Hi Everyone, please welcome Sophie who has kindly agreed to guest post for me today. She is a friend of mine who shares the same common interests as me—this means we bicker like two spinsters. Sophie is linking on to my post from last week Bearing Disability: Three Frustrations but this post is more about her experience as a wheelchair user.
So, without further ado, here’s Sophie’s post! Don’t forget to follow her blog
Frustrations of A Wheelchair User by Sophie Abel
Being in an electric wheelchair all of my life, I’ve had various challenges and obstacles in my way. You have to be creative when you have a disability because that is usually the way to overcome these obstacles. But there are many things that get under my skin and touch my last nerve.
I have congenital Cerebral Palsy, which means from birth. My cerebral palsy affects all four of my limbs, predominantly on my left side and my right leg. I have been very fortunate in the way that it has not affected me mentally.
I have many friends who are disabled and some who are not. So, I am able to see life from different perspectives. Having a disability has impacted my life. I often have to depend on others to help me throughout my daily routine. However, life has taught me that ‘disability’ is such a wide spectrum and everyone with a disability is affected differently.
Though it becomes a big part of our daily lives and the way we see the world, we are still our own person with our own outlook on life personality and feelings and confidence.
Despite our own outlooks on life, I have noticed that disabled people—particularly those in wheelchairs—are faced with ignorance and attitudes.
I see that some people don’t mean it intentionally but it can still have the same effect of hurt and disrespect that it could have if it were intentional. In fact, it can cause more hurt or offence by them not meaning it intentionally.
One of the many items that I pick up on is how other people—who don’t know us too well—speak to us.
1. Communication & the person I am with
One of my biggest pet peeves is people talking to the person I am with or talking down to me as if I am a toddler. Most disabled people can understand you in some form so greet us like you would an able-bodied person you have met for the first time.
Just because I am in a wheelchair, does not mean that I cannot talk and respond to questions you ask me directly. I am able to speak and if a disabled person cannot speak, you will know. Friends of mine have carried around cut-out keyboards to communicate, others have tablets that read their responses.
Have patience, don’t assume we have lost our ability of language just because some of our bodily movements don’t work like yours. Try speaking to us as you would any other person first to see if we can talk or understand you and then if we can’t understand you then talk to the person we are accompanied by.
Shannon discusses this more in her post from last week.
2. Not looking where they’re going
People are frequently engrossed in their phones that they don’t notice I’m travelling along the pavement beside them. These people then bump into me. Some don’t acknowledge they ’ve bumped into me and continue walking.
I have found that others have looked up at me and either glared at me or asked me why I’ve got in their way. They’re the ones who are able to step down the curb or squeeze into small gaps. To these people, it is my fault that they didn’t see me and my wheelchair.
I have found some people just stare at me and are completely caught off guard. They don’t know what to do. So, they just dive around me without apologising to get away as quickly as possible. They won’t be patient for a few extra seconds and just wait for me.
You shouldn’t be walking around with your nose in your phone anyway. It’s rude and dangerous. But if you do and you bump into someone, apologise. You probably would apologise if the disability wasn’t too obvious. Get over your fear of speaking to someone who is disabled and treat us like a human. It takes a second.
3. Assuming my capability
As I’ve said many times on my blog before, I’m sick of people stereotyping all disabled people they come across. Many assume that everyone is the same. We may not be capable of everything an able-bodied person is capable of. However, we are capable of things and we can achieve it to our own degree and in our own way.
I was told that I would never be in mainstream education, that I would never get one GCSE; I ended up getting six, going to college (pre-university but post highschool), and then going to university.
Sometimes, I wish I knew the people that made that prediction. I‘d love to show those critics wrong. Disability doesn’t mean cannot do, it means that you have to find another way. I have tried to do everything I can to the best of my capability. For those things I can’t do, I have found other alternatives.
I am halfway through my degree with a high chance of graduating with a 2.1. This opportunity is available to me with the help of adaptations and gadgets.
My disability and my wheelchair doesn’t define me. I am determined to do the same stuff, only differently.
