Handy things


GBS has left me with weak and impaired grip in both hands. My fingers and thumbs have impaired movement. When it comes to cooking and eating what I can hold and manipulate with ease and comfort is limited. 

Sometimes there is nothing worse than having to buy an obvious disability aid because it screams disability as a constant reminder and is a signal to observers. I have a thick-handled spoon that does that. I haven’t been able to find an alternative spoon design. And sometimes there simply isn’t any option but a specialised disability aid.

Most kitchen and dining equipment can’t be modified away from being what they are. I found this with frying pans where the only thing I could do was be careful about the shape of the handle. I recently bought a small frying pan with a handle that was too smooth and round for my grip. I couldn’t tilt it to transfer the contents while it was hot.

I also learnt this lesson when my housemate bought a new electric kettle with a handle that arched over the top. The old kettle had a side handle I could grip. Now I have to tilt the new kettle from the edge of the sink to fill my mug. I can live with that work around, but it will probably have to have an accident so I can replace it with a side handled model.

Over the years I have been acquiring regular things that suit my accessibility needs to a high degree. Below are a few favourites. 

If you don’t have a personal need, you may know others who do.

Victorinox 11cm serrated steak knives

I bought these knives before GBS. I haven’t used a regular knife since. The handles are thicker than regular knives and are made from some kind of plastic that gives a non-slip grip. The blade has some give that I didn’t value until I tried a regular knife. The knives I have are well over 15 years old and still cut better than a regular knife.

I have tried regular knives, including regular thick-handled steak knives, but none meet my needs the way the Victorinox knives do. Interestingly, thick-handled steak knives don’t work for me the way the thick-handled spoon does. The grip is different.

Ultra-light titanium plate from Alton

This is a 22cm wide and 2.8 cm deep plate that weighs only 132g. I struggle to hold a ceramic dinner plate or those confounded wide bowl-like plates that are popular. Its bad enough trying to carry one empty but is seriously risky with food in it.

This titanium plate is a little smaller than I’d like for an all-purpose plate, but it still meets 90% of my needs. It’s so light I can carry it with a decent amount of food on it with no worries.

The plate isn’t cheap at $49.99, but its unbreakable and its ease of use because of its weight make that money well spent.

Double wall titanium bowl

I found one on Amazon. There were several designed for camping with widths between 12.5cm [Boundless Voyage $36.00] and 14cm [EPIgas $46.27]. There is a Snow Peak bowl with seems to be somewhat larger, but the size isn’t stated. The price [$84.54] is the main hint that it may be wider and deeper. 

The bowl is very light, and the double wall insulates from heat and cold. I decide the cost was worth it to have a bowl that was easy to carry when loaded, easy to hold, and unbreakable. The texture, too, reduces the risk of slipping from the hand.

Ultra-light cutting board from Alton

Cutting board come in all shapes, sizes and weights. Because I have to sit on a chair in the kitchen, I am often reduced to putting a cutting board on my knee. My housemate prefers cutting boards that are thick or have stubby legs. Reaching the bench top from my chair comfortably means even an extra cm can be a problem. 

The Alton cutting boards are made from food grade HDPE and come in 2 sizes – 21cm x 14 cm and 29cm x 21cm. They are at the most 2mm thick. I bought the larger one. It is stiff but not rigid. It is fine on my lap for a lot of things short of vigorous cutting and chopping. A rigid board is needed for that.


Impaired grip and manual dexterity are a pain in the butt. It is astonishing how many things are difficult to access or use without some kind of tool or an alternative design. I have written earlier about my climbers’ knife which is my primary accessibility tool.

Some regular things are great accessibility aids because they are designed to solve functional problems. Like the way my climbers’ knife’s is designed to be opened wearing gloves and hence is kinder to impaired fingers, camping food preparation and dining equipment address weight and robustness issues that can be translated into serving the needs of people with disability.

