First of all let me apologise that I haven’t posted in a few weeks. That old flare up beast has reared it’s ugly head again and so brain fog has had the better of me. But, I am already working on a few other posts it is just taking me a little longer than usual to write them at the moment. This post is a little different to the others and I try to deal with some of the more awkward situation I have been experiencing now I am replying on a wheelchair more. Being so honest can have consequences so I hope it doesn’t offend anyone, I am very much trying to highlight issues rather than criticise.
I say this with the greatest respect but when you start to spend a large proportion of your day in a wheelchair, you start to notice how bizarre the rest of the world can become towards you. My friends and work colleagues are brilliant and have never treated me any differently. They are helpful, considerate, compassionate, understanding and willing to laugh with me about all the silly stuff like static shocks from my chair. Van der graaff hair is not a good look.
Not everyone finds it so easy to just be normal. To the people at work who used to say hi to me in the corridor who now all of a sudden overt their eyes as if looking me in the eye or acknowledging my existence may turn them to stone. I am not medusa! Or the people who feel it is now wholly appropriate to start touching my head in a sneak attack from behind because all of a sudden it seems at such a convenient height for them to just reach out and have a good hair ruffle. Then there is the shoulder massages from strangers in the lift and people leaning on my chair because you know standing with those working legs is just too much. And of course the holy grail, trying to push me out of the way while I am in my chair. Let me be blunt, none of that is cool. None of it.
Don’t even get me started on the minefield of accessibility issues I am now facing, having to ask the world and his wife for help reaching items in the supermarket and the impact it has had on my wardrobe choices. Bye, bye above the knee skirts, it was nice knowing you.
But todays post isn’t about these issues, granted they are topics I may delve deeper into at another time, today is an appeal to the parents of young children. Please stop being so weird! Now that may sound like a generalisation and for that I am sorry. Of course not every parent is weird with me and my not so nice experiences are rare but still significant. I am also very fortunate that my friends with children are fantastic, I cannot fault them in any way. Their kids understand that my legs don’t work properly and far from being awkward around my wheelchair they think it’s fun. They like to push me in my chair (I am not adverse to child labour) and want to sit on my knee, they love it rather than fear it. My friends little girl Alena will run after me with my crutches if I have forgotten them, “Nat you forgot your sticks!!”, too cute. For the understanding they have given their children I am eternally grateful and I know they will all grow up to be accepting and inclusive adults.
However, that kind of understanding and inclusive attitude isn’t always my experience. We already live in a world where too many people have a warped sense of what disability means and we don’t need to raise another generation of people either awkward and scared by people with disabilities or feel it’s ok to openly gawp for uncomfortably loooooong periods of time. In a society that is becoming more and more marginalised by politics, religion and race surely there must be one area we can make some satisfying changes for the better. Has the Paralympics taught people nothing?
More and more we are starting to see people with disabilities represented on our television screens as presenters and characters, thank you Channel 4 and BBC for shifting the tide. The Last Leg has done incredible work in normalising the conversation about disability. And even better than that they are actually showing how we can laugh about these issues too and since comedy is always my go to approach to make things less awkward, I love it. But this is only a small glimmer of hope in a world that other wise makes you feel like you don’t matter and you aren’t part of it. Where is my disabled emojis? Where are women in wheelchairs in fashion? Where are people with disabilities in adverts?
But back to my plea to parents, the reason I feel so passionately about this issue is that it doesn’t just relate to my time in the wheels of steel. I have spent the majority of my adult life using crutches and this sort of behaviour was just as prevalent then. I have lost count of the amount of times I have been out shopping and watched parents either hurriedly shoo their children with legitimate questions away from me putting the fear of god into the poor child. Or standing with their child pointing and gawping. It’s frustrating, humiliating and lets be honet here, it’s helping no one.
As bizarre as it may sound I would much rather that inquisitive child had the opportunity to know that people with disabilities are not members of a freak show and they are not to be feared. And guess what you can actually talk to me. Yep, to all the people who talk to whoever I am with rather than me when I am in my chair, again, not cool.
Instead of all of that b*llshit I have a few radical ideas. Please have the decency to talk to me directly. Scary I know. But everyone deserves respect. Even more than that I implore the parents of those inquisitive young kids to approach me and allow your kids to ask those awkward questions you are too afraid to ask. Be polite and ask if I mind of course, but lets help the next generation to start to end the awkward. Teach them people with disabilities are ‘normal’ too, that it doesn’t define them and is just another aspect of our life.
And to the gawpers out there. Come on you know better. I know curiosity is a natural human emotion and we all suffer from it but please try to refrain. And again rather than allowing your kids to do the same, have the difficult conversation with them and explain to them why that isn’t polite and help them come to realise I’m just as ‘normal’ as them, I just need a little extra help getting around.
I hope this is taken with the spirit I intended which is just to highlight some common issues that I know many more people must deal with. I have no desire criticise anyone I know we are all trying to do the best ywe can at the end of the day. I admit it is awkward. I cannot in any way claim that it’s not. However, the only way we can make it less awkward is to normalise these conversations and why not start with the next generation and create a less awkward, compassionate and inclusive future for us all.
Scope have done an incredible campaign so if you want more information of how the end the awkward please have a look they have some brilliant advice and informaive articles http://www.scope.org.uk/end-the-awkward