A Trip to the Dark Side.

As my alarm burst into life at 5.30 am I began to regret my decision to go to Manchester (which is in Lancashire, the sworn enemy of Yorkshire, for anyone who doesn’t reside in the UK) for a conference on disability & LGBT+ intersectionality. I scoffed down some cereal & coffee, washed & dressed hurriedly, & carefully pinned my hair into something resembling a neat hairstyle. Within an hour I was making my way down to Leeds train station where I met my colleague, & together we wove our way between the extensive building works scattered around the ticket hall. Commuter traffic began to increase as we headed to the platform, which involved a lot of ducking under backpacks & around important-looking men in suits who looked down their noses at everyone else.

Black & white selfie. My hair is in a bun on the back of my head & I'm wearing light eye make-up & lipstick.

My colleague & I had booked a ramp to enter the train, instead of relying on mythical levitation tactics, & to my surprise a porter carrying a ramp appeared with time to spare. The ramp was set up without a fuss & soon enough I was on the train heading to Manchester. Funnily enough, I was in the 2nd wheelchair space opposite another wheelchair user, who as it transpired, was heading to the same conference.

A little under an hour later we disembarked without problem, & I pulled on my raincoat as the first drops began to fall. Sheltered outside a small, inaccessible coffee shop we began to call taxi companies. The first company didn’t take wheelchairs at all. The second only took manual wheelchairs that could fold up. The third only had one wheelchair-accessible vehicle which had been booked. The fourth didn’t even answer the phone. In the pouring rain we headed onto a main road & hailed a black cab, & then spent a good 5 minutes finding a suitable place for the taxi to pull over & let me in. The taxi driver lowered the ramp, barely wider than the wheelchair & with no edges to stop me falling off. With great care I edged up the ramp & sat in the taxi. There were no restraints for the wheelchair so I was forced to brace myself as best as I could while we drove through the city centre.

Eventually the taxi came to a stop nowhere near the venue, & I was forced to reverse down the horrendous ramp, leaving a puddle of rain water in the cab. The rain lessened as we hurried to the conference centre, where I saw two sets of revolving doors.

Revolving doors are to wheelchair users what Shakespeare is to infants; a complete waste of time & resources (in fact, I suspect many adults feel this way about Shakespeare too). There were automated double doors between them however, so naturally I went to those.

“Call reception” was the only button for the doors. In the rain I rang the bell & waited while the receptionist finished having her coffee & chat before the doors eventually opened. Then there was a second set of doors, & again I had to call reception & wait to get in. The fact that able-bodied individuals could come & go as they pleased curtesy of the revolving doors, but that I as a disabled person had to be let in like a dog, was infuriating. I was attending a conference about disability that had disabled speakers, & yet ableism was the first thing I faced.

I made my way to the reception desk where the member of staff told me I hadn’t registered (I had, or I wouldn’t have had the ticket with me) because they had missed my name when creating visitor badges. I got a blank & wrote down my name, then had one small cup of coffee. In that short time I was recognised by the first of several readers & followers, something which was a very new & novel experience, which I must admit to enjoying. Then the conference began.

The opening screen of the conference presentation, projected onto a pull-down screen in the sports hall.

As we sat around tables in a chilly sports hall the leaders introduced themselves, & then the first talk about the social & medical models of disability was underway. An hour later we broke off into smaller groups for more interactive workshops, & I remained in the sports hall to look at how being a marginalised group within a marginalised group (i.e. being disabled among the LGBT+ community, or being LGBT+ among the disabled community) effected social interactions, while my colleague made her way upstairs. After the morning’s work we were directed to lunch, a buffet which was impossible to reach from a wheelchair, & went to eat in a dining area filled with long wooden tables & long wooden benches, the type that cannot be moved to accommodate a wheelchair user. I chose to get out of my wheelchair & sit with my colleague, but the others were forced to eat in a separate area with their lunch. I regretted not joining them to make a point, although it did mean that I was nearby when the assistance-dog in training decided to take a nap on the floor.

A black Labrador, assistance dog in training, resting on a patch of sunlight on the floor.

After lunch was a short talk before another workshop. This time I made my way upstairs, having to wait some considerable time for the lift as at least 1 wasn’t working. In the room a member of staff stood in the only space available to reach from a wheelchair due to the cramming of furniture into a small space, & once she did move I had to kick a chair out of the way. Shattered, I barely took in the next session, not least because they decided to over-run into a much-needed break.

I made my way back downstairs for the final session, once again in the sports hall. This one addressed discrimination that can be experienced within marginalised groups, particularly racism, ableism, & transphobia within the LGBT+ community. It is the only time I have ever seen Grindr screenshots used to make a poignant statement.

Afterwards there was a drinks reception, which was ironically one of the most accessible parts of the day, & slowly we drifted away. Myself & my colleague wandered through Manchester, the day having turned bright & sunny, & we stopped for a drink purely for the purposes of hydration. We waited until the commuter traffic had tailed off before heading to Manchester Piccadilly station, & this time we had the cabin to ourselves when we entered the train (also without incident).

