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”.

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.

Park square

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.

One Good Turn.

It was a dismal day in late October and the drizzle had soaked me from head to foot as I traveled into town. The light was fading quickly and the temperature falling even faster. There was little doubt in my mind that the first of the winter’s frosts would develop overnight.

I turned left onto a bridge crossing a main road. People were passing across the bridge in droves, it being one of the busiest routes in and out of town for pedestrians. To one side, huddled beneath the railing, was a homeless man. His thin and worn blanket gave little protection against the cold and every possession he had was dripping with rain water.

Nearly everyone on that bridge saw the homeless man and nearly everyone carried on walking anyway. I’m sure they had their reasons. However, for whatever reason, I just couldn’t go past him and leave with a clear conscience.

I had a flapjack in my handbag which I’d been planning to eat upon returning home. I reached into my bag and handed it to him without making a fuss. It wasn’t a big deal; he had far more need of it than I did. He looked up and thanked me with such genuine compassion it took me by surprise. We exchanged a few short sentences and then I set off again, thinking nothing more of the matter.

A couple of months later I was at a Christmas event serving free mulled wine and mince pies, which was inevitably crowded. Among those in attendance were several homeless people, who the staff welcomed along with everyone else.

I was struggling to navigate through the crowd, most of whom completely ignored me if they were even aware of my presence at all. I came to a heavy door, which I struggled to hold open as I tried to pass my wheelchair through the narrow gap without hitting anyone. Clearly someone had noticed my predicament, because I felt the weight of the door taken off my wrist. I looked up to thank the person holding the door open for me, and to my surprise and genuine delight, I recognised the homeless man I had helped before. He simply said “one good turn deserves another”, and then he was swallowed up by the crowd.

A couple of years later I was sat in a bar with a good friend, when the same homeless man walked past us and nodded at me. Naturally this led to me explaining what had happened. When I’d finished speaking, my friend laughed and called me “the Good Bradfordian”, à la the biblical parable.

***

When I was a child attending Sunday school the parable of the Good Samaritan had always confused me. It seemed to me to support basic racism because we are repeatedly told that certain passers-by were expected to help, and that the Samaritan wasn’t simply because of where he was from. I didn’t understand why being Samaritan excluded you from the expectation to help, nor why being from elsewhere guaranteed your help.

Similarly the story also suggested that it was a good idea to help people because you would be rewarded, and the richer the rescued person was, the greater the reward. I failed to grasp why a motivation to do the right thing would be needed, instead believing doing the right thing to be the reward itself.

I expected no reward for being the one who did the right thing. Why should I? Just because I’m from a stereotypically rough city doesn’t mean I can’t help others and have no compassion for them, and neither does being disabled. I am almost certain the homeless man expected no reward for holding the door open for me, and probably failed to understand why others wouldn’t help me either. I would hope we would be in mutual agreement upon this matter; it is simply a shame he may never get to read this.