Thursday, May 01, 2014
Could everyone please stop glaring at the people who support me?
No, seriously, knock it off. The people who support me, which encompasses friends, family, and paid employees, are absolutely invaluable to me. They increase my quality of life more than I could ever describe.
Yet all too often, when we are out in public, they are subjected to tutting, glaring, and occasionally verbal abuse. They're sick of it. So I have to put myself in the way of it. I'm sick of having to do that.
The Battle Of The Blue Badge
We're out and about. We've parked, legally and legitimately, in an accessible parking spot for blue badge holders. My blue badge is correctly displayed.
Half an hour later, we're not going home yet, but one of us needs something we've left in the car - a jacket, an umbrella, a bottle of sun cream. Or maybe we've purchased something that's a bit too bulky to carry around all day that we want to lock in the car while we continue shopping.
Fatigue is a big part of my illness. An extra few hundred metres to the car and back can make a significant difference to me. Especially if to a person using the stairs it's only fifty metres. It should be possible for me to ask my non-disabled companion to nip back to the car while I use the opportunity to sit quietly for a few minutes and gather my spoons. That would be the sensible thing, right?
Instead, I end up going with them so that the visibility of my wheelchair provides a force field to protect them from the hostility of the self-appointed parking police who believe they can assess disability and determine legitimate blue badge use at a single glance.
No companion of mine has ever reported any trouble from an actual parking attendant.
Drive-By Training Sessions
Since I got the power-assisted wheels of awesomeness, I've really developed a taste for independent mobility. I know, these wacky concepts some people are into. The rule, therefore, is: unless I am losing consciousness, or I am oblivious to an imminent danger, or I have specifically requested that you do so, it is never okay to take hold of me or my wheelchair. It's pretty much the same rule that applies to physically grasping anyone to take control of their movement.
I can go up hills. I go more slowly than I do on the flat, but the wheels do the work. Sometimes passers-by ask me if I'd like any help, and - as long as they believe me when I say No Thank You - that's okay.
What's not okay is when they stare pointedly at my companion while saying "someone should be helping her," or worse, "you should be ashamed, letting her struggle like that."
On one occasion it got so bad that the friend who was with me asked for permission to just put their hands on the handles of my chair lest they be fried alive by the laser-beam eyeballs of a particularly indignant stranger. I refused - I will not reinforce the false prejudices of others by pretending to be more helpless than I am - and to my friend's credit, they respected my refusal.
It did impact the mood of the afternoon, though. If we'd been walking at that pace, no one would have batted an eyelid and we'd have been free to enjoy ourselves without intervention.
Dominion Of The Golden Throne
Yeah, you knew this was going to crop up. The accessible loo.
My companion waits outside while I'm doing what one does. The locks and indicators on the doors of accessible loos are notoriously unpredictable, so sometimes I'll ask them to let any other would-be widdlers wanting to go in know that it's occupied.
And this is the one where disabled people themselves are the prime offenders. From the other side of the door I hear them refusing to listen to my companion's explanation, barging past, rattling the handle, and launching into a rant about the facilities being for disabled people only - a statement which also includes a lot of assumptions about the "disability status" of my companion. On a less dramatic and more frequent level, there's the people who position themselves to block my exit from (and my companion's potential entry to) the cubicle. As a rule, they have the good grace to blush and get out of the way when they deduce from my wheelchair that oh, I am disabled, and maybe this person was just waiting for me, and oh gosh, what if I'd opened the door because I needed them to come help me, oops... but that doesn't help. It just makes me thankful that my wheelchair, as well as being a mobility aid, is a symbol. It makes me worry that one day when I'm walking with my stick, which has less symbolic impact, the situation won't be defused as efficiently. It makes me scared for the various people I know with leg or back impairments who can stand and walk quite well unaided but need a fixed handle to safely manage to sit down.
Situations like these make me upset that yet another everyday non-event has been turned into a battleground, and guilty that I have exposed my friend or employee to abuse, and powerless because I feel fairly certain it'll happen again.
Again and again, the barrier that is hardest to knock down is the attitudes of other people, and our own. Even when I have privileges like the blue badge, equipment like the wheels, accessible facilities like the loos, accessible environments with step-free ramped routes, and appropriate human support - the issue of disablist attitudes remains, and impacts negatively on me and on the people around me.
This is the barrier that Blogging Against Disablism seeks to overcome.
If you haven't already, please visit Diary Of A Goldfish to read more posts.