A little while later as we pulled into Leeds it was going dark, & the station was the quietest I have ever seen. A ramp appeared as if by magic, & I said goodbye to my colleague who caught a taxi home, this time having no trouble whatsoever as I wasn’t travelling with her. About ten minutes later I was home myself, & not long after that, asleep.

Big Brother.

The Department of Work & Pensions are best described as a necessary evil, & that’s being generous. You’d think that an organisation that is supposed to support people in finding employment & aiding us in retirement would be well-loved, but the fact of the matter is that much like the NHS, the idea has outshone the execution.

Lots of people have cause to dislike the DWP, but the hostilities are perhaps felt most strongly among disabled people. Simply put, the majority of us live in fear of them.

At the time of writing I’m on the higher mobility rate of Personal Independence Payment & get nothing for the care rate. My powered wheelchair, without which I couldn’t go to work, is paid for on a scheme that takes the money from my monthly allowance before I have received it, and the little that’s left over goes towards (but by no means pays for) medication, other mobility aids, & transport. When this contract comes to an end, I plan not to renew it, but to buy my own wheelchair independently. Why? Because all it would take is someone from the DWP to put my benefit up for early review & the rate be dropped, & I would lose my wheelchair instantaneously.

This may seem paranoid but multiple acquaintances of mine have already experienced this, & the cases reported in the news demonstrate that this is not as rare as you would think.

CCTV footage from public places, particularly supermarkets, has been used as evidence in court to show that someone is not disabled on multiple occasions. On the surface this might seem sensible, or at the very least, not objection-worthy. However, despite clearly stating on my application form that I am capable of standing up & walking short distances with support, & that my condition varies greatly day-to-day, I still find myself looking for all the CCTV cameras in a store when I’m on my walking frame. I worry that I don’t look disabled enough, particularly on days when I feel well. Quite frankly it is like living under the judgemental gaze of George Orwell’s Big Brother.

At this point people like to argue that if you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear. I wish this was true but I fear wrongly convicted criminals might feel a little differently. The fact of the matter is that while in a court of law you are innocent until proven guilty, the reverse seems to be true for disabled people.

For example, I have to watch what I post online, which for someone with a blog about disability is rather contradictory. I like to take photos of my outfits for Instagram, but I’ve taken to sitting down for most of these out of fear that someone could take a snapshot quickly taken before sitting back down, & use it to claim I’m lying. Every picture & comment becomes a calculated risk, & even this blog post is no exception.

Even being called back for your review assessment after the assigned period of time since the last one is dehumanising. Assessment centres are often inaccessible, but your application will be denied automatically if you fail to attend.

Even if you do make it into your assessment, the assessor is not the one who makes the decision about your benefit; this decision is made by someone who has never met you. They take the assessors report, look at any other evidence you have managed to supply (the majority of which they will tell you is ineligible due to arbitrary reasons), & having never seen how you have to live will make a decision that controls how you live for the next few years. Appealing poor decisions takes months, is highly stressful, & everything you say & do is subject to scrutiny for the duration of the procedure. Anyone who does choose to appeal is made to feel like a criminal.

Disabled people are not criminals. Being disabled is not a crime. Yet it is demanded of us that we repeatedly prove our innocence. Under any other circumstances this would be deemed diabolical, yet it is how many of us, myself included, must live.

Rob the Roller: Yet Another Short Story.

The sound of van doors slamming signified Rob’s arrival. The builders leant casually against the fence, taking great swigs of tea as Rob glided across the muddy yard towards them.

“Morning Rob,” Tyler, one of the builders who was forever receiving comments about how apt his name was for his profession, said as he handed Rob a steaming cup of tea as supplied by the owners of the plot of land they were working on.

“Morning lads,” Rob accepted his tea with a nod as he addressed the team; “What’s the situation today?”

“We ought to get the concrete foundation laid while it’s still dry,” Jess, the only woman in the group, answered.

“And someone needs to check the deliveries,” Seb piped up.

“Right, well, I’ll get that delivery sorted while you prepare to lay the concrete,” Rob looked around the group who all nodded. Draining the last of his drink, Rob got to work.

Checking the delivery and recording all the items in the inventory and finance records was a long, arduous, and particularly boring task, but laying concrete from a wheelchair was even worse. Rob sat in the shelter of a tarpaulin sheet stretched over the corner of the yard they were working in, feeling drops of water fall from the edge of the sheet onto his head and trickle down his back. Occasionally a member of the team would bring him another drink, for which he was grateful as the hours dragged slowly by.

He had almost completed the whole process when his pencil snapped, and to his dismay Rob found all of his pockets devoid of any pencils. Rob sighed loudly, turned around, and started to roll back across the yard.

“Rob!” hearing someone shout his name, Rob looked up suddenly.

“The concrete, it’s still wet,” Jess yelled.

“You’ve laid it already?” Rob said, surprised. He felt his wheels sink slowly into something, the resistance against them increasing as he tried to propel himself forward, “Great.”

Seb and Tyler came running towards Rob, and started to pull him backwards onto dry land. After a few minutes of heaving, straining, sweating, and swearing they managed to pull him to safety. Rob looked down at his wheels covered in grey slime, which he ineffectively tried to brush off.

