Underestimated: Another Short Story.

It was a cold day in the middle of October and the rain battering the window was loud enough to wake Steve up early. He lay on his back in bed staring at the ceiling, and finally came to the conclusion that he wouldn’t be able to fall back to sleep before his alarm rang at 4 pm.

He sat upright and stared at his new uniform that hung on the door of the wardrobe. He wasn’t looking forward to spending the whole night outside a club in thin, scratchy trousers, a polo shirt, and an over-sized, cheaply-made anorak. However, this was his first shift and he needed to make the right impression on the owner of the club, who was extremely dubious about his capabilities as a bouncer. Steve scoffed at this thought; how could the owner of the club possibly know what wheelchair-users were like when they couldn’t even get to the bar?

An hour later he was dressed and waiting inside the reception of his block of flats for the taxi he had booked the day before. He was glad that he had the option of waiting inside somewhere warm and dry as he watched people hurry past laden down with shopping bags, trying to shelter themselves from the foul weather. 15 minutes after his taxi was due to arrive he called the taxi company; if he waited much longer he would be late to work.

“Hi, this is the Fordon Taxi Company, how may we help you?” a receptionist chirruped in a forced, cheerful tone.

“Hi, I booked a disabled taxi yesterday to collect me at 5 pm but I’m still waiting,” Steve replied.

“Who is this, please?”

“Steve Baker.”

“Ah yes, well, we have no disabled taxi’s available at the moment but we will get one out to you as soon as we can,” the receptionist said after a short pause.

“But I booked this in yesterday!” Steve exclaimed.

“All the disabled taxis were already out on jobs. The next one that becomes available will be sent to you,” the receptionist sounded a little less cheerful.

“I’m going to be late for work,” Steve said angrily, “just because it’s a Saturday doesn’t mean everyone is here for a pleasure trip.”

“I’m sorry sir, but as I said all the disabled taxis are currently in use.”

“This is my first shift! If I’m late I doubt it will set a good impression for future shifts,” Steve pleaded.

“If you’re worried about punctuality, you ought to book your taxi to arrive well in advance, sir,” the receptionist had lost all of her false cheeriness.

“I have!” Steve growled, “Why should I have to wake myself up especially early just because you can’t get a pre-booked taxi to me on time?”

“We only have a limited fleet able to accommodate wheelchairs, sir,” the receptionist said.

“Yes and I’ve seen you using them to transport people without wheelchairs on more than one occasion. Anyway if you frequently run out of disabled taxis, perhaps you ought to have more adapted vehicles,” Steve returned sharply.

“That isn’t my decision to make, sir,” for the first time, the receptionist sounded remotely sympathetic.

“Well, when will my taxi be here?” Steve asked a little more calmly.

“We have just sent one to you now, it should be there in about 10 minutes. Bye,” and with that the phone went dead.

A little over 20 minutes later Steve was finally seated in the back of a disabled taxi heading towards work. He had texted his new boss to warn him that he would be a little late due to issues regarding the lack of disabled taxis available. Within minutes he had received a reply telling him to book the taxi in advance the next time. Steve didn’t have the resolve to argue.

He clocked onto his shift in the staff room, which was the only accessible room in the club, about 10 minutes late, and went to join his new colleagues outside in the cold rain. His boss was stood outside with them, a damp cigarette hanging out of his mouth, drooping slightly in the rain.

“I’m sorry I’m late sir,” Steve said.

“Don’t let it happen again,” the boss reported sternly, “Rupal, this is your new colleague, Steve.”

Rupal was a tall, well-built man of Indian decent who was the typical physically imposing bouncer that clubs regularly placed outside their establishments on a Saturday night. His muscular arms were folded across his chest, and his face was unmoving and impassive until he saw the wheelchair.

“You’re the new bouncer?” he raised one eyebrow.

“Yep,” Steve replied.

“But-“

“I’m in a wheelchair,” Steve raised his eyebrows back, daring Rupal to continue questioning his ability to do the job.

