One consistent occurrence that continues to amuse me on a regular basis is the way different types of people react to the wheelchair, usually spitting in the face of stereotypes and then allowing me to run said stereotypes over. I can think of no better example of this than a situation I encountered recently as I returned home from a night out.
A couple of streets away from my flat there is a new block of posh flats and offices being built adjoining one of the big shopping centres in Leeds, and the scale of the job means that the pavement has been completely blocked off. All pedestrians must use a narrow section of the road cordoned off for them to walk through safely. At points this area is narrow enough for only single file pedestrians going in each direction so as not to impede the traffic on the main road, and occasionally this can cause difficulties for the wheelchair.
It was a Saturday night and all the clubs and pubs were overflowing and spilling out onto the pavement. Among these was a group of tipsy students, all male, who were staggering through the improvised path towards us. I was more than prepared to pull over to one side at a wider section in order to let them past, as their movements indicated that perhaps they weren’t fully in control of their actions. To my surprise they stopped and stood to one side to allow me and Jarred past. As I went by them I thanked them, which was greeted by a series of cheery, if slightly slurred, greetings.
Jarred and I made it round the path and back onto the pavement without too much trouble, and we carried on towards our block of flats which was visible from the road. Ahead of us I spotted a large group of charity workers ambling slowly along the pavement, pulling large carts behind them full of meals for the homeless. We came to a crossing where they blocked the lowered kerb that allows me to cross the street safely. By the time they had moved more traffic was pulling onto the street, and I had to wait before I could cross.
We crossed the road, reaching a narrow pavement littered with lampposts and traffic lights. Here the group of charity workers had stopped again, despite the fact that around the corner, mere metres away, was a wide expanse of pavement perfect for stopping on. They had blocked the entire pavement, not just for my wheelchair, but for all pedestrians who were having to step down onto the road to get around them. As I couldn’t step off the pavement I had to persuade them to let me past.
It took two attempts for Jarred to convince them to move the first of the carts so that I could get round; they completely ignored me altogether. The second cart proved just as difficult and the final cart refused to move at all. As I squeezed past my wheels knocked the cart, for which I was tutted at (coincidentally the only interaction I received with them). The group apologised half-heartedly to Jarred, clearly believing us to be rude, thinking that their undeniably kind actions towards the homeless alleviated them of all other responsibilities.
These two encounters had happened maybe 100 metres apart, if that. Yet it was the drunken lads who treated me as their equal, with kindness and generosity, while the holier-than-thou charity workers treated me as if I was dirt on the bottom of their shoes. The irony of this situation was not lost on me; the people who are poorly misrepresented in the media, and who are blamed for all the troubles of society, were the ones to do the responsible thing. The people who will be hailed as heroes for their acts of incredible kindness and dedication didn’t care for anything but the fact that they were seen to be helping the homeless while I had selfishly been eating in a pub on a Saturday night.
This is yet more evidence in support of my prevailing theory; that kindness often comes from those you least expect it from.