“It’ll be easier to get off when it’s dry,” Jess came towards the men with a tray of fresh drinks.

“Thanks Jess,” Rob said dejectedly, inspecting the damage done by his carelessness. Four tire tracks cut harshly in the otherwise perfectly smooth concrete, two narrow and close together from his front wheels, and two larger and wider apart at the back. Lining each track was a small pile of wet concrete that had been pushed aside, and even the patterns from the tires had been imprinted into the concrete. Alongside the tracks were two large sets of footsteps, in many cases elongated as the men slipped and slid in their efforts to rescue Rob.

“Don’t worry, we can fix this,” Seb put his hand on Robs’ shoulder, seeing the miserable expression on his face.

“Any of you lot got a pencil I can borrow?” Rob asked after a short while.

“Sure,” Tyler passed a pencil to Rob, who returned to complete the inventory, leaving the others smooth over the damaged concrete to the best of their abilities and fill in the holes. By the end of the day the inventory was complete, the materials had been sorted carefully depending on what materials would be needed first, and the holes in the concrete were barely perceptible. They all left the building site a little earlier than their usual time, leaving the concrete undisturbed to set overnight.

***

Rob was the first of the team on site the next morning, and the site that met his eyes made him curse violently and vehemently.

“Damn that stupid bird,” he yelled, in between other, less repeatable statements. In the concrete the tracks of a single bird hopping across the yard could be seen, going all the way from one corner to the other.

Next to arrive was Jess, then Seb, and then Tyler.

“What’s on the cards today?” Rob said as he swigged his usual cup of tea.

“Fill in those holes,” Tyler pointed out the obvious, looking at the concrete.

“And then it’s time for bricks and mortar,” Seb said.

Half an hour later the birds footsteps had been filled in, and together they were building the walls of the garage. The four of them carefully laid the bricks by hand, smoothing down the mortar that held them together. The banter between them was light and friendly, with Jess supplying music via an old, beat-up radio with an extension cable leading into the landowners house. Slowly the wall grew to one foot high, then two feet, and by the end of the day it was three feet high.

The next day Rob could no longer reach the top of the wall to add more bricks, so spent his time as a human wheelbarrow, fetching a load of bricks across on his knees and handing them up to the rest of the team. His thighs soon bore the bruises of this task.

The following day, Jess, Seb, and Tyler all needed to use stepladders to continue their work, until finally the wall was a staggering 7 feet tall.

Next came the flat, plywood panels that were the ceiling of the garage, punched into place with a nail gun and hiding the ugly steel rafters that would support the garage roof. This was covered in tarpaulin while some scaffolding was set up around the garage. At one end of the scaffolding was a strange system of pulleys, one end splitting into four chains each bearing their own hook, and the other end with a sack of bricks wedged into a tractor tyre tied to it. The family who lived in the house were perplexed, but were too British to inquire about this. They were to get their answer the following morning.

As always the morning discussion of the tasks to do that day took place over the cups of tea, and then they set to work. The family watched from behind semi-closed curtains as Rob approached the pulley system, and Tyler helped him hook the chains securely to various anchor points on his wheelchair. Seb and Jess clambered up the scaffolding to the top, stopping by the brick-filled tyre which they hauled onto its side.

“Ready?” Jess called down.

“Ready,” came the reply from below.

“1… 2… 3,” Jess counted slowly as Seb and herself rolled the wheel towards the edge of the scaffolding simultaneously. The wheel reached the edge of the wooden platform, teetered for a second, and then plunged towards the ground. The rope uncoiled, stretching out until taut, and then sent Rob soaring upwards towards Seb and Jess, who caught his wheelchair and pulled it safely onto the platform before unhooking his wheelchair from the pulley. Inside the house the family watched in amazement.

Tyler untied the tyre from the pulley system as the team formed a human factory line. Tyler put heavy roof tiles in a sturdy bucket which was hauled up the scaffolding by Jess and Rob using the pulley system. They unloaded the bucket onto the platform, and Seb began to lay each tile along the roof, one by one. The empty bucket was returned to Tyler and refilled, repeating the process until all the tiles were safely by the roof.

Tyler hopped up the scaffolding to join the team as they all set to laying the tiles. Once they had gone too high for Rob to reach, he took to carrying the tiles to the rest of the team while they built the roof. Working together in a swift manner as they had done so many times before, they completed the roof in a surprisingly quick time. It was at this point that it started to rain.

The rain was torrential, beating down on the team with extraordinary force. Rob’s lap was soaked within minutes, and Jess’s hair clung to her face and neck. Tyler scrambled down the scaffolding, slipping once or twice, but reached the bottom unharmed. He removed the bricks from the centre of the tyre, re-attached the tyre to the end of the rope, and waited for the others’ signal. On the scaffolding above Seb and Jess were fumbling with the hooks on Rob’s wheelchair, barely able to see as the water streamed down their faces. After a few minutes their faces appeared over the edge of the platform, Seb giving a thumbs up to Tyler below.