4. Inclusion and staring
Another issue wheelchair users—and other disabled individuals—face is inclusion. At university, I’ve found that I cannot join many societies as a great number of them are sport-related and as a result, quite physical. Some wheelchair users can swim, do archery and the like but these sports require the right adaptations.
This prevents the integration and socialising of able-bodied people and disabled people. This is a very important issue as I find that people who don’t know us tend to shy away from us. Many are reluctant to speak and be around us. I think because they don’t know how to.
I have found that some people don’t speak to us because they don’t want to offend or ask too personal questions. Don’t worry, we don’t bite.
If someone approached me and spoke to me politely, asked me about myself and then my disability, I would not mind. But often, people sit there, staring at me as I move through the crowd.
Please don’t stare at us or pull a strained face. I, for one, would rather you come up to me and ask me about my disability then blatantly stare at me. It’s just common sense and politeness.
This implies to young children too. Parents need to educate their children at a young age that it is rude. They need to teach not to stare but at the same time, don’t teach them to be shy to ask questions. If done correctly, they are more likely to be inclusive.
5. Queues for disabled faculties
Another thorn in my side is long queues. There are often long lines of able-bodied people who could use the stairs at lifts, and these people have pushed in front of me to get inside first.
Some people have just stood there obviously pretending they haven’t seen me and then innocent surprise crossed their face when they do see me as if they have just realised I am there.
It must have become such a regular occurrence both for myself and other disabled members of the public, as I have recently noticed signs which have stated ‘give priority to those who are mobility impaired’. But these are often ignored as crowds of people push themselves into the lift, especially for lectures.
Yes, some may have an invisible disability but I highly doubt the whole crowd does.
6. Abuse of Disabled Faculties
Similarly, when I am out in public I have found disabled toilets that do not use the radar key system—a key given to the disabled to prevent abuse— or changing places are usually engaged and non-disabled people step out of them. Mothers with pushchairs, despite the parent toilet and changing room opposite.
They blissfully ignore me, pretending that it is a toilet that anyone can use when there is a clear sign on the door stating otherwise. I often find staff also abuse the disabled toilet.
One of my favourite memories is when we had landed in Orlando Florida. We went to use the disabled toilet, to find it engaged. After waiting a very long time we found that it was being used by an employee that worked at the airport. This man was speaking on his phone.
When we confronted him he got quite defensive and said that he could use the disabled toilet. He even said that to him it was like any other regular toilet.
Only – if that is the case, I’d be able to get my chair in normal toilets.
7. Nightlife and Travelling in a wheelchair
I’ve been living in Leicester on and off for the past two years now and I’ve picked up on attitudes of taxi drivers and bounces to clubs and compared them to the ones I’ve experienced in Birmingham.
The taxi company that I have used in the past when I have travelled around Leicester are quite reliable but can sometimes lack timekeeping capabilities. However, everything considered the taxi company is a good one and 9 times out of 10 they are happy to take me. Of course, it all depends on the driver’s attitude.
I always remember that during Freshers Week 2017 I went out to a nightclub to enjoy everything I could and when I came out of Athena nightclub I saw a rank of taxis accepting people as they came out of the nightclub.
As I approached the taxi rank, I was met with the same attitudes that I have come to know so well.
The reluctance to get out of their seat. The refusal to carry my chair. When we finally found a taxi to take me.
I got my chair lined up to the ramp, ready to go into the taxi. When I tried, my chair climbed but the stabilisers got stuck and my wheels kept spinning around and around.
I had to keep telling him that my wheelchair will go up the ramps, just a little patience needed.
Not only have I experienced this on a night out, but also, while entering a nightclub, like most girls my age on a student night, I have received glances and harsh whispers of judgmental bodies questioning my outings. Why can’t I have the same experience as everyone else?
Thanks for Reading
I hope you enjoyed Sophie’s post. Have you had similar issues as Sophie? If you have, how do you tackle them?
More posts like this are coming.
-Shannon & Sophie-