Jul 11

Guylian Belgian Chocolate Cafe, Circular Quay


If you enjoy chocolate and good coffee, this is a must-visit. It is located at Shop 10, Opera Quays, so the view, as you’d expect, is wonderful. You can sit indoors or outside. With a group, I’ve always preferred outside, but there’s good circulation space inside too and a number of smaller tables if you’re sitting alone. The entry, like most shops in the Opera Quays, is flat.

While the primary food served is sweet, especially chocolate, you can also have a light meal including salads, ciabatta and savory pastries. They serve an incredible Dark Chocolate Milkshake ($9) which is truly to die for. The coffee is good too, mild, but very drinkable, and the cappuccino is served at the right temperature. And the sprinkle of Guylian Chocolate on top certainly helps.

The accessible bathroom is excellent, with good circulation space and sufficient room under the sink to really get under. Everything is easy to reach, the door locks simply and there’s even pleasant music piped in. Circular Quay and the Opera House precinct is really lacking accessible bathroom facilities. For the price of a coffee or great milkshake, this cafe offers an excellent addition.

It’s highly recommended.

Feb 11

Guylian Belgian Chocolate Cafe, Opera Quays

If you enjoy chocolate and good coffee, this place is a must-visit. It is located at Shop 10, Opera Quays, so the view, as you’d expect, is wonderful. You can sit indoors or outside. With a group, I’ve always preferred outside, but there’s good circulation space inside too and a number of smaller tables if you’re sitting alone.

While the primary foods served are sweet — chocolate, cakes and desserts — you can also have a light meal, a beer, glass of wine or champagne. They also serve a full breakfast. The incredible Dark Chocolate Milkshake ($9) is truly to die for.

Access is no issue inside or out. Everything is flat, and there is an excellent accessible toilet inside (no key required), just to the left of the main service area. Given the dearth of accessible toilets around Circular Quay and the Opera House, this one is worth remembering.

Given the location, it’s no surprise that nothing comes cheap in this cafe. However, it’s a special place to take visitors to Sydney, before or after a show at The Opera House, or if you just feel like some decadence with your coffee.

Feb 11

iThink, therefore … iPad

As a person who can’t speak, I use many other strategies to communicate. Mostly, this involves technology. I love technology, and my lack of voice has given me an excuse to try everything I can get my hands on over the last few years. I’ve been meaning to write up a summary for ages. So here it is…

The tool I use most is just the word processing package Pages on the iPad. While obviously it’s not designed as any sort of therapeutic tool, it works so well I now use it every day. In most scenarios, I just show the person I’m speaking to the text I’ve typed. In large groups, or in meetings, I usually nominate someone as my ‘reader’ and hand the device to them when I want to make a contribution. (Though it’s worth saying, the job of reader has some skill attached. Some people insist on ‘interpreting’ what I type. And it’s a rare reader who can pick up the emphasis I want — no matter how much italics, bold or how many asterisks I use.) Previously I used Word on the laptop in the same way.

The choice between devices is interesting. Personally, I’m preferring the iPad to any other device I’ve used, though others had advantages too. My laptop was good when I used Word 2003, because I could choose to either show the text, or Word had a text-to-speech function so you could just press play and it would say it. That was a very nice option to have, and the iPad has no such function. (Though Word 2007 dropped that function. Go figure.) There was also an Australian accented voice for the notebook, whereas with the iPad you can only choose US or British accents so far. The beauty of the iPad is that you can operate it entirely with one finger. There’s no mouse to master, there are no combination keys to press and best of all, it is ‘instant on’ (that is, you just press the home button and it is on. No slow start up). The iPad is also easy to pass around and of course the battery lasts all day.

There are a number of tools that actually speak the words for you and they break down into two groups – text-to-speech (where you type in the exact words to say) and symbol-based tools (where you use pre-set symbols to make up sentences, or define your own commonly-used phrases). Personally, I’ve always preferred the text-to-speech tools because they allow more nuanced conversation. Symbol-based tools are quite good for making requests, but less so for conversations. On a laptop, the best of the text-to-speech tools are TextAloud and NextUp Talker (more sophisticated). Both are available with an incredible range of natural voices, including the Australian accent I mentioned above, which is called Lee. All are Windows only. For the Mac, the best I’ve seen is called GhostReader.

