Steph Derham

Steph Derham holding up her book

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I was born in the 1960’s with the neural tube defect known as Spina Bifida.  I grew up with my parents and brother in Leicester, and although much of my first years were spent in hospital, I did attend a “Normal” primary school.

By the age of 11 it was obvious that the local secondary schools couldn’t accommodate a wheelchair user and so I left home and went to a school for physically handicapped girls in Holybourne, Hampshire.  Florence Treloar, which later amalgamated with Lord Mayor Treloar College for physically Handicapped Boys.

I have three sons who are all grown up now and enjoyed a career with Leicestershire Police but perhaps the biggest achievement to date was writing about my journey and publishing it as a book. Crotch Height Perspective; It’s Just The Way It Is” is my story and journey through 6 decades as a disabled person living in a non-disabled world.  In the book I have shared my experiences and I am told I have made people laugh and cry in equal measure!

What is your experience of life as a disabled person?

As a child I didn’t realise I was disabled, I just knew that I got around a bit differently to my brother.  It only really became obvious in my last year at Primary School when I would be pushed over and laughed at in the playground.  Teased for the big metal iron callipers and clodhopper boots.

Boarding School at Treloars taught me independence and that being disabled isn’t such a bad thing.  I learnt to deal with what I have and make something out of it.  As an adult over the years I have become less and less tolerant when I think not enough has been done.

I like to think I am realistic enough to accept what can’t be done, but I do get pretty annoyed when changes that could make life easier for disabled people, isn’t done due to lack of thought or money.

How would you describe your disability?

Spina Bifida involves nerves being damaged whilst the baby is in the womb so in my case I am a permanent wheelchair user.  I hate the term wheelchair bound so that’s the best I can come up with.  In a nutshell, my legs don’t work – well not in any way that can be useful.  I have good upper body strength fortunately so can haul myself about.

What is accessibility like where you live?

Accessibility in buildings is ok in Leicester but the main problem I encounter is parking. I have a WAV which is over 2 metres high and many of the car parks in Leicester City Centre are multi storey or have barrier control which makes them unusable for me.  Street parking is few and far between even with my treasured Blue Badge.

Where is your favourite place for accessibility & why?

Anywhere where they advertise and promote that they are fully accessible and then this turns out to be true! Anywhere where I can be confident to go and know that I could cope independently.  Blagdon Farm in Devon does exactly what it says it does.  Purpose-built lodges that have been so well thought out and designed that I couldn’t find any issues at all to raise.  Cruises are my favourite types of holiday because in my experiences they really know how to look after those with disabilities.

What is one accessibility improvement that you would like to see?

Dropped kerbs are my nemesis.  I wish the councils would pay more attention to how they design crossings and pavements to make it much easier for pushing.  A dropped kerb is useless if there is still a small step.  Not all wheelchair users have electric chairs or a “pusher” To be completely independent is a massive plus and on occasions, I have had to approach a stranger to ask for a boost shove.