Rachel Riley

August 28, 2014
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The Betterlife Store – A New Approach To Shopping For Mobility Equipment?

We were rather surprised last week to see Countdown presenter, Rachel Riley, in a gleaming gold mobility scooter. We assumed that Channel 4′s premier mathematician hadn’t suddenly decided that she had a need for a mobility aid (her high heels were something of a giveaway) but was merely posing for some kind of promotion. What we couldn’t work out was why she, of all people, would have been chosen to model mobility equipment. Nothing against her, but why, with so many high profile less able bodied people around, would a spritely, young, ex-Strictly Come Dancing contestant be the go-to person for showing off new mobility wares?

Rachel Riley

Rachel Riley

Well, it turned out that she was attending the opening of Lloyds Pharmacy’s high street Betterlife store in Leeds – a new and all too rare shop which specialises in showcasing a range of new mobility products – because Betterlife Countdown. Riley had been asked along to bring some glitz to the grand opening, where she tried out – and was very nearly ‘out-glitzed’ by – a golden mobility scooter, a very bling Swarovski bedazzled crutch and many other products and features from the new shop. She may not be less able but she was able to bring an element of publicity and pizzazz to proceedings, which can only be a good thing because this may be a shop worth taking notice of.

Although the majority of the Betterlife range is a little more functional than the golden scooter (OK, their products actually often border on dull), it’s great to see a shop being opened where you can actually test mobility products before buying them. We’ve found that there is an ongoing problem of a lack of try before you buy options in the mobility world, with less able shoppers being forced to shop online only. This can in turn lead to purchased products not being as expected or even not fit for the purpose. It was something that our BBS Interest Panel survey found to be one of the main a causes of frustration for many less able bodied people looking to purchase mobility equipment.

In contrast, this new Betterlife store represents one of a small number and probably the finest place where you can actually see and try out mobility products. Comprising 3,229 square feet of retail space and with hundreds of product lines on display, it allows people to really get to know the items in the Betterlife range. Products are even demonstrated within in-room sets which customers can test and play in, from a fully furnished bedroom and bathroom to a multi-surface track to test mobility scooters and even a car boot to check the ease of loading products into vehicles. It’s refreshing to see a new try before you buy option, with the shop moving from online to high street, especially at a time when most other shops are going in the opposite direction.

LloydsPharmacy Betterlife store - internal

3,229sq ft of retail space

On a less positive note, we have to say again that, despite the store opening showing off the golden scooter and bling walking sticks, there are not actually very many stylish products in the Betterlife range at the moment. However, the Leeds store represents a good model on which to base future mobility outlets and product ranges. It also comes at a particularly pertinent time, hot on the heels of recent new figures released by the DWP, including the estimate that the disabled market is now worth £212 billion per year, up from £80 billion!

Hopefully, Betterlife is an example of things to come. This would seem to be the plans of the people running the company. Cormac Tobin, managing director of Celesio UK, the company of which Betterlife from LloydsPharmacy is a part, said recently that ”our vision is to make our products tangibly accessible to all across the UK, and the Yorkshire store is an important step towards providing a spread of locations for customers to find them.” It’s a vision which can all share, we just hope that the product catalogue can become a little trendier as well!

To our knowledge, in spite of its rather functional product selection, this may well be the best place for people who want to try before you buy?

August 23, 2014

The Idea Works – Unanimous Vote For Pictorial Access Descriptions By Compass directors

At a recent pitch to directors from Compass Uk the BBS product PADs (Pictorial Access Descriptions) got a unanimous vote of YES in The Idea Works Competition. All four saw the need for every venue to provide online information regarding ‘accessibility’. See founder of BBS, Fiona Jarvis ,’Pitch’ here:

PADs provide access information as a pictorial journey through a venue highlighting facilities &/or potential obstacles. The PAD is presented as an online brochure rather than a ‘cold’ health & safety document. BBS research shows that 90% of disabled people expect to see information on access on a website but only 16% ever get enough information before they venture out. In all cases any information gained is rarely trusted hence the PAD idea – a picture tells a thousand words!

Tools of Life

August 22, 2014

Hearing Aids: Time For A New Approach?

Hearing aids have been around for over a century but, as with much disability related equipment, it’s only recently that people have thought to improve how they look, as well as how they work. Throughout their long history, hearing aids have barely been adapted to become more discrete and have virtually never been thought of as objects which could potentially be stylish or attractive to look at. The only concession to the former seems to have been to make many hearing aids out of skin coloured plastic, which often leaves them looking less, rather than more, natural and suggests that hearing aids are something to be embarrassed about.

But why should they be? Even if there’s an unwanted and unenlightened, although fortunately dissipating, stigma to some forms of disability (you only need see Richard Dawkins’ recent comments to see that this is sadly still the case), a simple hearing aid should surely not be a big deal. For instance, there’s no social stigma attached to wearing glasses, which carry out an extremely similar function and have been adopted as fashion accessories in a major way (sometimes even by people who don’t need them). Surely hearing aids could and should be treated, in a similar fashion. As fashion.

