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Campaigner Azrab’s inspiring journey

Azrab sits in his preferred chair, chatting enthusiastically to me alongside twinkly-eyed support worker, Ms Mills.

Blind, with a learning disability, diabetes, a colostomy bag and considerable anxieties, you might be forgiven for thinking good support for Azrab would be managing the rough hand he’s been dealt. Not a bit of it.

‘Just now I’m campaigning for Sheffield’s trams to wait for wheelchairs to be secured before moving off,’ he tells me, vehemently. It’s really frightening when they set off, sometimes even before the doors have closed properly behind my chair.’

Azrab is also compiling a listing of disability friendly cafes and other venues in Sheffield. ‘So many think they’re accessible but they’re really not,’ he says, ‘tables are too high or there’s no wheelchair-accessible route to the toilets, for example.

Usually the manager is grateful to have this pointed out.’ Ms Mills agrees. ‘Since supporting Azrab I’ve had my eyes opened to the realities of life in a wheelchair,’ she says, ‘It’s the little things you wouldn’t ordinarily consider – and there’s just so many of them.’

Azrab and Ms Mills, in his home adorned with Sheffield United posters.

Azrab had a difficult time before coming to Dimensions. Bullied at home by a family member, he was then walked out on by an agency staff member from his previous support provider. Left alone for 7 hours with a dangerously full colostomy bag and no means of communicating his distress, this event shaped many of his current anxieties and support priorities.

The phrase ‘choice and control’ is used so often it risks becoming a cliché. But Azrab uses both words throughout our interview. ‘I must have control over my life’, he says, ‘and I am able to make all my own choices.’

That he certainly is. Azrab determines the contents of more or less every hour of every day. What he eats. Where he goes. Who with. When. Predictablility is vital, he tells me, as he lists his precise schedule for every day of the week, a schedule he insists on his support team writing up ‘for their benefit, not mine.’

Azrab’s house reflects this. Everything is just so. It’s arranged so that everything he needs is within arm’s reach, especially his tablet computer which provides much of the connectivity he needs to regulate his life. It is spotlessly clean – Azrab knows from experience that infections and colostomy bags don’t mix well. Posters of Sheffield United (and now the world cup draw) adorn the walls. To point out that Azrab can’t really see them would be to completely miss the point.

Given Azrab’s blindness, is there an incentive to stick operational stuff on the walls to help staff? ‘No way’ says Ms Mills, ‘It’s his home. Like anybody else, Azrab knows exactly what he wants it to look and feel like. ‘We’ve had to put in a lockable medicine cabinet as there’s a lot of controlled drugs in the house – but aside from that this is the home, the staff and the life that Azrab chooses.’

The conversation reverts to campaigning. ‘I’m going to put myself forward for the Dimensions ‘Involvement Directory’ Azrab tell me. ‘And next month I’m hoping to meet big boss Steve Scown at the North Listening Forum for people Dimensions supports. Because I’m happy for myself but I want the chance to change stuff for others.’