We must remember that activities that require significant ability create tools that also serve the needs of people with disability. They are often designed for ease of use under less-than-ideal conditions. There is a good feeling that comes from using a well-crafted ability-based tool or utensil that meets the needs of a person with disability – as opposed to relying on disability specific aids. I can live happier if all I need is only one thick-handled spoon.

Go for good design first. We must learn to think in terms of universal and inclusive design when we evaluate how useful something is. This is an ongoing opportunity. After buying the frying pan, I became more conscious about the shape and texture of handles – and now, of course, the position.

Also, let’s not think that just because a person has a disability the solution to their need for access or inclusion is an adjustment or an aid. It might just be better, more inclusive, design.

Disability and fair recruitment practice


In a couple of earlier posts, I explored what can go wrong and right in a job interview when the candidate experiences anxiety. I looked at the ridiculous ‘pressure test’ scenario of having 15-20 minutes to prepare responses to 4-6 questions.

I entirely get the heroic game-playing types who laugh at the sensitivity of candidates who don’t handle interview processes well. I am one of those folks who don’t do interviews at all well. The derisive observation “If you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen” has been employed as a justification way too often. But job interviews are not a game or a competition testing for attributes not related to the role. 

This dismissive attitude has a fatal flaw as an argument. Most roles don’t rely upon this pressure scenario. In fact, they are more likely to rely upon well-researched, well though through, and calmly presented evidence. There are roles and situations when rapid responses under pressure are absolutely necessary. I am not denying that. But it is not the norm in the public sector that such capacities are preferred above calm, rational, well-researched and well thought through responses.

I have been an awful candidate many times. I have gone into interviews with several pages of incoherent scribbles that represented a needlessly frantic efforts to get down what I thought I wanted to say. I don’t know why I flip out. Ninety per cent of the time I knew the role inside out. I should have been the obvious candidate. But I failed.

A large part of the problem is recruitment practices are really bad. I spent 5 years in recruitment, and I believe that competent professional recruiters are way under-valued. The NSW public sector, along with many others, uses a localised DIY approach in the mistaken notion that it cheaper. That’s debatable. A single instance of recruitment costs no more than the time the panel members put into it. But the cost of the consequences of not getting the best candidate is not assessed. Some readers will instantly understand this.

I want this out of the way because what I want to argue here isn’t about making recruitment better, only fairer – and even then, to an uncertain degree. I spent 5 years in recruitment decades ago. It was awful then, and I have seen little improvement since. There are good reasons why this is so – and none of them give any hope things will get significantly better. We have incremental improvements, for which we must be grateful. Over time they will add up to a fairer system for people with disability.

The Interview from hell

A friend awakened me to the madness of the current practice. He went for a job that you’d have thought was written for him. To look at his CV you’d probably offered him the job on the spot. But the interview had several problems. The first was that the questions were very poorly crafted. All had two response demands, except one, which had three. Let’s figure this. There were 6 questions which had 13 response demands. 

My friend had 20 minutes to read the questions and prepare his responses. that’s a shade over 1.5 minutes to read, analyse and develop a response to each response element. Seriously? Yes. 

He has a diagnosed ‘high functioning’ anxiety. He can’t fairly be expected to deliver a measured response to the questions under that time stress. He isn’t stressed in his performance in his role. In fact, he is highly regarded. But he went to pieces in the interview.

He raised an interesting question when we reviewed his experience. Why was it necessary to create such a stressful environment at an interview? It was a perfectly rational question. I had no answer in defence of business as usual. It had been a long time since I had bothered to think about recruitment practices at a deep critical level. I had gone 2 decades and through at least 10 different roles without having to compete. I had competed for, and failed to get, three roles in that time, but none were critical to me.

A lot of people interview badly, including many highly talented folks. A big reason is the stress generated by the interview question preparation stage, and then being quizzed by panel members who plainly are not experienced in recruitment. In recent years I have been a ‘independent’ with disability on panels run in copybook professional ways by convenors of impressive skill.

A rational approach to recruitment – toward a fairer opportunity.