Rob was pushed gently over the edge, Tyler gripping the wet tyre to the best of his abilities. Slowly and carefully the team started to lower Rob to the ground, Tyler gripping the tyre with all his might as he clambered back up the scaffolding slowly. However, keeping his grip on the tyre in the downpour was akin to fighting a losing battle, and almost inevitably the tyre slipped through his fingers. Rob felt the ground disappear from beneath him, his stomach turning with the sudden motion as he fell. He braced for impact, scrunching his eyes shut.

His wheelchair halted mere inches above the ground, swinging slowly back and forth on the end of the pulley. Rob slowly relaxed his tense muscles and opened his eyes. He looked up.

“It’s jammed!” Seb called down, “the pulley’s jammed!”

The family from the house came rushing out into the storm, concerned about Rob.

“Are you OK?” the mother asked, her hair already soaked.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine,” Rob tried to sound as dignified as someone could in his situation.

“Do you need some oil?” the father called up to the rest of the team who were trying to release the pulley.

“I think there’s some in the van,” Jess climbed down, keys in hand.

“I’ll get it,” one of the children, a boy of about 10 or 11 piped up, running over to the van which Jess opened for him. A minute later he was back with a large can of oil.

“Thanks kid,” Jess handed the oil up to Seb.

“Best step back,” Tyler said as he descended. He and Jess stood either side of the wheelchair, holding two of the chains that secured Robs’ wheelchair each. Seb oiled the pulley system, making a mess due to the low visibility in the rain. Tyler and Jess braced themselves to suddenly take the weight of the wheelchair. They felt the pulley give, but were able to gently lower Rob to the ground without a severe impact.

Rob uttered a quiet thanks, embarrassed that the family had seen the whole affair.

“Right, folks,” Seb said as he hopped down from the scaffolding, “We’ll be back next week to add the final touches, and then we’ll be done.”

“Good to hear,” the mother said politely, “let’s hope this rain stops.”

***

The following Monday was dry but over-cast as Rob rolled into work. Leant against the fences surrounding the house was a large garage door, complete with tracks that would need attaching to the ceiling. As he inspected them, Jess came out of the house carrying the inevitable cup of tea.

“Morning Rob, how you feeling?” she asked cheerfully. Rob had always marvelled at her ability to cope with mornings.

“Okay, thanks, bit bruised,” he replied.

“Naturally,” she said.

An hour later the team were busy fitting the tracks for the garage door. They were very fiddly and Seb had already cut his finger once, the plaster barely sticking to the wound. With much stretching and swearing the tracks were eventually in place. Rob went to get the garage door, which he dragged along behind him making a loud, grating sound. The door was a lot easier to get into place than the tracks had been, and within the hour it was ready to be tested.

Rob turned the key in the lock to check it worked, then took hold of the handle and heaved the door upwards. It swung outwards, moving along the tracks. As the door approached a 45° angle, the mechanism that would pull the door the rest of the way activated. Caught by surprise at the strength and speed of this mechanism, Rob didn’t let go in time, and ended up hanging mid-air holding on to the door which was now parallel to the floor.

“Err…guys?” Rob said, his arms already beginning to ache, “I’d say the auto-help mechanism works.”

In response he heard barely muffled laughter behind him, until Jess flung her head back and let out a huge roar of laughter. This set off Seb and Tyler, and even Rob himself began to chuckle as he clung on in desperation. His arms were burning with lactic acid now, and he could feel his fingers slipping slowly.

“Guys, seriously, this is funny but I need a hand here,” Rob said.

Still laughing, Tyler and Seb grabbed hold of either side of the wheelchair, while Jess placed her hands on his back to stop him over-turning.

“3… 2… 1… okay, let go Rob,” Seb instructed. Slowly Rob uncurled his fingers, until his entire weight was balanced precariously on his colleagues. Between them they managed to set the wheelchair on the ground gently, before bursting with laughter once more. Rob couldn’t help but join them as once again the concerned family came hurrying out of the house.

“Minor height issue,” Rob said in response to their puzzled expressions.

“We’re done, just need to clear up the tools,” Seb said as he struggled to control his laughter.

“Cool, well, you’ll have the payment within the week,” the father extended his hand for a hand-shake.

Slowly the tools were packed away and the yard swept. Finally, with everything loaded into their respective vans, Rob rolled down his window.

“Alright folks, you know our number should you have any problems,” he called to the family. They stood on the steps and waved as the team drove off, until they turned a corner and were no longer visible.

“Let’s call it a day, folks,” Rob said into his hands-free mobile set that he mainly used to talk to the team while driving, “Early start tomorrow. That Victorian villa won’t renovate itself…”

The D-Word.

With each generation language evolves, & one of the driving factors behind this change is the words we use to describe each other. While the n-word was once a common term for people of colour, most white people today will never let the word pass their lips. When I was at school, we were taught not to use the term faggot due to it’s homophobic connotations. Finally, it seems that the focus has shifted onto how we talk about disability.

Disabled people frequently refer to themselves as disabled. I mean, you are currently reading Diary of a Disabled Person (for which I thank you). We are comfortable with the word disabled as it hasn’t been used as an insult very often, & it neatly describes the vast range of conditions & characteristics that can render someone disabled. However, most “ableds” seem to disagree. They think that referring to ourselves as disabled is demeaning and belittles us, when in actuality, denying us the right to determine how we are described for ourselves is far more belittling.

