Power to the Wheels.

Want to know when the words “wheelchair access” don’t actually guarantee wheelchair access? When you use a powered wheelchair.

In all honesty I’m not certain someone would choose to use a powered wheelchair over a manual one if they didn’t have to. I’m pretty sure I don’t have to spell this out for you, but powered wheelchairs are significantly heavier, bigger, and bulkier than their manual counterparts, reducing manoeuverability. They are also far more expensive, and much harder to fix should something go awry.

Additionally, it appears to surprise some people that I’m using a powered wheelchair because I need to and not because I’m too lazy to propel myself, which is an accusation I have faced on multiple occasions. Propelling your own manual wheelchair with the addition of your body weight with muscles smaller than those in your legs is extremely hard work, and I am simply too weak and fatigued to do this, plus the cut and blistered hands and muscle strains don’t appeal either. Being pushed around by someone else in a manual wheelchair means that you can’t even go to the toilet without asking someone, and you can’t go out or do anything independently. I decided to sacrifice a little manoeuverability and money in exchange for my independence, and I do not regret that in the least.

What I dislike about using a powered wheelchair is the way companies are allowed to claim that they have full wheelchair access even if a powered wheelchair can’t be used in their facilities. I cannot count the number of taxi firms that have told me I can’t use their accessible cabs because my wheelchair is too big or cumbersome for their vehicles. On one occasion using the trains, the porter sulked at me because he wasn’t sure whether the ramp they’d provided would take my wheelchair’s size and weight, and he had to fetch another. One of the libraries at university had spaces between the shelves wide enough to take a manual wheelchair but not a powered one, although fortunately a similar set of books could be found in another, more accessible library. Many accessible toilets and changing rooms are barely large enough to take a manual wheelchair, let alone a powered one. A local shopping centre even decided to replace their broken lift for entering the premises with a thin plywood ramp that doesn’t  look strong enough to take a manual wheelchair, and won’t change this despite me launching a complaint. On one occasion, I was even turned down for a job because their lift wouldn’t accommodate my powered wheelchair, and they weren’t going to adapt to my needs. Whether this is even legal is debatable but I don’t have the finances to take them to court for discrimination, so they got away with it.

None of this is to say that life in a manual wheelchair is easy; this is far from the truth. Businesses still choose to make themselves inaccessible in general, they face the same problems I do concerning the perception of disability, and sometimes the seats in manual wheelchairs really aren’t comfortable when staying seated for any length of time. It just seems that the world is set up to accommodate some disabilities more than others, which is equally as wrong as any other form of discrimination.

Ignorance is Bliss.

Despite having reproduced for millennia, humans continue to marvel at the mind of a child and the way it tries to piece together the coalition of chaos that is life. This often provokes brutally honest and usually quite amusing reactions to social situations, which arise from the ignorance of complex societal norms created by adults with the sole purpose to make other’s lives as miserable as their own. A child’s views on disability are no exception to this, and in particular young children will not treat someone in a wheelchair differently to someone who can walk. They also occasionally think we’re mermaids (https://diaryofadisabledperson.wordpress.com/2017/06/10/the-real-mermaid/).

One summer, I was browsing the isles of the local supermarket searching for a birthday present when a little girl with blonde pigtails and big blue eyes tottered round the corner, almost into my wheelchair. She stopped and looked up at me, before asking in earnest;

“Are you poorly?”

I smiled and confirmed this.

“Will you get better though?” she continued.

“Hopefully,” I said in reply.

“And you’ll be able to walk like me?” she asked.

“Absolutely,” I returned.

Throughout this exchange, the blonde woman who I presume was the girl’s mother looked utterly mortified and desperately tried to coax her daughter away. I looked up at her, smiled, and said it was absolutely fine. I would much rather children ask the questions they want to ask instead of staring silently at me, so as to break the taboo surrounding disability. Children are remarkably robust when facing the negative aspects of life, and are rarely as perturbed as we might have assumed. As such, disability and sickness should not be hidden from children, as it is simply a part of real life.

Sometimes, children have wonderful reactions if they see that the adults they are with have blocked the path of a wheelchair. In many instances children have pulled prams, bags, baskets, or even the adults themselves out of the way, allowing me to pass safely. On a good few of these occasions, the adults have even received a ticking off from the children. My personal favourite occurred after a distracted mother let a door swing shut in my face. Her son, a boy of maybe 6 or 7 years old, came back and held the door open for me. His mum called out for him to stay with her in a somewhat irritated tone, and in response the boy told her he’d only tried to be nice, as she had taught him. He then attempted to say it was “hypocritical” without much success, which fortunately broke the ice and the mother relaxed and apologised.

