Gear, Gadgets and Gizmos

Putting on the style with Fiona Jarvis

December 13, 2021
Gear, Gadgets and Gizmos
Putting on the style with Fiona Jarvis
Show Notes Transcript

Fiona worked as a sales manager, successfully selling multi-million-pound software systems yet becoming progressively more disabled. When taking clients to the latest cool restaurant or bar, she made sure that venues had the appropriate accessibility & facilities. Realising this information was of use to other disabled people, it became the basis of the website and the BBS App.

This is now her full-time occupation and passion and is ‘redefining disability with style’ and provides information on a range of issues from stylish venues (their access & facilities) to trendy equipment. She also developed BBS Galleries that displayed access information on a venue website and were awarded the EIB Social Innovation Award. BBS also won the SPARK Award from the Design Council to develop a range of stylish accessories for people who ‘have their hands full – from wheelchairs to baby buggies’. Known as the ADDITI+ON Collection, the first product being DRINK, the universal glass holder, 

More recently, she co-founded the global Blue Badge Access Awards‘Inspiring better design and Celebrating exceptional venues, Improving accessibility for all through a prestigious awards ceremony. 

 For her work in the built environment, she was awarded a Hon. Fellowship to RIBA in 2021 and her latest project helps others create ‘accessible yet stylish homes that are a ‘joy’ to live in’,  Tailored Rooms Blue Label.

Above all, she wants to encourage disabled people to go out and enjoy life, whatever their disability, whatever their style, fully armed with the additional reassurance and information they need. She doesn’t want anyone to suffer the indignity of accessing a smart restaurant through a bin room or having to use an accessible toilet in the pub next door!!!

Phil Friend  0:11  
Hello everybody, this is Phil Friend, introduce you to the latest edition of Gear, Gadgets and Gizmos. And today we have a guest, Fiona Jarvis, who I am trying to remember when I met Fiona first but it was all it was auspicious because we were doing a recording for BBC Radio Four and how illustrious was that we met in a very nice hotel restaurant area. And this is important because Fiona is going to tell you why nice hotels and nice restaurants matter. Fiona, it's really good to see you again. How are you?

Fiona Jarvis  0:50  
I'm very well, Thanks, Phil. 

Phil Friend  0:52  
Good, good, good. Well, let's kick-off, shall we by just establishing that you're a disabled woman and what's what does that mean?

Fiona Jarvis  1:01  
Um, well, I, I used to work in the city as a salesperson, I often say salesman and forget, I'm meant to be gender-neutral, but there you go. And I had to take clients out. And, you know, I couldn't take clients for lunch, when they were going to sign a multimillion-pound deal. I couldn't take them to McDonald's to make sure it was accessible. So I had to make a note of flash restaurants and bars that had accessibility for me because then I was walking with two sticks. Latterly, I'm now in a wheelchair. And so I thought, well, this information is useful for other people, I can't be the only person that wants to go to smart restaurants or bars or hotels, which led me to set up Blue Badge Style, which is a sort of a review website that has grown since 2012. When it started, which reviews venues talks about their style and beyond and then rates them on their accessibility and facilities. The facilities referred to disabled loos. So I've become known as the queen of the disabled loo more latterly because I keep writing about toilets that are inadequate or they're good.

Phil Friend  2:30  
I think it's it's, it's fair to say, isn't it, Fiona that there are a lot of I mean, there weren't when you and I started off, there were fewer of them. But there are a lot of accessibility websites run by disabled people doing all sorts of really good stuff. But what really attracted me to yours was that it was about splendour and magnificence and loveliness. It wasn't just about sort of chrome grab rails and a wide door.

Fiona Jarvis  2:59  
Exactly. And it wasn't just about you know, loads of local pizza joint down the road is accessible. It was all about the premise of it is style. Now that style does not mean expensive, it just means you have a certain style and you want to maintain it. And after all, if your body's failing, the one thing you've got left is your sense of style. You don't want to compromise on that. And that goes for as I say it started with venues it's expanded now to disability equipment, the home and you know, things to do you know, you don't always want to go and do wheelchair dancing, you might want to do something else, something that able-bodied people do, like go to the cinema or go to the theatre. So we review places like that as well.

Phil Friend  3:55  
So it's been going since 2012. So we've had 9/10 years have you seen in that time? Have you seen things improving? How have things in your view got better from a style and disability point of view? Or are you still ploughing a lonely furrow?