So, if we’re not supposed to call ourselves disabled, what do we say? Differently abled is a common suggestion, although my personal favourite is access inclusion seekers. Both of them are long-winded & can hardly be said to roll off the tongue, & the former implies that no matter what resources are made available to me, I simply cannot function on their level. The latter is just an excuse to be inaccessible given that, if everywhere were accessible & inclusive, we would have nothing to seek.

It should also be noted that I’ve already purchased the domain name Diary of a Disabled Person, and I had the word disability permanently etched onto my skin (along with some other words).

More specifically to those of us who have wheels, it is still common to hear wheelchair-bound being used to describe us. Bound has lots of problematic connotations, such as being limited by our wheelchairs, or perpetuating the stereotype that all of us are paralysed from the waist down & cannot walk or stand at all. The term wheelchair-user is significantly preferred by those of us who use them, but we are shouted down as we couldn’t possibly know for ourselves what we want.

If the reluctance to use the word disabled wasn’t bad enough, there are words still in use that generations of disabled people have said are unacceptable. Retard. Spaz. Cripple. More recently, idiot, a term that I still find slips out far more often than I’d like. These are the words with offensive connotations that we want people to stop using, yet this is ignored and the term we want is denied to us. Is there anything more patronising than out desires being over-ridden in favour of someone who knows nothing about our realities?

If people want to support the disabled, they need to start by listening to us. They need to start respecting our wants and needs. They need to stop condemning things which shouldn’t be condemned, & start shouting down those who park on pavements & block access routes, those who treat us as if we were a particularly unintelligent toddler, or those who make us invisible. They need to start with the man in the mirror (sorry, couldn’t resist).

Live Long & Prosper.

There is a certain type of Star Trek fan that likes to wax lyrical about how Star Trek Discovery, the latest iteration of the science-fiction saga, is just an excuse for left-wing propaganda. This is because the main protagonist is a black woman, two of the scientists were in a homosexual relationship, & one of the top engineers (who is a woman) mentions her deceased wife. Look closely & you can also spot an extra in a wheelchair. These fans claim that all of these characters are purely to pander to liberals & their political correctness, & that Star Trek should return to its apparently conservative roots. To that I say, bollocks.

Star Trek was one of the first television shows to depict an inter-racial kiss, between Captain Kirk & Uhura, in 1968. As if that wasn’t ground-breaking enough, William Shatner went out of his way to ensure that the kiss made it on screen, by crossing his eyes on the take where Uhura was out of shot & rendering it unusable.

Since then there have been multiple characters of varying ethnicities taking up leading roles in the subsequent series & films, & many strong female characters accompanying them. Deep Space Nine contains excellent examples of these in Benjamin & Jake Sisko, & Major Kira Nerys. It is even arguable that beloved characters such as Spock & Data represent autism. Considering all of this it is perhaps not surprising that I have yet to find a better example of consistently positive representation for disabled characters.

In the pilot episode of Star Trek we meet Captain Pike, before Captain Kirk took the helm of the USS Enterprise. Captain Pike meets a group of telepathic aliens on Talos 4, & over the course of the episode it is revealed that a federation ship crashed on the planet leaving the lone survivor severely injured. The telepaths use their powers to make her look & feel as if she were a healthy woman once more.

Part way through the first series it is revealed that, due to a heroic sacrifice, Captain Pike is left severely disabled. He uses a wheelchair with a built-in life-support system, & can only communicate with “yes” & “no”. At first he will only allow Spock to accompany him, & soon it becomes clear why; Spock manages to ensure that Captain Pike returns to Talos 4, where the telepaths “heal” him.

During the journey there is a tribunal when Spock’s interference is uncovered, & at first the admiral seems reluctant to host the tribunal due to the lack of Federation leaders available. It is pointed out, quite rightly, that Captain Pike is still a captain & the tribunal is allowed to go ahead.

The story-line did not make Captain Pike look weak, nor did it turn him into “inspiration porn”. He had a duty to perform & he did it. The characters learnt to recognise that Captain Pike still existed behind the machinery, & the audience learns this with them. Nor was Captain Pike subject to a mercy-killing, but was able to go and live out the rest of his days peacefully (and in the company of a very attractive woman).

Captain Pike is now a main character on the prequel series Star Trek Discovery, a staggering 50 years after audiences first came to know the character. Without giving anything away, Pike has a vision of his future but continues down that path regardless, as the fate of all sentient life in the universe is at stake, naturally. He fears for his future but tells no one, facing the truth without making a scene, & it is his stoicism that is admirable, not the fact that he will become disabled.

Captain Pike isn’t even the only disabled character in Star Trek. There is Melora in Deep Space Nine, who must use a wheelchair as the gravity on her native planet is nowhere near as strong as Earth’s, & Geordi La Forge who is blind in The Next Generation.

So, if you are one of those toxic fans who thinks that left-wing politics doesn’t belong in Star Trek (although for the life of me I cannot fathom why you would be reading this blog in the first place), you couldn’t be more wrong, because I am completely unable to find such a consistently excellent representation of disability in pop-culture at all. Let it live long & prosper.