“I take it I’m in charge of any physical stuff then,” Rupal tried to change the subject of the conversation. The boss wordlessly threw his cigarette to the ground and let the rain snuff it out before retreating into the warmth of the club.

“Not necessarily,” Steve replied calmly, trying desperately not to roll his eyes, “I’ve had training in kick-boxing and judo, among other things.”

Rupal silently raised his other eyebrow then turned to face the first group of tipsy students who were swaying their way over to the club.

“Tickets, please,” he said. He waited patiently while one of the girls fumbled around in her tiny handbag, finally pulling out a sheath of damp, crumpled paper that vaguely resembled some tickets.

“Can we search your bags please,” Steve interjected before Rupal could take over the whole job.

“Are you a bouncer?” one of the girls asked.

“Yes,” Steve did not want to pander to their assumptions.

“Oh my god, can you, like, beat people up then?” she exclaimed.

“Yes,” Steve said again.

“Not very chatty, are you?” one of the boys in the group observed.

“That’s not part of my job. You can go in,” Steve nodded towards the door, wishing that they would just go inside and quit questioning him as if he were the subject of an interrogation. He was relieved to see the boy shrug nonchalantly and start to move towards the door when one of the girls grabbed his arm.

“Wait a sec, I gotta get a selfie with this guy, no one on Instagram will believe me if not,” she said. Before Steve had the time to react she was leaning awkwardly over him, telling him to smile. Steve gave the smallest, fakest smile he possibly could and then practically pushed them into the club. Rupal said nothing.

“Rupal, if that happens again, and I’m certain it will, please can you reinforce my instructions?” Steve asked politely.

“So you do need my help after all,” Rupal retorted sharply, “Would’ve been easier if you just let me do the talking in the first place.”

“And what would be the point of me being here if I didn’t do my job?”

“What’s the point of you being here in the first place if you didn’t want people to treat you differently?” Rupal returned quickly.

“People ought to get used to seeing disabled people doing normal jobs like everyone else,” Steve said, “More and more of us are doing just that.”

Rupal shrugged and said no more.

As the night progressed, both bouncers getting steadily wetter and colder with the passing time, more and more people arrived at the club. The later into the night it was the drunker these people were, and Steve lost count of the number of selfies he had been unwillingly subjected to. He was beginning to wonder whether Rupal had been right all along when a scuffle broke out between two boys in the queue.

“Cool it, lads,” Steve raised his voice. Both of them turned around, and it took them a second before they realised that they would have to look downwards to be able to make eye-contact with him.

“What the hell? I don’t have to listen to you,” one of them said as soon as he clocked the wheelchair.

“I’m a bouncer for this club so yeah, you do have to listen to me,” Steve said.

“Like you’re a bouncer mate, I’m not gonna fall for it,” the other replied.

Steve internally screamed at Rupal for a little back-up but Rupal remained resolutely by the door of the club, seemingly uninterested in the latest turn of events.

“Lads, if you want to get into the club and not a police car, just wait patiently like everybody else,” Steve turned back towards Rupal.

“And what exactly are you gonna do if we continue our little disagreement?”

“Well you seem to be in agreement in underestimating my ability to do my job,” Steve replied firmly, turning back around.

One of the other boys in the queue quietly asked his companions to calm down, clearly not wanting to spend longer outside in the cold than was absolutely necessary. The larger of the two fighters immediately turned on the boy who said this, delivering a sloppy uppercut to his jaw and causing blood to spurt from his nose. The girls shrieked and tottered away on their ridiculous stilettos as Rupal finally decided to make his way towards the fight.