Fiona Jarvis  4:15  
I find his own still ploughing a lonely furrow, but I'm sure things have changed. It's just it's so slow and it's so marginal. And like you know, I feel sorry for the younger generation are also disabled a bit because their lives are so limited by the environment around them. And so limited when it comes to having trendy things to wear or trendy gadgets around the home. I mean, my one bugbear is I was once visited by local OT in my beautiful loft apartment flat. And they came in they said oh yeah, you could do with a. standing frame which, which I have got, I'll come on to that later. But she said all there's plenty of room here for all your equipment. I went I'm not putting any of that equipment in my flat what are talking about? And I once did a talk at NAIDEX I said hands up to anyone who has a room that they shove all the equipment you don't want to look at. And everybody put their hand up. You know, we've all got that room. And you don't want to look at this stuff.

Phil Friend  5:30  
In my case, it's the garage. It's all in the garage. Yeah. Okay. So. So they're you are driven to, to, to and you are driven, 'cause remember, you are very driven. It's about making style accessible. It's about making people feel wonderful, even though they've got to use a gadget of some sort. And one of the things I know and Fiona has a website, and I will leave the address on our, in our show notes for people to look at her what she's doing. But there's a piece in there. Two things hit me when I looked. One was, there's this fantastic place in Kerala in India. So I thought Blimey, she's not just doing Britain, she's jet setting all over the place. But the thing that I really appreciated looking at was the work you're doing on listed buildings. And because they're an anathema, on the one hand, we want Windsor Castle to look like Windsor Castle. But on another, we want to be able to go and see the exhibits there and go around and do that properly. And you've been working specifically I know in that area how are things there how are you doing with the old buildings that we know our country's full of

Fiona Jarvis  6:42  
the very old buildings which are listed and are tourist attractions English Heritage, who does the listing have said it's your history as well, they should be accessible. So when I call up a restaurant that happens to be in a listed building, and the person on the end of the phone says, oh, no, we haven't got a disabled toilet, because we're listed building, I say that's absolute rude words. Beginning with B. And I said, if you know if Hampton Court or Windsor Castle can be accessible for me to visit it, your restaurant can be and don't tell me that it's down to the listing it's down to economics, it's down to the fact your owners or the people who own your building, either can't be arsed or just don't have the wherewithal to do it and it really winds me up that that thing about, you know, sorry, we're a listed building is just rubbish.

Phil Friend  7:51  
And of course, you make the point which is well made by many others, but you make the point very powerfully that they're depriving themselves of our custom, which means that they depriving themselves of our money, and everybody wants our money. So there is a business case here somewhere. I know you and I've struggled over many years to get that business case argument across but it does exist and

Fiona Jarvis  8:15  
it doesn't seem to matter how much you say. It's, it's I think it's now rated at 274 billion in the UK, and 1.2 trillion worldwide. dollars that is and pounds in the UK. And it doesn't matter how eye-watering the figures are things don't change. I mean, I'm part of the Futures Committee, which is the inclusion committee on the Institute of Hospitality. And they were talking about some recently, there was a hotel owner who put in his prerequisite 10% accessible rooms, used the most basic equipment in the rooms, you know, the horrible white plastic, and then once he got his building certificate ripped them all out again. Now, where is the economic sense in that? I don't get it.

Phil Friend  9:13  
That is just well, there are one or two good news stories I do remember InterContinental Hotels were the first chain to put ceiling hoists into some of their accessible bedrooms and found they were booked solid for months ahead. So you know, we've got what's, here we go. Now there's a question I haven't. Fiona's had no chance to prepare for these questions, by the way. So I'm putting her on the spot. If you were going to if you're going to recommend where I should go for a very special anniversary meal with my partner or a family event of some sort. What would jump off the page for you Fiona what what would you recommend they've done the accessible stuff they've done everything they should have done and they look great. What what would be the

Fiona Jarvis  10:01  
Well, first of all,  I get asked that question all the time by friends, family, people writing in and my first question is, how much do you want to spend?

Phil Friend  10:12  
Okay, let's just say that I have sufficient funds. I can't go to Kerala. Somewhere in London, 

Fiona Jarvis  10:21  
Are you talking about a restaurant or a hotel or 

Phil Friend  10:24  
a restaurant, I think, 

Fiona Jarvis  10:25  
Okay, well, in London, there's a restaurant that's run by Ollie Dabbous in Piccadilly called Hide the most fantastic food, spectacular food presented in really unusual ways. And the one thing they did there, they've got a lift, which is lovely. And then the disabled loo is one of the loveliest disabled loos I've ever seen. So I recommend there they've got sort of dried flowers hanging from the ceiling, and beautiful piped music and the most beautiful smell in the disabled toilet.