For the iPad, there are quite limited text-to-speech options. There is an expensive app called EZSpeechPro ($229), but the main one I use is called Speak it! Both have only American and/or British voices. The best of the symbol-based tools I’ve found for the iPad is called Auto Verbal. Again, it only has an American accent but it’s simple, cheap and useable. You can also save phrases you regularly use and they are available with a single tap. There are some very expensive and sophisticated symbol-based packages for both the iPad and laptop (an example is Proloquo2Go – $239) but, to me, they don’t offer more than the combination of a simple tool and a word processor.

I’ve also found that text-to-speech works well in some situations and less well in others. In formal meetings and presentations, and especially on conference calls and phone calls, I find text-to-speech a great tool. For example, when I need to speak to a bank on the phone, they won’t accept someone speaking for you. But they will accept text-to-speech. The thing is, you need to plan in advance or least warn the listener they will need to wait while you type your answer. Text-to-speech tools read exactly what you type, so if you make typos, that’s what they read. Whereas when I’m just showing the words I’ve typed I can type away flat out and just let the typos go uncorrected.

My feeling is that, on balance, the iPad currently offers the best range of functions for a user. For anyone with limited hand functions, especially, it is just so simple to use. Because most apps are so cheap, you can afford to get a number of the different text-to-speech and symbol-based apps and just try them out. Whereas on the laptop that would cost several hundred dollars.

Nov 10

Redbrow Garden Bed & Breakfast, Canberra

We try quite a few accessible accommodation options each year. Many work better than we expect. Some don’t.

We had searched long and hard for the right option in Canberra. Surprisingly, for a city with so many visitors and with so many accessible venues, good accessible accommodation is lacking. Most major hotels have a room or two available with suitable modifications. But we travel as a family, and what we really want is an apartment with a small kitchenette, and a maybe one or two bedrooms. Despite all the short-term apartment options in Canberra, I’ve yet to find one that is ideal.

With that dearth of options as a backdrop, we decided to try Redbrow Garden. Redbrow Garden is a B & B located on the outskirts of Canberra, between the suburb of Hall and the town of Murrumbateman. It only takes about 20 minutes to reach the centre of the city. Accommodation consists of four modern, individual en-suite rooms. There is also a three-bedroom garden guesthouse available. One of the on-suite rooms has wheelchair access and a modified bathroom.

The accessible room has a lovely outlook and is very pretty. The bathroom is also well designed. Bars are well located for both the toilet and shower. The floor is also well thought out — it’s an interesting concrete/pebble mix that is quite non-slip, even when wet.

Another interesting enhancement is that the shower is in fact two showers — one at either end of the wet area. It’s the first accessible shower I’ve seen that lets you shower with a friend!

A well-designed bathroom

However, there are also downsides. For me at least, the bed was much too high. At nearly 70cm, I simply could not get in. That made for an uncomfortable night sleeping in my chair.

Outside the room, there are some problems too. The car park is covered with large pebbles, which are attractive, but almost impassible in a wheelchair. When we tried to unload my chair became bogged in the pebbles and would not move. I had to transfer to my spare chair to get out of the bog. It was a difficult late night move, and I wouldn’t like to repeat it.

Additionally, the entry to the breakfast room is rather tricky, with a narrow sliding door and a sizeable door frame to navigate.

There’s no doubt Redbrow Garden is a lovely place. It’s a uniquely natural, small, family-owned rural retreat where the focus is on country hospitality.  It is surrounded by a delightful rural garden. Canberra’s well known cool climate wineries and gourmet eateries are also very nearby.

Redbrow Garden

Hosts David and Elisabeth Judge should be congratulated for trying to make their facility useable by wheelchair users. Unfortunately, not everything works and wheelchair-users would be well-advised to consider their needs and perhaps make arrangements to inspect before making a booking.

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