Steve sighed and made a quick decision. He was going to have to prove his ability to be a bouncer to prove to customers and colleagues alike that the wheelchair was just a wheelchair, and nothing more. He kicked out his right leg firmly and spun the wheelchair round on the spot; the resulting leg sweep knocked the aggressor to the ground where mud and blood mingled on his shirt. Everyone around them, Rupal included, froze in surprise. The boy leapt back on his feet and swung a clumsy punch at Steve, who easily blocked it before countering by grabbing the boys right arm and pinning it behind his back, gently kicking the back of his knees to force him to kneel so that he was at the right height for Steve. Two police officers who were patrolling the local streets were making their way over the road to diffuse the situation.

Image description: a black and white pencil sketch of Steve kicking the back of the trouble-makers knees, knocking him over.k

Steve looked around at Rupal and the other customers, plus several bystanders who had stopped to watch the scene playing out before them.

“Do I have to convince any more of you that I’m a capable bouncer?” Steve practically shouted as the police escorted the troublemaker away. He was met with a stunned silence, with a few people even managing to look sorry, “Just as I thought.”

Steve returned to his post next to Rupal, admitting people to the club in a steady flow without any trouble. About half an hour later the boss wandered out of the club and lit another cigarette before looking down at Steve.

“Could you please explain to me why I have the local newspaper on the phone asking me relentless questions about my newest recruit?” he asked sarcastically.

“Err..what?” Steve said as they moved off to one side, leaving Rupal in charge.

“It appears that your little stunt was filmed and uploaded to social media, and now the internet is going crazy over the worlds’ most unusual bouncer,” the boss said, “So the newspaper wants to know everything there is to know about you, including how I came to the decision to employ you. I must say, the public relations benefits would be remarkable if only I could step away from the phone for 5 minutes.”

“You didn’t employ me,” Steve raised one eyebrow, “an agency did and assigned me here.”

“There’s no point splitting hairs at this point,” the boss replied, tapping the ash off of his cigarette which landed on Steve’s lap. Steve impatiently brushed it off.

“But, I’ll give you a significant underhand bonus if you keep quiet about that fact,” the boss said quietly, “because this club is getting some serious marketing thanks to you.”

“I’m not sure-“ Steve began.

“You can end your shift early tonight and I won’t reprimand you about your punctuality this time,” the boss added, “and if you want I’ll give you someone nicer to work with.”

“Tempting as that offer is I was only doing what I’m employed to do. It is nothing to do with me that people underestimate me,” Steve returned.

“I wholeheartedly disagree,” the boss said.

“Boss!” Rupal called from his position by the club door, “There’s a film crew setting up to film us.”

“Ah, no leaving early then, we need this to be filmed for everyone to see. I’ll double that bonus instead,” the boss didn’t wait for an answer as he wandered across to the news team to introduce himself.

Steve returned to Rupals’ side.

“Sorry I doubted you bud, but you gotta admit that the wheelchair gives the wrong impression,” he said.

“Because you assumed things about me before I even opened my mouth,” Steve replied, admitting another clan into the club.

Before they could continue their conversation, Steve saw a taxi pulling up outside the club that was adapted for wheelchair users. He silently prayed that this was just another group of drunken students following their social media religiously, but he was horrified to see a wheelchair user make her way out of the taxi. Her outfit was garish and skimpy enough to make it clear what she was doing that night; she would be going clubbing. She flashed a lipstick-stained smile at Steve before joining the back of the queue. Steve started off towards her before Rupal had a chance to say a word.

“Hey,” he said in as polite a tone as possible when he was in ear shot. He was aware of the news cameras turning towards him.

“Hey,” she grinned, “Can’t believe I’ve found another accessible club to visit, all thanks to you!”

“Ah, about that…” Steve began.

“Oh my god, perfect selfie opportunity,” she interrupted him, and Steve begrudgingly subjected himself to the procedure once more.

“Listen, the club isn’t accessible,” Steve blurted out as she put her phone back in her bag. To his surprise she laughed merrily.

“Quite the joker, I see,” she said.

“No, I’m serious,” Steve interjected, “the club itself isn’t accessible, only the staff room is.”

“You’re not kidding, are you?” she sounded disappointed.

