair by the front door while I balance against the wall. The junk mail tossed onto the seat. My left-hand trails along the top of the long leather lounge as I make my way to the kitchen. As it comes to the end of its purchase my right moves to the white and floral cupboard that I restored years ago. I still smile as I remember the effort that went into its new form, and a remembered image of my then teenage son and his friend who I coerced into picking it up on the side of the road to carry it up and down the hills to our old house. My hands alternate left and right, grab, rest, pause, continue. Automatic after all this time. My bum finds the strategically placed chairs throughout the house, or, on a good day, I move onwards with the heady freedom of functioning that is steadying hands on walls, tables and benchtops.

* * *

I push too far with my exercises. My attempts at pacing still undermined by the stubbornness that flows through my maternal line. Flailing of limbs on my yoga mat or grunts and swearing on the frequently cursed Pilates Reformer out the back, and I land on my bum. Slow crawl and bruised limbs get me to my bedroom. I sit down part way through the echoing two-metre distance from bed to ensuite toilet. I see it recede into the distance and slump resigned that I'll be down on the tiles for a while yet. Legs go up the wall and blood moves sluggishly back to my brain. Crawl and stumble back and forth. My legs replaced by jelly that refuses to bear my weight. At least I can get up today. The days I pour myself over the edge of the bed to crawl to the toilet not as frequent of late. *runs around touching wood*

* * *

I decide to head out of my four walls. Phone phobia swallowed as I call both event organisers and taxi company. I check Lucille's power and begin the long process to get myself together. Shower, hair, make up and dressing punctuated with lying on my bed waiting for my body to recover from each step. I walk out of my house walking stick in hand, bags flapping, and stumble to the shed as the taxi pulls up. I never go anywhere without provisions. And alone it means carrying everything and anything I might need while out. Water, meds, pacemaker card, vomit bag, the list goes on, my body's needs unpredictable. Flop into my chair and hand over control to the friendly taxi driver as he hooks my chair and me into the back of the cab. Out I go exhausted, coifed, and well medicated.

* * *

A woman comes up looking at my legs. I tense. Here we go. But she just wants to talk about my bright red flats. She loves them. Where did I get them from? Another asks about my dress. Another offers me a second glass of bubbles (she may be my favourite). I sip quietly thinking of the other times I've been approached while in my chair. The woman at the International Day of People with a Disability event last year comes to mind. The moment stored in the back of my mind still colouring my interactions.

* * *


Sitting quietly near a photo of myself and Mr Grumpy, a blurb about my disability experience underneath. It's crowded and noisy. The coffee, International Roast in big silver urns. Government issue white squat coffee cups with tiny awkward saucers cover the tables and crash to the floor as someone knocks over the precarious display. What's wrong with you? I saw your legs move? Using a wheelchair and limbs that move, incongruous to her mind. Demands of explanation. She looms overhead waiting for me to justify my use of a wheelchair. A shitty IDPwD (well, International Day of People without a Disability Patting Themselves on the Back Day) event followed by invasive questioning of my disability and my use of a wheelchair. All the memes and disbelieving social commentary wrapped up in a stranger who felt entitled to ask why I was using a wheelchair. Ambulant wheelchair users are still considered fakers. There is still the underlying judgement, sometimes overt, sometimes whispered. But it's there underlying interactions, seeping its way into my life in ways I am often unaware of until later down the track. Government and media narratives about fakers and bludgers serving to give licence to disability vigilantes who strap on a cape and march out into the world ready to spot a faker at 100 paces. It gives licence to entitled people who want and expect their inquisitiveness to be answered.

* * *

I commiserate with friends. Many of whom use multiple mobility aides depending on their need at the time and have faced similar comments. I want to say I can wipe it away, and mostly I do, but sitting with my glass of bubbles, newly signed book and friendly people I realised that I am still affected by those negative interactions. My faith in others is tarnished and I tend to expect the worst. It's often not until I see myself through the eyes of others that my confidence is shaken and at some level, I am permanently en garde. Because someone is always watching, waiting for you to slip up so they can call you out and feel awesome about themselves. Because our perceptions of disability and mobility are still so limited. If it's not visible it's not real. If it fluctuates it's not real. If you're younger it's not real. If you use a wheelchair you must be paralysed. Because these microaggressions happen every day. Day after day. And they add up and creep into your comfort zone when you're not looking. I am glad my outing was fun and filled with lovely strangers. But I begrudge that as comfortable as I am in myself, those negative interactions continue to intrude when I least expect it, especially on what should be simply enjoyable events.