Living in Leeds: Saturday Streamer.

Diary of a Disabled Person Presents Living in Leeds: Saturday Streamer. Watch live every other Saturday at 6 pm (BST) on Twitter, starting 13th July 2019. Pink & white text on a black box. Down each side is a black & hot-pink zebra style pattern. Social media links are listed at the top of the image. Twitter: @WheelsofSteer. Facebook/Instagram: @diaryofadisabledperson. Google: https://diaryofadisabledperson.blog

Having thoroughly enjoyed doing the odd live-stream on Twitter over the past few months, & having got excellent feedback to boot, I’ve decided to take up live-streaming on a regular basis!

Every other Saturday at 6 pm (BST) I’ll be discussing recent blog posts, providing an exclusive look at what’s to come on Diary of a Disabled Person, sharing anecdotes, reading comments & more!

Born Survivor: Yet Another Short Story.

I was at home when I encountered my first victim of the sickness. My mum had come back from work early saying that she didn’t feel very well and was going to go to bed for a little while. A couple of hours later she shuffled out of her bedroom and came into the living room, where I was watching the news.

“Have you seen this?” I asked without looking at her, turning the volume up, “There’s some kind of disease going round; it looks really bad.”

When my mum made no effort to respond I turned to look at her. Her skin had taken on a pale, jaundiced hue, and her eyes were vacant between puffed up eyelids. She was drooling slightly from the corner of her mouth and her hair was falling over her face.

“OK mum, very funny,” I laughed. There was a short pause.

“Mum?”

I glanced back towards the TV where they were showing pictures of those who were already sick, and advising people to distance themselves from any victims. My mum wasn’t faking it.

I hauled myself shakily from the sofa to my wheelchair and left the room as fast as I could, slamming the door behind me. While I scrambled for my coat and shoes I could hear her rattling the door handle. I grabbed my bag and quickly checked that my wallet, phone, and keys were inside before bolting out of the door to our flat and locking it behind me.

I looked down the corridor towards the lifts, and saw the old lady from the flat next to ours shambling away from me. She had dementia and no one ever visited her bar the nurses, so I decided to guide her back to her flat where she could remain safe until the sickness could be quarantined.

“Mrs Owen?” I called. There was no answer. I approached her and tapped her gently on the hand.

“Best stay indoors right now, Mrs Owen, there’s trouble outside,” I said calmly.

She turned around slowly. She was drooling from both corners of the mouth and her eyes appeared to be oozing some strange, pus-filled tears. I dropped her hand immediately and made towards the lifts as fast as I could, hammering the button repeatedly as I waited for its arrival, all the while watching Mrs Owen head towards me. The lift arrived just in time; the doors closed as Mrs Owen made to step into the lift, crushing the toes on her right foot with a sickening sound. Somehow I managed to stop myself from being sick, and I pulled my phone out of my bag.

“Steph?” I said, relieved when my friend answered my call, “My mum’s sick, I need somewhere to go.”

“My entire family bar me is down with whatever the hell this is, I was just about to head over to your place,” she replied.

“We’re gonna need somewhere to hide out for a while. Somewhere secure,” I was pressing the phone to my ear with my shoulder in order to give me two hands to push my wheelchair.

“What about the gym?” I asked after thinking, gazing down the empty street. I had never seen it so quiet; if tumbleweed had at that moment drifted past I wouldn’t have been surprised.

“Food, water, showers, and decent security. Sounds like a good place to start,” Steph replied.

“And accessible,” I added.

“See you there,” she replied, and then hung up.

I turned left towards the main road where there was a deficit of traffic. I didn’t have to wait for the traffic lights to be able to cross safely, and I couldn’t help wondering where everybody was. It was hard to believe that everyone had been affected.

As I approached the gym it started to rain lightly, and I regretted not bringing a blanket to keep me dry. I could see Steph already making her way across the gym car-park and I called out to her. That was my first mistake. As soon as the first syllable had left my mouth a group of sick adults came rushing out of the nearby houses, attracted by my shout. They were moving faster than either my mum or Mrs Owen had been able to.

I pushed myself as rapidly as I could, and when I got to the car-park I glanced back over my shoulder. That was my second mistake. I should have kept moving; I felt a sharp jolt as one of the sick ones sank his teeth into my wheel. There was a sharp popping sound and then a gentle hiss as the tire began to slowly deflate. I looked up to see Steph hurtling towards me, and I reached out. She grabbed my hands and pulled me forwards out of the throng of sick adults, and then pushed me as fast as possible all the way into the gym. We slammed the doors shut behind us, sliding the security bolts into place.

“Any more of you?”

We jumped, and turned around. Leaning against the reception desk was a young woman in skinny jeans and a leather jacket, her short hair scraped back into a ponytail.

“No,” Steph answered first.

“OK, let’s go and meet the others and discuss what to do. You were sensible enough to come to the gym so I’m sure you’ll be able to pull your weight,” she stared straight at me as she spoke.

“This bothering you?” I pointed downwards.

“Right now it’s survival of the fittest, and you don’t look the fittest to me,” she replied casually.