At other times, it has been me who has been the first to speak to a child if the situation calls for it. I remember on one occasion I was in the local park and a girl was riding her scooter down the hill much faster than her dad could walk. Unfortunately the front wheel of her scooter got caught in a rut in the pavement and the girl went headlong over the handlebars, landing heavily in a messy heap. The closest adult to the fall didn’t bat an eyelid and walked past almost as if they hadn’t seen or heard what had happened. As the next closest adult I went to the child to check she was OK and handed her a tissue to wipe her tear-stained cheeks. Her injuries were very minor, superficial scrapes to the skin, but the shock of the fall seemed to be what had upset her. I remembered doing almost exactly the same thing ten years before, on another hill within the same park, and said as much which made her smile. Seconds later her dad arrived, almost out of breath from trying to stay upright on the slightly slippery path. He smiled and they both thanked me before we went our separate ways. It was not that a disabled person had stopped to help that required gratitude but the fact that a person had stopped to help at all, and I fully believe that they would have spoken to anyone else in exactly the same manner.

The ignorance of these children towards the taboo surrounding disability did not bring bliss to themselves alone but also to me as a disabled person, and I can only hope that as they grow and develop their inclusive attitude is unmarred by the loss of their ignorance.

Pride Without Prejudice.

The first weekend in August marks Pride in Leeds, when the LGBTQ+ community come together with the rest of population to celebrate their differences, mostly by sinking back huge quantities of alcohol. This being my first pride since coming out as bisexual I was incredibly excited to be attending the various events occurring in the city centre throughout the weekend. So excited, in fact, that I decided to turn my wheelchair into Donald Trump’s worst nightmare.

Pride chair

On the Saturday the sun was out, and a gentle breeze helped to prevent my skin from burning and peeling off like I was some kind of mutant reptile in the roasting 20°C heat. Jarred and myself made our way to the viaduct, a region of Leeds so closely associated with gay culture that a man in a police uniform walking down the street is not necessarily a policeman. A street party had been set up; there was music playing and an impressively sophisticated outdoor bar set up on one side of the street. There was also a small stage and people were being invited up onto the stage to sing and dance together. It was, perhaps, the only time I’ve ever been glad to see something inaccessible.

We meandered up and down the street, listening to music and investigating the few stalls there were. After a little while the music stopped rather abruptly, and a drag queen whose make-up was far in advance of anything I could do took to the stage, introducing a performance by the Show Girls, a group of drag performers from one of the local venues. During the introduction various members of the audience were subjected to light-hearted criticisms, such as querying whether a woman’s afro was fake or real, or whether one man naturally had silky smooth legs. Being on the front row, I was pretty easy to spot.

“And oh, look, Davros has delighted us with their company!”

Jarred and myself both burst into uproarious laughter, setting off the rest of the crowd who had seemed a little nervous as to how to react. What no one seemed to realise is that it was actually quite refreshing for someone else to make a joke about my wheelchair, which quickly becomes the elephant in the room when people do everything they can to ignore its presence for political correctness, highlighting in the process that the wheelchair is all they see. The drag queen was teasing everyone, not just myself, and there was nothing to take offence to.

The Pride parade took place on the Sunday, starting in Millenium square in the centre of Leeds with a free-entry concert. The council had made sure to provide an elevated wheelchair platform meaning that I could see the stage above the rest of the crowd, although because I couldn’t see through the crowd, another audience member had to direct me to said platform. I lost count of how many other wheelchair users I saw at the event, and not once did I have to deal with things thrust in my face or people stepping directly over my feet. Nobody stared at me, and nobody ignored me either.

Towards the end of the concert I was invited to ride on one of the council’s accessible buses in the parade, representing both the LGBTQ+ and disabled community. I jumped at the opportunity, figuratively, not literally of course. Once I was on the bus my wheelchair was secured safely to the floor of the bus by a driver who clearly had many years of experience doing this. I got the flag I had attached to my wheelchair to wave, and waved it while meandering slowly through the crowded streets until my arm felt like Attila the Hun was trying to remove it. I was extremely surprised to find that I got a huge response from the crowd, who cheered loudly and waved vigorously back at me.

The best reaction of all the crowd members came from another wheelchair user who I had shared the wheelchair platform with earlier in the day. When she saw me waving from the bus her face practically split in half as she grinned from ear-to-ear, and I knew then that I had truly made a difference to someone’s day.

I was as welcome in that crowd as I am at my beloved wrestling shows, and I hope that I never forget what it was like to find pride without prejudice.

Midweek Cringe-Fest.

So I was digging through some old notebooks that my parents had kept and then brought to my new apartment, and I found these two beauties. Bear in mind I was in the middle of puberty, at the peak of awkwardness…

The children smile,

They don’t discriminate,

Very few decide,

To gawp and gape.

 

I’m not so different,

As you’d like to think,

If I may be blunt,

I’m not thick.

 

Please don’t stare,

What if I stared at you?