Phil Friend  11:09  
Okay, so that, that sounds really, really good. So what I should do then is order my meal and eat it in the toilet. Should I is that if that's your recommendation?

Fiona Jarvis  11:24  
I mean, just in case you want to go to the loo is? 

Phil Friend  11:30  
You said something was really, really interesting that you mentioned a minute or two ago, the lift being nice. I've never thought about, you know, the design of a lift that would be attractive to use. One or two places have a nice lift.

Fiona Jarvis  11:45  
I mean, it's not that is just the number of times I've been taken up somewhere through a goods lift, surrounded by rotten food or taken via the kitchens, and not even the good part of the kitchen. The bit where the kitchen rubbish is stored. It defies belief.

Phil Friend  12:10  
And if you're in a manual wheelchair, which I think you are, aren't you? There's a danger of getting rotting veggie all over your hands as you trail your way through!

Fiona Jarvis  12:20  
No, I make sure someone's pushing me put it that way.

Phil Friend  12:24  
Okay, so, so the last getting on for 10 years of your life has been spent trying to transform the landscape for for for disabled people that have real access issues. But when we were putting this idea together of recording our conversation, you mentioned two or three things that you use that really help you but they're not necessarily high tech, I mean, they're quite. Take us take us through the two or three things that you

Fiona Jarvis  12:55  
The one thing is a crutch that I used to use. And to get into bed, I need to sort of pull myself against a grab rail on the other side of the bed. And as my spine has shortened, I can't actually reach it that easily anymore. So what I do is I use this crutch heavily banded, sorry, taped up with parcel tape, or sorry, you know, electrical tape. And it grabs the other side of the bar for me on the other side of the bed. So I pull myself in

Phil Friend  13:35  
The bit your hand goes on for crutch is it that bit that you've wrapped the? Yeah. Okay. So it makes it non slip.

Fiona Jarvis  13:44  
Yeah. And it also means it grabs the metal rail easily, more easily. But I mean, you know, the main thing is getting into bed, going to the loo and trying to reach things. So I have three grabbers. You know, there's, there's plastic grab things And I've got three of those, one in each room. Because I was fed up with sort of dropping something in the bathroom and having to go to the kitchen to go get the grabbers to pick it up.

Phil Friend  14:21  
Yeah, it's a bit like glasses, isn't it? If you don't you only really wear reading glasses. Do you want one in every room? Right? Yeah, so you got three of those, three of them? Are they different? Are they different types? Or are they all

Fiona Jarvis  14:35  
I mean, I try and find a good looking one but they're all horrible metal and plastic. If someone could design a really attractive looking grabber that would be good.  I use them sometimes to switch on power sockets that are just out of reach. So I'll use the other end of the grabbers switch on the power socket.  The other thing I have,  I said to someone a friend of mine, I don't think I've got three gadgets. And they said, you have, you've got the breezeblocks. Again, to get into bed, what happened was I bought a new bed. And I didn't realize the height of it was so different to my old bed. And I stand to transfer. And, of course, I stood to transfer and my bottom, shall we say, couldn't reach the mattress. And so I've put a breezeblock. Well, someone has put a breezeblock down for me, I had it lying around from some building work, and they put it next to my bed and it was just the right height for me to actually sit on the edge of the bed. And the only problem was, it was a bit rough on my feet. So I'm waiting to get carpet tiles to stick on top of it, although I don't know if that will work. But all I do is I put a towel wrapped around this breezeblock to get into bed is the most bizarre thing.

Phil Friend  16:16  
Well, look, that's you've just triggered a memory back in the 1970s. So I'm that old, I bought a VW Beetle. And I had hand controls put on it, obviously, because I couldn't drive using my feet. But I could use my right foot, then on the brake. But I couldn't keep my foot on the brake, it kept falling off. 

Fiona Jarvis  16:41  
Oh, dear. 

Phil Friend  16:42  
So my mum got a house brick and wrapped it in some very nice material and stuck it under the peddle and I used it for years. It was brilliant, very similar. I'd forgotten all about that. It's just interesting how disabled people find an everyday object that they then reuse in a totally different way.

Fiona Jarvis  17:03  
And this is what I say to employers, they should employ disabled people because we're the ultimate problem solvers.