* * * 

Back at home, I stumbled into the house as Mr Grumpy maneuvers Lucille off the carrier on the back of the car. I wander out to the backyard as Freyja presses her warm head under my hand hopping in step as we both move over the grass. I flop onto the lawn to talk to our chicks. Their once little yellow bodies now those of straggly yellow and brown teenagers. All attitude and noise. Our big girls are away and the little ones chirp excitedly as I open the door to their smaller day coup. My shoulder rests against the door frame and I fill my hands with their tiny warm bodies. Freyja's jealous ears pick up and by the time I move to cuddle the fourth chick she is up running at the wire to make them squark and flutter. Proudly prancing away, her goal achieved. I close up the door and she stands next to me so I can use her as a prop while I pull myself up and we both make our way to the back door. A mutual balancing act. Between her three legs and my unstable gait, I sometimes wonder how we manage so successfully.

* * *

Wall, walking stick, wheelchair, and Great Dane my mobility needs continue to vary. My days change and my body is fickle. And I find myself processing, once more, the effect that negative interactions have on me, my sense of self and how I interact with the world. But tonight Mr Grumpy pours me a glass of wine and turns on the TV. We laugh and joke and watch the fluff that is the new American Idol. I'm like a big kid telling him about my day. He listens patiently as I speak a million miles a minute not pausing for him to contribute to the conversation. I get out so rarely that my excitement is palpable. Dinner is vegemite toast cut into little kiddy pieces because he's hilarious, and the raucous chirps from the chicks echo through the house. Freyja alternates between snoring and barking in her sleep, her remaining legs running. My tweaked back is sore but bearable. And my body moulds into the couch and the tightness between my shoulder blades begins to relax. The day is done and life is good.



I love this song by Sara Watkins. It always feels restful and joyous.

Friday, 23 February 2018

Vintage #upanddressed

[Image: Michelle is sitting on a white wooden chair in front of a white door, window and wall. On the floor is a red and blue Turkish rug. She is holding her walking stick and her asymmetrical hair is tucked up to be a straight 20s-30s bob. She wears a 1930s cerise and red vintage full-length evening gown and black vintage-inspired shoes and accessories.]



There is a certain sweetness to wearing vintage. Something no modern garment can quite replicate. Some get close. But none quite match the intrinsic beauty held by vintage pieces. It’s about history and story. Some pieces I own have a provenance. I know where they came from. How they made their way from distant lands to my rural Australian rental home. Some I know little. But the attention to detail in the stitching, the adventurous mix of colours and textures, the simple beauty of hand-covered buttons, all allow me to create stories. They also bring with them a responsibility to preserve and to cherish. To share, rather than hoard away.

I have a special place in my heart for the 1920s-1930s aesthetic. The move from the constrictive garments of the earlier eras slowly giving way to bare arms and ankles, geometric lines and in turn more liberation to experiment. I love the scandals that were women showing ankles, or eating pizza in swimwear en masse, and the move away from highly exaggerated hips and rears and impossible ever shrinking waists. I love a move away from corsets that I know my current day body could never have managed. I swoon enough without the need of whalebone and ties.

I love the fabrics. Vintage velvet stirs my heart more than any other. The feel under my fingertips sends tendrils of joy through my body. The colours and the weight, all feel right to my inner style voice. A couple of years ago I bought my first 30’s full length handmade red silk velvet gown. A dream I had nurtured as a child finally coming to fruition. It was part of an estate in California that was snapped up by a South Australian collector many years ago. Speaking to the seller, I wish I had stumbled across the cache. Something that at the time was unwanted and yet filled with velvets and Czech crystals. Be still my heart. That is my idea of treasure trove. The dress reveals a craftswomanship I wish I possessed. Hand-covered buttons and delicate smocking the product of hours of fine hand stitching. Beautiful full sleeves that leave me stretching my arms out in front of a mirror repeatedly, marvelling at the construction. And my luck.