Tools of Life – an art project by ethical artist Elana Langer and photographer Hanna Agar – shows how possible it is to just that and bring a new way of thinking to hearing aids. These designs make hearing aids elegant, eye catching and cool. The artists aimed to challenge the stigma and social discomfort of disability and created these really bling designs based on glamorous earrings. They do a great job of showing that hearing aids can be a fashion statement. The Tools of Life hearing aids (and walkers which a similarly bedazzled) can be available on special order from [email protected]

Tools of Life

Tools of Life

El-Egance was another idea from a few years ago which used the quite simple idea of making a pair of hearing aids look like a pair of earrings. This may be one of those “so obvious, I can’t believe nobody ever thought of it before” ideas but it hasn’t caught on quite how one may have hoped. The technology is there to make quite small hearing equipment which can be incorporated into an earring style design and worn everyday as a fashion statement, but there aren’t many hearing aids like this available to buy. Even the El-Egance model was only ever a concept.



Here’s another example of the earring to hearing aid concept. Again the principle idea was to help people who want to have a more subtle and stylish product (well, the hearing aid element is more subtle even if the earring may be anything but). Actually this design was described by its creators as “a hearing aid that never compromises on style” . We have to say that that really is a matter of personal taste, but then style always is to some degree. If you like this, you love it. If you don’t, please don’t be put off the idea of earring hearing aids.


Of course, even earrings which don’t leave massive holes in your ear lobe are not to everybody’s taste. There are a lot of people who would not like the idea of using earring hearing aids themselves. Particularly, but by no means exclusively, a large proportion of men. So perhaps statement hearing aids would need to be accompanied by something more small and subtle.

For this there are already several options. One is the Oticon Intiga - the world’s smallest fully wireless hearing solution. It sits behind the ear with an almost invisible receiver wire that even the user barely notices. Its size plus the device not having any buttons to break its lines make it almost invisible unless you’re really looking for it. You can see the scale of how small it is in the picture below (apologies for the photo being so small too).

Oticon Intiga

Oticon Intiga

There are several other tiny new hearing aids which have recently received a variety of international design awards. These are classic cases of good things coming in small packages as they have high tech workings going on within them. They include the Moxi Kiss and Starkey Halo, which can sync up with an iPhone app which gives you loads of personal control over its settings. There not quite as small as the Intiga but look sleek and stylish.

Starkey Halo

Starkey Halo

Another innovative and invisible option are Lyric hearing aids which have been described as being like contact lenses for your ears. Compared to other hearing aids, these sit much further inside the ear canal, about 4mm from the ear drum, meaning they’re completely hidden from sight. They’re a whole new approach which needs to be programmed and placed into the ear by a professional and replaced at least once every four months. That sounds like a little bit of an effort and they’re expensive at around £100 per month but they do sound quite amazing too!

The Lyric

The Lyric

There are some great new approaches going on with hearing aids. As tends to be the case, these cool new designs are more aspirational than practical for many people t this stage, due to price and availability. But we always hope that, in time, they will become more mainstream and replace the equipment available through the NHS.

We’re massive fans of the idea of fashionable hearing aids with style and confidence about them but we also love that smaller, more subtle and sleek models are being produced. Either way, both of these approaches are vast improvements for the future!


August 21, 2014

RHS Gardens Wisley – A Beautiful And Accessible Day Out

Thanks to friend of BBS, Nonna, for this helpful review of RHS Garden Wisley in Woking, Surrey – the second most popular gardens in the UK:

“I had a great day out at the RHS gardens at Wisley last week and had the opportunity to check out the facilities for wheelchair users.
The paths around the gardens are very suitable and the access to any of the inside facilities such as the shop, coffee shop and restaurant is very easy as the ramps are blended in with the outside paths and the doors are very wide.

“I enjoyed a delicious lunch in the restaurant and noticed that there were several wheelchair users doing the same. I was able to ‘check out’ the toilet facilities and felt most impressed. There were different disabled lavatories for men and women, I assume they were both equally as suitable. The doors opened automatically, the cubicle was very large with plenty of space for a wheelchair to be manoevered and there were both vertical and hoirizontal fitted grab rails in appropriate places. The members of staff were also very pleasant and helpful so the whole experience would be a very enjoyable and easy one for anyone in a wheelchair.”

It sounds like a top day out for anyone, regardless of physical ability. We had an extra little check and found more facilities are available on site for those who need them, including a hearing loop, guided tours for visually impaired visitors, three mobility scooters and twenty six manual wheelchairs.

The gardens at Wisley are absolutely stunning – especially at this time of year, so it’s worth checking out. We give them 2.5 BBS Ticks.



August 20, 2014

Weekly Wrap – Accessible Clothes & Coco Chanel, 1984 Is Here & An A List Restaurant That Caters For Disability…….