I’m in a wheelchair,

Not an animal at the zoo.

 

I’d like to say,

That life is fine,

I’m free of pain,

But that’s a lie.

 

I’m not gonna mope,

Though I’d love to cry,

Is there any hope?

Will M.E say goodbye?

 

Please don’t stare,

What if I stared at you?

I’m in a wheelchair,

Not an animal at the zoo.

 

The children smile,

They don’t discriminate,

Very few decide,

To gawp and gape.

Complete with badly drawn wheelchair:

Wheelchair.png

A couple of months after writing that first one, I wrote this:

A giant hoover came out of the sky,

And sucked all my energy away,

Then came the lead weights tied to my limbs,

I have to pull them night and day.

 

I lie awake in the night to find my sleep stolen,

Right from under my nose by a robber,

Unrefreshed, unhappy, and unrested,

Why should I even bother?

 

It hasn’t got better, it hasn’t got worse,

At least I know where I’m at,

I feel so small, so insignificant,

In the wheelchair in which I’m sat.

 

But at least I’m sure of two things in life,

Two things it has taught me so well,

I know for sure who my true friends are,

And not to take them for granted, even if I’m unwell.

Let’s just say that I think my writing skills have improved since then…

Bisexual and Almost Bipedal.

I’m a bisexual, female, disabled scientist; so nuke me, Trump.

My identity is pretty much an amalgamation of social rights issues, but that doesn’t mean I’m not genuine as some people might presume. It’s a strange phenomenon, but I do know a few people with disabilities who are uncomfortable about coming out as LGBT because they might be deemed fakers, and I honestly can’t decide whether the problem is with the way disability is perceived or the way the LGBT community is perceived.

There are people out there who assign themselves a long list of labels to do with gender identity and sexuality that don’t actually apply to them, who do so because they want to be perceived as modern and unprejudiced. While the intention of being open about equal opportunities is highly commendable, it leaves those of us who are genuine a little conflicted, because coming out as a member of the LGBT community for most people is simply terrifying.

My sexuality confused me long before I became disabled, but I was afraid to discuss it for fear of disappointing my parents, or being bullied at school any more than I already was. For fear of what being open-minded would make me, I suppressed any feelings I had on the matter, and vehemently denied to myself that I was anything other than heterosexual. This actually got easier when I first fell ill as I had something else to be concerned about, but as the years went by, no matter how much I stamped down on them, my thoughts would turn towards my sexual orientation time and time again.

Leaving home and heading off to university should have been the time when I started to express my sexuality; I lived alone and away from those who had bullied me at school, but I still couldn’t shake off the fear that engulfed me every time the thought crossed my mind. I kept my mouth shut, as I always had done, and tried to move on.

The thing to finally bring me out of my shell was actually Jarred, who was openly bisexual from the day we met. It sounds ridiculous but I saw the freedom he had in being able to express himself when a good-looking man appeared on TV, and I wanted that freedom. Jarred helped to strengthen my self-esteem and boost my confidence, and I began to realise that if I did decide to accept my sexuality, no matter what happened upon being honest, there would be at least one person I could rely on to get through it. However I was used to being scared of my sexuality, that I would be deemed old to “come out”, and that on top of the wheelchair it would simply seem like a plea for attention, that I continued to keep my feelings to myself.

I can’t quite explain it but one day the desire to have that freedom simply outweighed the fear of appearing fake, and with the help of a glass of wine, the truth seemed to just fall out of my mouth. After a quiet moment Jarred said, “I know.” I stared at him dumb-founded, feeling foolish for thinking that I would have been able to hide something of this scale from the one person I allowed close enough to see such a thing.

I would like to be able to tell you that my fears and reservations about being open about my sexuality evaporated in an instant at this point, but that would not be the truth. I gradually began to make my closest friends and family aware of the situation, always a little reticent for fear that they would react badly, but with each positive reaction my confidence grew, until one last hurdle remained. Now I had to be open and honest with the rest of the world.

A simple post on Facebook sufficed for those who knew me who I hadn’t already told, and then I started to declare myself as bisexual on job application forms. The freedom it gave me in being able to express myself without a serious fear of being deemed a faker for social reasons was even better than I could have ever imagined. For the first time in my life I felt like I had an identity that was true to my own form, which encompassed my sexuality, lifestyle, and preferences. In telling the rest of the world who I was I had managed to find myself.

LGBT

Rolling Rosie.

One of my friends who also suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) has just started her own blog, and it may interest you. It’s a quick read! Check it out here: https://rollingrosie.wordpress.com/2017/08/01/is-it-acceptable-to-not-be-accessible-spoiler-its-not/

If you haven’t already, why not like @diaryofadisabledperson on Facebook? You can receive a notification every time a new blog post is released, plus additional posts every single day, and can talk to me personally via messenger. I currently boast a 100% response rate!