Disability Doesn’t Mean I Can’t.

On a recent visit to the GP I discovered that the lift into the surgery now needs someone to close the door behind me once I’m in the lift. This was a rather unfortunate discovery as I was visiting the doctor alone, as I usually do. After waiting in the lobby area for a few minutes anxiously watching the clock ticking ever closer towards my appointment, a receptionist appeared at the top of the stairs and came to my rescue. While I did say thank you for the help I received, I also challenged her about this turn of events. Her response was that I should have someone with me next time or leave enough time for someone to pass by; the idea that I might want to be independent like every other adult using that surgery was incomprehensible.

This is not an isolated case by any measure; many places have small, rickety platform lifts that require a specific key held by only one member of staff that you can’t contact because you’re at the bottom of the steps while they’re in an office upstairs. Similarly whenever the accessible entrance to work is either broken or locked I have to wait for the receptionist behind the desk to finish gossiping with her colleague, search for a key they never have to hand, and fold back the revolving door allowing me to enter my own workplace. This process then has to be repeated on the way out; I cannot enter and leave the building at my leisure as literally every other person can. Given that the revolving door is always unlocked with a steady stream of people entering and exiting the building, I asked that it be left folded back when the accessible entrance wasn’t in use. Apparently, this was a security risk despite the fact that this would save everyone a lot of time and effort. I was also told that being the only wheelchair user in the building essentially made folding back the door an inconvenience.

It seems like wherever I go the idea that I want to be independent is shocking and impossible. While I always appreciate people asking me if I need help, I often encounter people who just barge in to start helping without asking first. On one occasion this even lead to a scalding hot coffee getting poured directly into my lap which was incredibly painful and somehow it was my fault for trying to be independent. In other cases I have been asked if I need help and when I have politely declined, the “help” has been provided anyway. What I want or need doesn’t matter; if someone judges that I need help they’re opinion overrides my own. In addition I have received torrents of verbal abuse for trying to be independent, being called arrogant, ungrateful, and much more besides.

This isn’t a new problem. For the past few millennia women have had to fight relentlessly to be permitted to do things independently of men, and now disabled people face exactly the same problem. Sometimes I don’t know if my desire to be independent is shocking because I am a woman, use a wheelchair, or a combination of the two.

Independence is not something that should only be encouraged in able-bodied men. The desire to be independent is not a sin; it should be encouraged. Allow me to fail. Allow me to get hurt. Allow me to get up (figuratively at least) and do it all over again until I get it right. Look at the top of this page. Look at my arm. “Disability doesn’t mean I can’t”.

A Pub Roll

One of the most common aspects of student life is the pub crawl; going from one pub to the next and getting shamelessly drunk along the way. The most popular of these in Leeds is the Otley Run, which goes through 15 pubs and is usually themed.

My personal favourite of all the themes I’ve seen was a Donald Trump theme, where a group of approximately 20 men staggered through the door of a bar in the student union, dressed in suits with cheap red ties and false blonde wigs. The news was being broadcast on a television behind the bar, and when the president appeared on the screen, the entire group started roaring and jumping up and down in their drunken state. However, much as I would like to join in with such an event, there is one small but significant problem; over half of the pubs have steps into them, and wheelchairs cannot levitate like Daleks.

In contrast to my predicament, I am not prepared to sit aside and be excluded from this. I decided to take action and designed my own pub crawl, the pub roll. Jarred and myself started in the students union, in the modern bar called the Terrace, before heading down to the basement to sit in the cosy and traditional Old Bar.

Terrace

After a couple of drinks we headed out into the brisk Winter night, and wandered down to Dry Dock, a bar stylised to look like a boat beached on a mound of grass. Much to my surprise the bouncer held the door open for me, and did the same on the way out, wishing me well as he did so.

I would like to think that although I was a tad tipsy no one could tell, as I did not have to face the troubling task of balancing on two feet, and could rely on six wheels instead.

We crossed the main road and entered City Bar, which was in the union of the rival (and inferior) university, and then headed up to a branch of Wetherspoon’s called the Stick or Twist.

Stick or Twist

When we were done there, we meandered slowly down to another Wetherspoon’s. By the time we were done there, I was seeing three of everything, so instead of progressing onto the Botanist as planned, we dragged ourselves home. Trying to drive my wheelchair in a straight line was something of a challenge, but the quiet streets posed no threat to unsuspecting pedestrians.

I was proud to have done something about the Otley Run situation, that being getting drunk in the name of social justice. It’s always good to know that with a little extra thought such issues can be overcome and it is worthy of note that the shops, pubs, and other venues that make themselves accessible are the ones to receive my money.