Smoke on the Pavements.

Despite all the public health campaigns and education programs to discourage cigarette smoking it’s still a relatively common problem, particularly as giving up the habit is so difficult. Even with the invention of nicotine patches, chewing gum, e-cigarettes, and hipsters (we get it, you vape) the process of quitting is nothing short of arduous. While some people get riled by those who smoke because it is a choice they vehemently disagree with I try to have a little more patience as these situations are rarely as clear-cut as they seem. However there is one general trait that is relatively common among smokers that does annoy me; when smoking in public they rarely show consideration to the rest of us using the city streets at the same time.

When the UK government completely banned the practice of smoking cigarettes indoors in public places they failed to consider where smokers could go outside to smoke. It wouldn’t be a UK law if something wasn’t drastically overlooked. So naturally the smokers gather just outside of the door, especially in the winter, and to enter the building you are forced to pass through a thick haze of carcinogenic smoke. This is a problem for everyone, but for anyone disabled we have the additional challenge of navigating around a blocked pavement or doorway just to continue our business.

Breathing difficulties are also a common issue for those with chronic illnesses. I myself am asthmatic and when visiting the doctor we will always be asked to avoid cigarette smoke where possible. Given that to enter or exit a public building, doctor’s surgery included, we have to pass through the crowd of smokers outside this is nigh on impossible.

There is one problem bigger than all of the above that is down-right dangerous for wheelchair users, dwarves, and children alike (even more dangerous than the risk of lung cancer). When not taking a drag on a cigarette most people let it dangle from the end of their relaxed arm which just so happens to be right in our eye-line. I have lost count of the times I have only just avoided a cigarette burn on my face and I know that many parents say the same of their young children. On one occasion where the smoker was crouched against a wall on a narrow and busy pavement, the cigarette actually touched my leg and had I not been wearing tights I would have been burned. Not once in any of these instances has the smoker in question apologised or even noticed that they nearly set fire to someone, which you would think was fairly obvious. In fact many will look over their shoulder, see someone behind them, and continue to do it anyway. It shocks and appalls me that people will be so negligent when holding a stick which is literally on fire and I wish that smokers would be respectful to the rest of the public and their right not to get set on fire.

Of course when it is suggested that smokers should have to walk five metres further to a designated smoking shelter, all hell breaks loose…

Able to Remember.

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There are a plethora of reasons some people use as a means to discriminate against others, such as gender, sexuality, religion, race, and of course, disability. Over the past few years it was realised that if each minority facing a particular type discrimination banded together, forming a much larger group tackling all kinds of discrimination, they would have more power and influence due to sheer numbers. As such it is now very common to see people on social media listing all the types of discrimination that they oppose, but almost invariably there is one type of discrimination absent; ableism.

I do not for one second think that ableism is omitted intentionally, simply that it is forgotten or overlooked. Many people assume that the law protects the disabled against discrimination, but the law is all but meaningless when no one bothers to implement it. Others believe that ableism is a relic of the past, or don’t see why the misuse of special facilities or the obstruction of access routes is, in fact, ableism. Others simply forget that ableism exists at all.

With ableism so easily forgotten it is no surprise that issues such as equal access to transport, particularly on trains and aeroplanes, are still such a significant problem in 2018, nor is it surprising that a very large proportion of public spaces and buildings lack wheelchair access completely. Of course, when most courts lack proper wheelchair access including into the witness box, it’s hardly as if suing someone for discrimination is feasible. Therefore the problems go on unchecked and forgotten.

I am convinced that the first stage in the fight against ableism is simply to raise awareness. Over the past few years I have met lots of new people through university and work, and nearly all of them have said that being around me and observing my daily struggles has opened their eyes to the prevalence of ableism in day-to-day life. Many of these same people have told that me that their habits would change; they would be more reluctant to use disabled facilities unless they really had to, and that they would see cars parked on pavements and get angry without me even being there.

Anyone on Twitter may have seen the #JustAskDontGrab campaign led by fellow blogger Dr Amy Kavanagh, raising awareness of how to help disabled people without invading their personal space or inadvertently causing harm. The campaign predominantly focuses on anecdotes and personal experiences to highlight the issue, and uses the Twitter slogan for the benefit of computer algorithms. Seeing the impact Amy has made started me thinking; what if I could do the same to ensure that ableism is included in the fight against discrimination?

The trickiest part for me was coming up with a social media friendly signature, particularly as I didn’t want something that sounded aggressive or accusatory as I firmly support the fight against all types of discrimination too. Indeed when I finally had my eureka moment on my evening commute, I was so engrossed in thought that I almost collided with a lamp post. Thus #AbleToRemember was born. Now all I needed was a launch date, and I could think of no better than Remembrance Sunday itself. While the soldiers who died in the various wars are honoured by this session, those who became disabled in the war are often overlooked, demonstrating my point perfectly.

Whenever I spot ableism being omitted from a list of all other types of discrimination, I will be sharing it alongside #AbleToRemember, and I want others to do the same. I’m not pointing the finger or being antagonistic; I just want to ableism to become as unpalatable as any other type of discrimination.

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