Recruitment is hard to do well. In my recruitment days I discovered just how challenging it is. Getting the right person for a job can be tricky. In the private sector you can take more flexible and innovative approaches. In the public sector there must be a uniform approach that gives everyone an equal chance. At least that’s the theory. The reality is often very different.

Having a standard recruitment method might work well if interview panel members were assuredly skilled at the job. This is rarely the case. Being on a recruitment panel should be a skilled role. But mostly it’s a DIY affair with a hit and miss outcome.

For a candidate with disability this means that are several potential pitfalls – the pressure test scenario of being given interview questions just before the interview, interview questions that may be poorly designed and a panel which may be biased as well as inept in assessing candidate suitability.

Ideally recruitment panels would be specialists with the required skills, but that’s not going to happen because of the cost. Consequently, we must think about what can be done at a realistic level.

I want to focus on the benefit of ensuring questions are provided at least 3 days ahead of the interview – but for everybody, not just the candidate with disability. Why?

Getting the questions ahead of time addresses issues for candidates with a range of disabilities – but it also confers an advantage. There’s time to research the response and to craft a well-organised response. But there is no good reason to address an issue and give an unfair and unintended advantage at the same time. If everyone gets the questions ahead of the interview the problem is solved. The issues have been addressed and no advantage has been given. 

Okay? Apparently not.

The rule of unreason

I think most people with disability will agree that seeking fair access to an opportunity to do their best should not include being given an advantage.

I though this idea was worth sharing, so I wrote to the NSW Premier about it. A week or so later I had a reply from the NSW Public Service Commission nixing the idea. The gist of the letter was that if everyone got interview questions 3 days in advance that would be a problem. But if candidates with disability did, that would be an ‘adjustment’. There are several problems with this.

The first is that an ‘adjustment’ is necessary only when a situation or practice is not inclusive. It’s a ‘fix’ while the non-inclusive matter is made inclusive. The goal is inclusivity, not the provision of work arounds. So often an adjustment turns out to have universal benefits. A ramp put in for a wheelchair user benefits anybody unable to use stairs.

If we see the interview question pressure test as stairs, we can see the getting the questions 3 days in advance is like a ramp. You can still cram your interview prep into 20 minutes if you wish. Not everyone can, but all can get to the same destination.

The reality is that many people who would not identify as having a disability are equally disadvantaged by the pressure test situation. This includes those who wish not to say they have a disability, those who experience anxiety reactions to interviews but think that’s just normal, and people experiencing stress for a variety of reasons [work related or personal causes].

The objection to this idea seems to hinge upon an assumption that the interview prep pressure test is a good thing. In fact, it confers no benefit at all and skews interview outcomes toward people who do well under such a pressure scenario – and these [as we all know] are not always the best fit for the role.

This objection is routinely raised by people who oppose making practices and environments more inclusive. This thinking includes assuming that being obliged to ask for an adjustment is an adequate response to a non-inclusive situation. 


There’s a lot of work to be done to make recruitment processes fair. The fact that a candidate can ask for an adjustment is a genuine advance. But it draws attention to disability, which can trigger biases and misconceptions. This is certainly the case with psycho-social disabilities which have no impact of job performance.

An inclusive practice is one which accommodates the needs and capacities of most people [I am allowing that none will be perfect]. The development of inclusive practices can and should trigger a rethink of previous business as usual practices. Resistance to changing how we think and act is normal, but it’s not defensible as a sustained response – it’s just hard to do.

I invite you to grasp two take-aways:

  1. Know that you can ask to have interview questions in advance to address any aspects of your disability that impede your ability to perform in an interview prep pressure test.
  2. Campaign to make it the standard practice for all candidates – so everyone benefits. This is the ‘solve for one, extend to many’ principle of inclusive design. 

There are other challenges to address before recruitment practices are as inclusive ss they can be. Specialist recruiters would be my ideal. But in the public sector that’s unlikely to ever be a reality. Hence, we need to look at one challenge at a time. The 3-day prep challenge is achievable and will make a critical part of the recruitment process inclusive for all.