“She’s an expert archer,” Steph blurted out angrily, “She’ll be a valuable part of whatever team you’re building.”

The woman raised an eyebrow slightly before turning away, and led us into the café overlooking the swimming pool.

“I’m Ruby,” the woman said, “and this is Vicky and Zelia.” She indicated to two more women of about her age sat by one of the vending machines. Both of them looked up, and their respective gazes settled on my wheelchair.

“I’m Jo,” I said, “and this is my friend, Steph.” We all gathered around the one table.

“Right,” Ruby said, “we’re gonna need to be organised if we wanna get outta this. You’re friend said something about being good at archery.”

“Err, yeah, I guess so,” I said as they all looked at me, “I spend a lot of time on the archery range, it’s one of the few sports disability doesn’t affect that much.”

“Cool. And what about you?” Ruby turned to Steph, “Any special talents?”

“I’m an apprentice electrical engineer,” Steph said.

“Wow, full of surprises,” Ruby replied, “There’s an old radio in the basement; do you reckon that you get that working for us? And modify the vending machines to get food out without spending any money?”

“Sure, it’s certainly worth a shot,” Steph said.

“OK. Well, Vicky and me do kickboxing, so we’re good for on-the-ground defence, and Zelia is our resident genius,” one of the women, small, with a dark pixie cut framing her face, blushed, “so she can do rations and medical stuff, and modify equipment.”

“So here’s the plan,” Ruby continued, “Zelia and Steph will put barricades in place on all the doors bar the back entrance and sort out the radio and stuff. Vicky and me will fashion some melee weapons out of gym equipment and patrol the car-park, keeping it clear of the zombie-things. Jo, you’re gonna select a bow and get all the arrows you can, and get to the roof where you can see what’s going on. We’ll reconvene here in an hour. Understood?”

We all nodded and set off for our various tasks. I took the lift, which was fortunately still working, down to the archery range. I selected my favourite bow; a lightweight, long range piece, with enough tension to fire arrows at tremendous speed. I went around all the store cupboards collecting every arrow I could, amounting to about 100 in total. My only problem was that the arrows weren’t designed to be used as weapons, and probably wouldn’t do that much damage if I tried to shoot someone. I looked around the room for ideas, a fruitless search that sent me into the rest of the basement where I bumped into Zelia.

“You OK?” she whispered shyly.

“Yeah,” I replied, “it’s just that these arrows aren’t going to do much good as weapons.”

Zelia looked around the corridor and reached out to touch one of the roughly whitewashed walls.

“You could probably sharpen some against this wall, but it might take a while,” she said thoughtfully. There was a short pause.

“Hang on,” she added, “there’s some bandages and alcoholic hygiene solution in the medical kits. If you soak the bandages in the alcohol and then wrap them around the arrow-heads, you could make fire arrows. Ruby has a lighter.”

“Good idea,” I nodded, “where can I find a medical kit?”

“There’s one in the café we were in,” Zelia replied.

I headed back towards the lift and pressed the button. As I did all the lights in the corridor dimmed, flickered, and went out.

“Powers’ down,” I heard Steph say from somewhere to my right. A couple of seconds later, a phone torch cast a white light down the corridor. I pressed the lift button again but nothing happened.

“There’s a hand crank for the lift upstairs behind a panel in the café, for emergencies. But we’re gonna need to lever open the doors,” Zelia impressed me with her quick thinking.

“Yo, I made a crowbar of sorts out of one of the cross-trainers. Best use for ‘em,” Ruby’s voice came from somewhere behind Steph. She sauntered towards me as if she hadn’t a care in the world, swinging a metal bar casually by her side. I moved to one side and let her crank open the doors, albeit slowly with a lot of heaving and sweating.

“I’ll go do all the other floors,” Ruby swaggered off the way she had come.

“I’ll go sort out the crank,” Zelia said reassuringly, “don’t worry, we’ll get you sorted out in no time.”

I thanked them and 10 minutes later I was sat in the café wrapping bandages around arrow-heads, and dipping them in alcohol solution.

***

The radio crackled and fuzzed as Steph delicately fiddled with the settings. Out of the unintelligible white noise came the occasional fragment of what sounded like a man’s voice, but we couldn’t make out any words. Suddenly, a clear string of words seemingly erupted from the speakers.

“…can hear this…military operation…rescue all citizens trapped by the plague who are not sick…signal us using this bandwidth…tell us…location…will aid…” the crackling noise overwhelmed the last of the words.

“I think it’s a repeating message,” Steph said, still tinkering among the mass of wires in the radio, “if I can just…there.” She sat back proudly as the message came pouring out of the speakers loud and clear.

“To anyone who can hear this, a military operation to rescue all citizens trapped by the plague who are not sick is in place. Signal using this bandwidth,” a small string of numbers followed, “and tell us your location. We will aid you as soon as we can… To anyone who-“

“Can you send them that signal?” I turned to Steph.

“Yes,” she returned, “but I may need a little time.”

“Take whatever you need,” Vicky spoke for the first time.

“In the meantime, here is my daily ration plan,” Zelia pushed forward a piece of paper covered in pencil scribblings, “the food here could last us for two weeks, after which point we would need to go out and look for more. The most important thing for now is to stop anyone sick from getting in.”