I now have bedjackets, marcasite broaches and a treasured deep-green hinged bakelite clamper bracelet amongst others. I have pieces from other eras too. Picked up at op shops and vintage sellers. But it is still the 20s and 30s that call. I spend way too much time on glorious sites such as Guermantes Vintage wishing for a Tattslotto win that would allow me to indulge in my passion. Sadly not working and constant medical bills do not seem to work with a desire for gorgeous vintage clothing. 

Recently I received a surprise gift in the mail that added to my collection. I had spotted a beautiful 1930s cerise and red floor-length gown on a local vintage site. It was love at first sight, rather like my red velvet gown, but as I lamented my lack of funds little did I know that a friend had seen my post.

A few weeks ago a package arrived. 

I opened it up to find the same cerise and red, bias cut, washed silk satin, embroidered, floor-length gown. Such kindness and thoughtfulness make the piece and the accompanying bits and pieces all the more special. I know little about the dress though the attention to detail and fine stitching suggest it was made to be treasured. I’ve looked at it hanging in pride of place in my wardrobe for a few weeks waiting for an occasion to wear it and yesterday I decided I was sick of waiting and it became part of my #upanddressed series on Instagram.

I have been frocking up at home for roughly two and a half years now, after all, who doesn’t want to wear a nice dress to sit with their chickens or lie prone under an air conditioner vent and ice packs? But I had put off popping on this piece. Vintage comes with responsibility. Wearing it can be amazing, but it is also about preservation. This piece is around 90 years old so I was conscious of making sure it wasn’t going to be damaged by wear. I wanted to do justice to whoever sat at their singer sewing machine for hours and put this piece together. I want to honour that work and the knowledge that it was once special to someone else. I like to imagine it's original owner attending a glamorous dinner or dancing the light fantastic in this dress. It is definitely fit for such an occasion.

I have been like a child waiting as the hours stretch out slowly on Christmas Eve and yesterday I decided to say bugger it and put it on. I pinned up my asymmetrical bob to be more in keeping with the era. Applied my makeup with shaky hands, and popped on some jewellery. I broke out my $8 bargain basement sale, vintage-inspired shoes and #upanddressed, vintage style.

Freyja and the chickens were suitably impressed.


[Image: Michelle is standing next to a white wooden chair in front of a white door, window and wall. On the floor is a red and blue Turkish rug. She is holding her walking stick and her asymmetrical hair is tucked up to be a straight 20s-30s bob. She wears a cerise and red vintage full-length evening gown and black vintage-inspired shoes and accessories.]

I’m so glad I did. It fits perfectly and moves like liquid. The way the fabric feels and moves makes me want to swish my hips. I did attempt to do just that and I’m sure my elegant clutching at walls and a wobbly walking stick version, could have been straight out of a 1930’s Hollywood blockbuster.


[Image: The lower half of Michelle's body can be seen in front of a white wooden chair in front of a white door, window and wall. On the floor is a red and blue Turkish rug. She is holding her walking stick and wearing a cerise and red vintage full-length evening gown and black vintage-inspired shoes and accessories.]

All in all, it was glorious.


I could have waited, but why? Why not wear it with care? Love it a second time around. Appreciate and recreate a story to match its beauty. I hammed it up in front of the camera and had fun. It was hot outside and I will have to wait for better photos in outside light when the weather cools. But I enjoyed every minute.

I am over waiting.

Being chronically ill life often feels like it is put on hold. We are in a limbo waiting for our body’s course to self-correct, waiting to feel well enough to go out, waiting for the right time to wear a dress, waiting for that special occasion. For the planets to align and the waters smooth.

I am tired of waiting.


So I’ll wear beautiful vintage pieces. I’ll take photos and pretend that I will one day own a complete Miss Fisher wardrobe.

I’ll embrace the beauty of the pieces I am lucky enough to own. 

And I’ll be grateful for thoughtful friends and whoever sat and made this dress with care all those years ago.

Michelle

Huge thanks to the lovely Carly Findlay who is such a thoughtful friend. It's such a lovely gift and I'll treasure it all the more for the thought attached to its purchase.

Update: Mr Grumpy took me out for a nice dinner so I could wear the dress. I added a red velvet jacket I found at a local op shop (thrift store) and a pair of Sigvaris compression stockings.



It's hard to believe that Judy Garland was only 14 when she recorded It's Love I'm After in 1936.