“I’m sorry,” Steve replied, “I was assigned here by an agency and had no say in the matter.”

Whilst in conversation, Steve hadn’t realised that the news cameras had moved closer towards him. His last sentence had just been broadcast live on the news channel. The boss’s face was slowly turning red, half out of embarrassment and half out of rage. He fixed Steve with a furious glance but kept his mouth tightly shut.

“What was that? This man didn’t employ you? And the club isn’t even accessible?” a journalist barged in with her microphone, followed by a camera-man doing his best to keep the rain from disrupting the footage.

“Oh, no the club isn’t accessible. But the staff room is,” Steve could see the look on the boss’s face. The reporter turned back to the camera to relay the latest development in the saga as the young woman in the wheelchair turned away. She paused, and then turned back around to face Steve.

“Steve, Steve Baker, right?” she asked.

“Yes,” Steve frowned, perplexed.

“It’s not my fault I couldn’t get a disabled taxi to you on time,” she said.

“What?” Steve was completely baffled.

“I work for the Fordon taxi company,” she explained, before rolling away towards a bank of taxis around the corner.

Steve was left staring after her, flabbergasted, and jumped when his boss tapped him forcefully on the shoulder.

“A word please, in the staff room,” he said firmly.

Steve knew that he was in trouble just from the tone of voice, let alone the infuriated expression etched across his face. Once they were in the staff room the torrent of abuse began.

“I told you to keep that information under wraps, let alone to blurt it out in front of all those cameras! Have you seen the news now? I’m being portrayed as an ableist, closed-minded miser who saw you as an opportunity for free publicity! The news lot are standing outside humiliating me and bad-mouthing my club. You’ve damaged my reputation; you could put me out of business!” the boss yelled.

All Steve had to say in reply was “Good.”

“YOU’RE FIRED!” the boss roared as Steve turned away.

“I figured,” Steve didn’t bother to turn back to face the boss, “I’ll just be assigned to another club and give them some free publicity instead.” With that he left the room.

As Steve left the club a throng of journalists ran over to him, asking him a myriad of questions.

“I no longer work here; the agency will be assigning me elsewhere,” Steve said in reply to them, “But in all of this I must admit I actually have a question for you?”

The clamouring group fell silent.

“Is it a slow news night?” he was met by a sea of blinking, dumb-founded faces.

“Why do you ask that?” one of the reporters ventured.

“Because I don’t see why a wheelchair-bound bouncer is newsworthy. After all, ableism in the work place is illegal; no employer should fail to select someone disabled if they are right for the job simply because they are disabled,” had Steve been holding a microphone he would have dropped it. Steve rolled away from the group of journalists who were shouting questions at his back.

He rounded the corner and was relieved to get away from the bright lights and loud noise. He was finally alone for 30 seconds. Across the street he could see an adapted taxi with its sign lit to indicate that it was available. He looked both ways before crossing the quiet street and was just about to tap on the taxi drivers’ window when the light was switched off and it pulled away, despite the fact that Steve had most certainly been spotted and there was no one but the driver inside. Clearly the taxi driver didn’t fancy getting wet.

Announcement.

Dear all,

Those of you who follow me on social media (Facebook: @diaryofadisabledperson, Twitter: @WheelsofSteer), or who know me in person, will know that this week I was offered more hours at work. With the current dismal financial state of affairs, and a forecast even worse, the increased wage was too good to turn down, and so I quickly accepted. The only downside of the additional hours, and one that I can no longer ignore, is that I can expect a decline in my health.

The decrease in the time I can spend on my writing, and the increased need to rest and recouporate will naturally impact my ability to run Diary of a Disabled Person. The undeniable truth of the matter is that writing, editing, recording, illustrating, and publishing my content, alongside managing two social media accounts, takes a lot of time and energy. This is time and energy I will no longer have.

Therefore I have come to the decision to end this blog. The content will remain available, and I will maintain my social media accounts and continue advocating for disabled rights, but new content will no longer be published.