I’ve just bought the most stylish pair of easy wear trousers from the High Street……….Crepe Track Pants from Whistles no less, an elasticated waist is de rigeur. Thank goodness they’re still in fashion along with big shirts, leggings and ‘sweats’. All good if getting dressed is a nightmare.

Crepe Track Pants Whistles AW14, £115. Cheaper Joggers Are Also In Abundance At Topshop!

Crepe Track Pants (With Elastic Waist) Whistles AW14, £115. Cheaper Joggers Are Also In Abundance At Topshop!

Boyfriend Shirt From Asos £45. Good with leggings or Skinny Jeans Both Still In favour With The Fashionista

Boyfriend Shirt From Asos £45. Good with leggings or Skinny Jeans Both Still In Favour With The Fashionista

Easy to wear clothes that are fashionable – the fashion industry must have listened to Coco Chanel as she quoted in 1928……………

“Fashion has become a joke. The designers have forgotten that there are women inside the dresses. Most women dress for men and want to be admired. But they must also be able to move, to get into a car without bursting their seams! Clothes must have a natural shape.” 

Did she foresee the need for stylish clothes for people with mobility/dexterity issues??

Chanel in Jersey Suit 1928 - Ahead of Her Time

Chanel in Jersey Suit 1928 – Ahead of Her Time

Oversized Sweat from H&M £19.99. Trendy & Comfy.........Chanel Lives On!!

Oversized Sweat from H&M £19.99. Trendy & Comfy………Chanel Lives On!!

Talking about foretelling the future, I and the Musical Lieutenant went to see 1984 at The Playhouse Theatre. Access was fine as the staff were very ‘on the ball’ with the portable ramp, used to get up the 3 steps at the entrance. It was a little steep but the guy who pushed me up was strong even though he looked alarmingly ‘slight’. The wheelchair spaces are in the stalls and there’s a disabled toilet on this level along with a bar. It’s the main entrance so it can get crowded as it’s a small foyer. Luckily, you can wait outside where there’s an ample awning to protect you from the elements.

The Playhouse Theatre - Accessible With 'On The Ball' Staff

The Playhouse Theatre – Accessible With ‘On The Ball’ Staff

The play was dark, as it should be, just like the book. However, I was surprised to hear that this was no longer a book read in school as the Lieutenant asked ‘is that where the idea of Big Brother and Room 101 came from’???? It was written in 1949 and is still relevant today with references to Newspeak (shortened vocabulary or Text Messages), Air Strip One is Great Britain ( Heathrow, Gatwick etc. the world’s major airline hub), manipulation of facts by the Ministry of Truth (WMDs in Iraq), and Big Brother a party leader with divine/celebrity/cult status!! It was very well acted and staged and is certainly worth taking anyone who’s not read the book.

Big Brother's Ministry of Truth - 1984 The Play, Resonates With Modern Times.

Big Brother’s Ministry of Truth – 1984 The Play, Resonates With Modern Times.

Worshipping the cult of celebrity, I went to the Chiltern Firehouse the latest place to eat and feel part of the ‘in crowd’. A property from Hungarian hotelier Andre Balazs whose ethos is an ‘unwavering commitment to answer the core needs of every guest’ ……..he certainly did that as the staff awareness of disability and the facilities were exemplary. The chef is Nuno Mendes previously of Viajante and el Bulli; I’ve always wanted to eat his food, even though it meant I may bump into celebs like Rod Stewart or even worse Kelly Hoppen of Dragon’s Den. I needn’t have worried, no celebs were evident yet the staff treated us as if we were. The access was good and the ‘greeting’ staff ,who helped me out of the taxi, knew exactly how to get me inside with a minimum of fuss. The entrance is completely flat, even the exterior pavement, there was just a small downward incline in the floor as you entered the restaurant.

Chiltern Firehouse - A Completely Flat Entrance With Helpful Staff

Chiltern Firehouse – A Completely Flat Entrance With Helpful Staff

There are rugs/runners in the corridors but they seem well attached to the wooden floor.The disabled toilet is downstairs via a lift and is excellent, there’s even someone there to help if needed!? Luckily I had my new Track Pants so I didn’t need help getting them off!! As for the food it was really good especially the Strawberry Sundae Dessert. There’s also a very accessible courtyard and the whole place was completely full (you need to book well in advance) but there was still room for my wheelchair.

Chiltern Firehouse - Open kitchen and Plenty of Room For Wheelchairs

Chiltern Firehouse – Open kitchen & Plenty of Room For Wheelchairs

A definite 3BBS Ticks highly recommended but take a fat wallet, it’s not cheap but well worth the money for a great experience.

Off to try and foretell the future, shame I only live for the moment! See you next week after I’ve inspected the Ham Yard Hotel  and found some accessible Burlesque venues. Have  a great Bank Holiday.