“Well, sounds like we have a job to do,” Ruby looked across at Vicky and myself. We both nodded, and I set off for the lifts.

“Oh, I almost forgot,” I said, stopping just before I entered the lift, “I need your lighter, Ruby. These are fire arrows.”

“Sure,” she tossed it over to me.

“Cheers,” I said as I positioned myself in the lift, and Zelia started turning the crank.

The trip to the roof was slow and dark and when I finally opened the door to the rooftop terrace, the sun was beginning to set. I moved to the edge of the terrace overlooking the carpark and put on my brakes. Below I could see Ruby and Vicky doing a circuit of the grounds, warding off the few sick people that still lingered there. A small group had gathered in one corner and as the two women set to work, they failed to see another small group walking towards them from the opposite corner.

I plucked an arrow from the sports bag slung over the back of my wheelchair and pulled Ruby’s lighter from my pocket. Once I had set the arrow alight, I didn’t have much time to aim before firing it, for risk of setting my bow or even myself on fire. I pulled back the bow and exhaled, then released the arrow. Had it been a video game, I’d have probably unlocked an achievement for hitting three people with one arrow. This being an unfortunate reality I had to make-do with watching the other sick people reel back in fear, before turning and shuffling off in the other direction. Ruby and Vicky dealt with the rest.

It was getting too dark to see properly so I called down to Vicky and Ruby to let me down in the lift when they got back inside. As I waited in the lift I pulled my phone out of my pocket but the battery had run out, leaving me staring at the blank screen.

***

It was three days before we managed to signal the military and tell them our location. There were so many people trying to reach them that the bandwidth was flooded with messages and they couldn’t possibly receive them all at once.

Each morning started with a cereal bar and bottle of orange juice for breakfast, and then I would go up to the roof armed with my bow and arrows, and with lunch rations by my side. I stayed on the roof until sunset, firing arrows at any troublesome groups. I burned through arrows, no pun intended, at an alarming rate as the group of sick people grew larger and larger each day, getting closer and closer to the gym. Occasionally Vicky or Ruby would wander around the car-park, clearing away any waifs and strays, but for most of the day they rested as they guarded the gym overnight.

Steph maintained any barricades and melee weapons that happened to get damaged, retrieving what arrows she could as well, and Zelia assigned rations and treated any injuries. It was actually quite dull compared to all the books, movies, and TV series dedicated to Earth-destroying diseases, and all of us felt particularly trapped.

It was approximately midday on the fourth day when I heard the sound of whirring helicopter blades in the distance. A minute or so later a helicopter appeared on the horizon, and within 10 minutes it was hovering over the gym. The others having heard the commotion came hurrying up to the roof as a soldier was hoisted down to us.

“We’ll hoist you up one by one,” he shouted to us as he landed on the roof. Ruby practically leapt into the man’s arms.

It was then that I noticed my wheelchair was slowly being blown backwards by the helicopter, creeping towards the edge of the roof. Safe in the knowledge that my brakes and the low wall around the rooftop should keep me safe I started to laugh, the first time I had laughed since the outbreak. Steph started to laugh with me, as did Vicky and Zelia, and I think I saw a small smile flash across the face of the soldier too as he ascended towards the helicopter with Ruby. None of us noticed that one of my brakes wasn’t on until it was too late.

I was gaining speed as I was blown towards the edge and when I hit the wall, I was going just fast enough to tip the wheelchair backwards. Suddenly I found myself precariously balanced over a three-story drop onto the tarmac below, where a group of sick adults had gathered to watch the spectacle. I screamed as I felt the wheelchair tipping further and further.

Steph grabbed my hand and Zelia the other, pulling me back onto the roof, but as soon as they had set me down I was rolling towards the edge of the roof again.

“Undo your seatbelt,” the soldier, who had returned to the roof for the next of us, shouted.

“But without my wheelchair-“

“We can get you another at the base,” he yelled. I hesitated.

Zelia dived towards me and yanked loose the seatbelt that was across my lap, pulling me onto the roof at the same time. I looked up to see my wheelchair go flying off the roof, clattering to the ground below. Needless to say I was the next to be hoisted into the helicopter.

***

When we arrived at the military base a new wheelchair was waiting for me. We were examined by a medical team in a quarantined area before being allowed to mingle with the other survivors, of whom there were surprisingly many. We were based there for a month while a nation-wide military operation administered treatment to all those affected by the disease. Finally, after a weeks’ quarantine period to ensure that the disease would not make a reappearance, we were allowed to return home.

It would take a long time before the country was running normally again; many people remained missing, presumed dead, for months or even years. Even 60 years on some people were never found, my mother among them.

Steph went on to complete her apprenticeship and set up her own business, despite being a single mother of two. Ruby pursued a career in the police force, which had always surprised and amused me, and Vicky joined the army. Zelia returned to her job as a junior doctor and worked in various hospitals throughout her career.

As for myself, I moved in with Steph’s family for a few months until I could support myself, and then I continued to spend a great deal of time on the archery range. After all, being a gold medallist at three Paralympics in a row is no mean feat.