I am terribly sorry to have to end this so suddenly, and I want to thank you all for your continued support.

It is with regret, then, that I write these final words for you to read.

Wishing you all the best,

Emma Steer.

Judgement Day.

People with disabilities face discrimination and prejudice in a variety of forms, be it the obstruction of an access route, the misuse of special facilities, or even just being stared at because we look weird. However what many don’t realise is that there is actually a lot of judgemental behaviour displayed by people with different disabilities towards each other, and it is just as insensitive and intrusive as any other kind of judgement. I am as guilty as any other when it comes to this kind of prejudice, and will freely admit that I frequently compare my disability to others’ conditions in a distinctly negative manner. Despite this I still think I have a right to say that this sort of behaviour is unhelpful, perhaps even hindering the progression of those with disabilities within society, and the troubling trend needs to stop.

There are two main scenarios in which the type of judgement I speak of arises.

Firstly the disability benefits that people receive to pay for special equipment and transport are often a cause for jealousy between those with disabilities. I know of people who are far more able-bodied than myself receiving much larger sums of money, and I know people who make me look like an utter wimp receiving far less. I also know that people of roughly the same capabilities as myself can receive drastically different sums of money. Sometimes people may have hidden aspects of their disability that may increase the need for support behind closed doors that the rest of us cannot see. Naturally this causes some upsets; ideally the amount of money given out should reflect the severity of the disability and the amount of help needed, but since so many people are involved in the process of awarding such benefits, who’s opinions, experiences, and budgets will vary widely, these financial discrepancies occur.

The outcome is that people become jealous and mistrustful of each other, questioning the true impact of someone else’s disability on their life, or even questioning whether the disability exists at all. I have faced such accusations myself but I confess that on a few occasions, I’ve been the accuser. I now try not to find out what money other people receive because if I don’t know, I can’t judge them for it.

The second situation is probably the most common; access to appropriate facilities. Many places only have 1 or 2 disabled toilets or changing rooms, which many perfectly able-bodied people choose to misuse. With no way to tell the difference between someone misusing the facilities and someone with a hidden disability such as the discrete bags to collect human waste following certain surgical procedures walking out of the disabled stall, those with genuine disabilities face the same judgement as the able-bodied people. Again I’ve been guilty of this myself, as having to wait an additional 10 minutes every time I wish to use the toilet becomes tiresome very, very quickly.

Admittedly if people didn’t misuse disabled facilities then we would know that whoever came out was actually disabled, and the judgements wouldn’t arise. Similarly if the availability of accessible facilities was increased, the competition for them would decrease, reducing the intensity of the problem.

The judgement and mistrust between those with disabilities can have catastrophic effects on someone’s self-confidence and mental health. It can make people not want to leave the house at all, instead choosing to sit at home idling away the time. It also reflects badly on disabled people, giving those who aren’t disabled a reason to treat us with scorn and judgement themselves. Perhaps the time has come to accept that the term disability can mean thousands of different things, effecting people in thousands of different ways. Instead of sticking our noses into other people lives, perhaps we should be more interested in our own and how to improve our own circumstances, instead of trying to derail the livelihoods of others.

Park Life.

If anyone ever tries to tell you that immigration is destroying Western civilisation, you might want to show them this blog post. I’m not just saying this because the extra publicity would be nice, although that is true. I’m saying it because I have solid evidence for the contrary.

Jarred and I were having a picnic in the local park, making the most of the rarely-seen sunshine which was beginning to sink below the rooftops of the inner-city buildings. The warmth remained however, broken only by the light breeze that fluttered past every few minutes. I was relaxed enough to find the old wooden bench we were perched on comfortable.

Image description: a picture of the park. There is a lawn, beds of roses, trees, & benches all visible in front of an old building overlooking the park.