Phil Friend  17:11  
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. So you want a diamonte covered pick up stick,

Fiona Jarvis  17:19  
Not diamonte I'd like it just to look a little bit better than the ones we have at the moment, always seem to be in bright colours or black and yellow. I don't know why. And I'd like a step that you could use getting into the loo where you could use on the loo. Because sometimes these toilets that I go and examine the height of them so high, my legs don't reach the floor. And again that that sort of drives me nuts. So just think, Why have they decided that the that we all need toilets, that sort of so mountainous because I understand why it's why they have them it's easier to transfer people. But we're not all being transferred, we want to transfer ourselves and most wheelchairs are similar heights. So I don't understand why we've got these ginormous disabled toilets.

Phil Friend  18:22  
Yes, I suppose there are examples of height-adjustable toilets, but they're very expensive. And they wouldn't probably, you know,  you mentioned earlier on in this conversation that, that, you know, the proprietors of these buildings and so on and a loathe to spend lots of money so they're not going to

Fiona Jarvis  18:40  
It's enough to get them to put a disabled toilet in. If you ask them to put in an adjustable one I think they'd freak out.

Phil Friend  18:47  
I think what I've seen over the years, I don't know if you agree with me Fiona, but the ability, I now use a power chair. And what that enables me to do is to elevate it to a certain height so I can reach things. It'll allow me a bit like you my standing is pretty precarious, but I can still do it. It allows me to stand up out of the chair so I can then lean against the loo if that's what I want to do. The powered wheelchair in some ways gets around some of those problems, but it because it creates others because they're big, and they're heavy. And you know,

Fiona Jarvis  19:24  
if you go somewhere, and all of a sudden they've said oh, we didn't realize we had a 10-inch step to get in.

Phil Friend  19:34  
The classic. Well, I've just been at a meeting in Birmingham for the first time since COVID. I went to a meeting physically and in the hotel, before I went they sent me photos of the wet room. And I pointed out that it wasn't much use to me given there was no seat in it. I mean, what are you supposed to do sit under it on the floor? Anyway, so we've got the pickup stick, we've got your ubiquitous walking stick, which you've changed around. So it becomes a sort of lever to pull yourself into bed with. And what was the other one it was your brick your famous breezeblock

Fiona Jarvis  20:15  
I've got to be the only person who has a breezeblock in her bedroom. 

Phil Friend  20:19  
This woman of style with a breezeblock under a bed, I mean, come on, should be a gold bar

Fiona Jarvis  20:24  
It's not under my bed  I use it as a step to get in

Phil Friend  20:29  
to get into the bed. Yeah, and I do appreciate that problem because my bed has a space under it, which really matters for when I put my feet under the bed, I can balance against the edge, you know, so sofa bed, you know, a divan, which is completely flat to the floor, I can't use this is this is brilliant. I mean, so we've got some recommendations. And listeners, you have to go and look at Fiona's website, because it's got all sorts of useful information also talks about the project she's working on. But there are some great ideas for going out for a nice evening somewhere.

Fiona Jarvis  21:09  
You know, our latest, my latest escapade or project is to actually help people design beautiful looking homes, you know, not just for now, because most people think, Oh, you're disabled, it'll just be the same forever. But a lot of disabilities change over time. And the idea is to try and future protects your home so that as things change, it will still look lovely. And you won't have to, oh, God, I can't do that anymore, I have to quickly rush out and buy a horrible white grab rail because I need that there. And the idea is to sort of have ingenious ways that you can make a home look beautiful and still accessible. So that's my latest project.

Phil Friend  22:02  
Well, that's that sounds very interesting. And, and, and much needed. You're right, you know, a grab rail is something that we might well need in our beautiful house. But unless it looks as beautiful as the house, you're not going to want to put it in are you? Okay, well, I'm going to suggest that we, I will certainly put the details of your site and what you're up to on the show notes. And what I'll do is I'll stay in touch and we'll see how you how that progresses because I think many of us why would you want to have to move simply to make the house more accessible

Fiona Jarvis  22:36  
Exactly. If you like what if you live where you live? Why do you have to move?

Phil Friend  22:43  
Yeah, exactly. Alright, Fiona? Well, look, let me say thank you very much for giving us your time and bringing us up to date actually, particularly me on what you're up to and about. And I will. I will, on behalf of our listeners, make sure that they know about your site and what's going on. And I hope they look at it and maybe end up in Kerala. were nice. 

Fiona Jarvis  23:13  
Well alright and thanks Phil

Phil Friend  23:13  
If you've got a story to tell about the gadgets that you use to overcome the barriers that your disability puts in your way, then contact me at or contact the RIDC at I look forward to hearing from you

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