It being such a pleasant evening the park was full of many people of different races and ages, the majority of which were enjoying a picnic similar to our own. There were even two girls with blonde pigtails and pink dresses running around with a puppy that were a Hollywood cliché for all that is good and innocent, although just the puppy would have been fine by me. There was also an elderly man walking alone, balancing precariously with two walking sticks, who settled himself on the freshly cut grass that was making my hay-fever go haywire.

We ate slowly, partly to relish in the summer sun, but also because we were having to keep the pigeons at bay who seemed particularly interested in our picnic. Towards the end of our mea, I noticed that the elderly man was struggling to haul himself back to his feet, and I waited expectantly for the English family sat on the bench next to him to help. They continued to watch from the side lines and just as I was about to nudge Jarred and ask him to go over and help instead, I saw that three teenagers were making their way over to the man having already spotted his predicament. The two boys took an elbow each and lifted him gently to his feet, while the girl bent down to collect his walking sticks and picnic bag, hooking the bag over one handle so it could be carried with ease. The old man thanked them before hobbling slowly away and the teenagers returned to their picnic bench, presumably discussing what had just taken place. I didn’t know exactly what they were talking about because I lack the ability to speak multiple languages, while these teenagers appeared to have a strong grasp of both English and their native Eastern European tongue, with only a mild accent distorting their exemplary English skills.

It struck me afterwards that the three teenagers had helped someone belonging to a generation that was stereotypically derogatory to immigrants, and not only had they had the compassion to help someone in need but they had also put aside those differences to do the right thing. It’s quite possible that those differences didn’t even cross their minds as they clearly wanted to help.

Immigrants are not bad people. I mean, what will become of those teenagers? Just think of the utter madness caused when they go on to obtain a good education or job, support community initiatives, and forge meaningful relationships with those around them. Immigrants face the same low level discrimination experienced by those with disabilities, whether intended or otherwise, and we both end-up facing similar setbacks on a daily basis. Perhaps that is why there is an unspoken, mutual respect between both groups as has been my experience.

Worlds Apart: A Collaboration Between Aidan Bizony (The Disability Diaries) and Emma Steer (Diary of a Disabled Person).

There are a great many cultural divides between the UK and South Africa, and unsurprisingly this extends to disability. With two radically different systems of health care and financial support for the disabled the lives of wheelchair users in either country greatly differs, as do the social perceptions and stigmas surrounding disability.

UK (Emma Steer, Diary of a Disabled Person).

One of the defining features of British culture, aside from an addiction to Gregg’s bakeries and a general disinterest in the royal family, is the National Health Service (NHS). The NHS allows UK citizens to receive medical aid whenever they need at no cost bar a portion of the tax they pay to the government. Of course the average citizen has to pay for prescriptions, opticians, dentists, and doctors letters, costs which add up to a surprising total, but this system ensures that medicine usually reaches those who are ill regardless of what is in their bank account.

The NHS is under ever-increasing pressure to diagnose and treat more patients in a shorter time span, with less money and resources to support them, and it’s prominence as a topic on the news is growing every day. The fears that the NHS will either crumble under its own weight, or that it will financially ruin the government have lead the public to bemoan anyone who is deemed a strain upon the NHS, and on more than one occasion I have been deemed one of those strains.

In addition to the cost of my medical care is the financial support from the government to cover the costs of using a wheelchair, as obtaining a suitable wheelchair on the NHS is a bit like trying to herd fifty cats into a bath at once. Since many assume that I am unemployed the moment they set eyes on me or rather, my wheelchair, it is assumed that the cost of unemployment support can be added to that total. Even for those who cannot work, the stigma should not be bemoaning the cost of their financial support, but bemoaning the lack of suitable work for the disabled.

All-in-all the bombardment of news articles depicting disability as a strain on the economy, rightfully or not, has led to a whole new set of stigmas about disability. Instead of being pitiful and patronised for our incapacities, we are despised for the effects of those incapacities. It has even been said by a prominent politician that disabled employees are problematic due to reduced productivity and increased costs of adapting the workspace to suit them, but of course he deems disability to be an inadequate excuse for unemployment, and condemns those that are forced to live that way.

The disabled are simply reduced to a number; the financial cost they inflict upon society.

South Africa (Aidan Bizony, The Disability Diaries).

While I can understand people’s frustration with the NHS because, yes, it has its flaws and we must be aware of those, I still marvel at the concept. Leave aside, for a moment, all the negatives that the NHS presents and look at the concept behind the structure: an attempt by the government to give its citizens a good, if somewhat tedious, medical scheme. South Africa doesn’t have the NHS.

Rather than having a government system that provides good, safe healthcare, South Africa’s public healthcare leaves a lot (I really mean “a lot”) to be desired. To expect South Africa, given her history, to have a medical system on par with the NHS – even in its current incarnation – is perhaps a little naïve and overly-critical but I do feel that we could be closer to the ideal of reliable, sustainable, safe healthcare than we are at present.

I know that the South African system is not necessarily the world’s worst healthcare system but, still, it leaves a lot to be desired. As bad as the public system is, I have to admit that the private system (if you can afford the high fees) is good. Luckily, we’re in a financial position to afford private medical care. As fortunate as it is that we can afford good, reliable medical care in South Africa is, it distresses me immensely to see that our premiums continue to increase with practically no rise in the benefits we receive. When you consider that inflation is a real thing, the fact that the benefits don’t grow in proportion to the premiums is all the more disturbing.

To be honest, the medical aid scheme in this country is increasingly becoming a ‘damned if you do; damned if you don’t’ thing.  But, yes, it costs a lot and it does continues to get worse but at least you get the payments you need, right? Nope. The plan that I’m on (which is one of the highest with the country’s ‘best’ medical aid) has had payments declined that I am legally entitled to. For instance: my plan allows for a certain amount to be made available to me each year for “external medical benefits” (e.g. wheelchairs) but I had an experience relatively recently whereby a chair I bought, which was within budget got declined because we didn’t file the correct paperwork. Since the reason the incorrect paperwork got filed was because Discovery, the Medical Aid Scheme, provided us with the wrong forms. To cut a long story short, we were on the verge of taking them to court when a letter from our lawyer to the CEO’s personal assistant lead to the payment we were entitled to six months earlier. The trouble aside, we at least got the wheelchair we ordered. That is until three years later when we had to repeat the process.

As bad as the NHS has gotten when compared to what it used to be; it’s still far better than the public system we have in South Africa. Hell, when I was in England in mid-2015 my parents and I decided to visit a local, NHS hospital in London and were surprised with what we saw. In retrospect, given the exposure we had of the public healthcare system, it is hardly surprising that we were shocked. We discovered that the NHS, public hospitals in England are better than the very expensive private hospitals that an elite of South African society can afford. Needless to say, the benefits of the NHS is a not-insignificant motivation to make the move to England as quickly as we can.

Stephen Hawking: A Brief Moment in Time.

In 1963 doctors gave Stephen Hawking two years to live. Little did they know that he would defy all odds, surviving for fifty-five years instead. Most people would have been content to be the medical miracle that proved the doctors wrong, but Stephen Hawking was not most people. He decided to use his time, however long or short, wisely.

Professor Hawking was a brilliant scientist, building on the work of Albert Einstein to send cosmological research in entirely new directions. He re-shaped the way we think about our very own universe, an exceptional feat. Alongside this he also helped to make the incredibly complex research accessible to the general public by making public appearances to give lectures, help produce documentaries, and wrote the book “A Brief History of Time” which does an excellent job of laying out what his research was about and what it all means. Later in his career he also co-authored a series of children’s books where all the events in the stories were theoretically possible, helping to spark interest in the minds of the next generation of scientists. While not a physicist myself, I still feel that his contributions to the scientific community are immense and unforgettable.

For any human to achieve academically what Professor Hawking did would be worthy of celebration, but to do this in the face of an incurable and devastating illness that gradually stripped away his ability to communicate his ideas to others is equally as mind-blowing as any of his research. In doing so he helped prove to the entirety of Western civilisation that disability does not mean that someone is unable to make valuable contributions to society. He helped to normalise disability in the eyes of the public and to raise awareness for the equal treatment of the disabled. By making frequent cameo appearances in TV shows and adverts, often blatantly making fun of his own predicament, he made the rest of the world comfortable with the notion of disability. He humanised us all.

Usually the death of a celebrity might warrant a tweet or a short Facebook post, but Stephen Hawking deserves a whole lot more. As both a scientist and someone disabled, I want to recognise him as nothing short of an icon who changed the world. May he rest in peace.

Image description: a colour photograph of Stephen Hawking.

Things Just Got Complicated.

Relationships are complicated. Relationships while one or both partners are chronically ill or disabled results in an explosion of chaos that equals filling a volcano with Coca-Cola and Mentos mints, and then making it angry by filming it with a phone rather than living (and probably dying) in the moment.

Finding wheelchair-friendly date venues is like looking for a needle in the worlds’ largest haystack while blindfolded, and only being allowed to search with your nose and mouth. Lots of places have steps in the door and the members of staff at such establishments don’t seem to grasp the concept that no, I can’t take a bleeding run up. Sometimes the rarest of all luxuries will be provided in a ramp, or even more special a level entrance. Even then the accessible entrance may require unlocking by a member of staff who is distinctly inside the building, and once inside the tables may be so tightly packed together it’s impossible to get around. I have even known cases where the tables are very tall and I need a periscope to see my drink. Best of all the inaccessibility is usually put down to “well, no one in a wheelchair ever comes in here”, having failed to understand that we can’t get in. So the same few cafes, bars, shops, and the cinema become second, third, fourth, and fifth homes, and I have loyalty cards for every single one. It’s got so bad that the café usually has my order ready for me by the time I get to the counter, and they are on first name terms with me.

Once we’ve embarked on a date the second complication rears it’s rather ugly head. No one thinks it’s a date, probably because going on a date is so damn complicated in the first place. Jarred is mistaken for my carer so frequently I’m considering buying a bell to summon him when I need his assistance. When he puts his arm around my shoulders or pecks me on the cheek, the looks of shock and disapproval he receives is something quite extraordinary. They seem to think that he is taking advantage of an innocent disabled girl to get laid, and that I couldn’t possibly figure this out and defend myself if this was the case. It’s not possible for someone disabled to be in a relationship of their own accord is it? Spoiler alert – it is.

Eventually the relationship progresses to the stage where the two families wish to inspect your partner and their family. Since trains don’t appear to know how wheelchair physics works travelling any sort of distance is difficult, and sometimes the cost of travel or their work and family commitments prevents other family members from travelling up to see us. While to some couples this would be music to their ears because Mother-in-law being an anagram of Woman Hitler wouldn’t be so funny without the Mother-in-law clichés, most members of each respective family are actually nice people. Quite a few of Jarred’s family have managed to travel up to the north of England to see us, and we’ve managed to travel to London for a central meeting point on other occasions. Unfortunately moving closer to them would distance ourselves from my family, and the problem would simply affect different people.

After a while Jarred and I moved in together. The challenge here started when none of the letting agents that weren’t exclusively for student accommodation were accessible, so Jarred ended up doing the leg work there. Then we had to find an accessible home near the city centre within our budget, which was about as likely as an Oompa Loompa being elected for the US presidency. Oh… We found an apartment that was so central to the city that it confused Google Earth, and I could access it by entering the garage and going to the rear of the building. It came within mere pounds of our calculated budget, so I put the deposit down on the flat quicker than Usain Bolt after drinking 10 cans of Red Bull before anyone else tried to steal it, and it is now fully christened with tyre tracks on the floor.

Now I just have to organise an accessible wedding…