5 ridiculous myths about disability…
When I was younger, I always joined in with various frantic school games of football and cricket using a three sided walking frame. Ever since it became clear to me that Villa defender Gareth Southgate didn’t use a frame to block vicious shots in the same way that I did, or that ‘frame before wicket’ wasn’t a recognised cricket dismissal, I’ve been aware that the world is not designed for people with disabilities. As I’ve been travelling more by myself over the last couple of years or so, I’ve realised that such problems aren’t limited to childhood games of football or cricket. I’ve realised there’s so many implicit assumptions made about disabled people that I thought I should write some of the especially silly ones down.
- Disabled people have lots of time on their hands
Whenever I realise I’m travelling by train, the excitement at going somewhere is quickly punctured by the crushing realisation that I have to book ‘assistance’. The word ‘assistance’ makes this process sound like a happy, joyful experience. It is not. Booking assistance does not take a few merry clicks of a mouse; it requires clearing a slot in your day and allowing at least 20 minutes on the phone to explain that yes, I have booked assistance before and no, my wheelchair is not infact the size of a monster truck. I was so keen to make this deeply painful process as short as possible that I ignored one man calling me ‘Jay’ for a good ten minutes. I couldn’t decide whether he’d misheard my name or whether our conversation had been so long that he thought we’d reached a new level of familiarity.
- Disabled people only have carers
If you somehow manage to book assistance to get on the train, the next task is booking the elusive wheelchair space (everyone knows only two wheelchair users will ever want to get on the same train, right?) It’s hard enough booking a seat for yourself and one other person but adding anyone else into the mix is met with such a reaction that you’d think I’d just been caught speeding in my wheelchair through fields of wheat. You mean you want to sit with other people? Like, friends, who have actively chosen to spend the day with you because they, you know, like you and enjoy spending time with you? No, no, no. I thought wheelchair users didn’t have friends, just carers who came with them for a cheap day out.
- Disabled people know exactly what they’re going to do 24 hours before it happens
Obviously organising a ramp so a wheelchair user can board a train is a complex process. So complex, in fact, that it takes a whole 24 hours to sort out. Ring 23 hours before and it’s too late, 24 is the magic number. I’ve always wondered exactly what it is that requires all the preparation. Does the ramp have to be custom build using organic wood from South American forests to fit the precise dimensions of the wheelchairs? Must the ramp be taught to sing the passenger’s name to the tune of ‘God Save the Queen’ as they gloriously board the train? Have all the previous ramps been destroyed as a nasty reminder of our former membership of that evil underground organisation they call the EU? After all of that, you’re still asked to announce your arrival 20 minutes beforehand (that’s if they even have a record of your booking). Evidently a red carpet must be rolled out from the customer service desk all the way to the platform…
- Disabled people carry letters with them which prove their disability at all times
Whenever I’m booking tickets on the phone for a football match or a concert I’m asked to send in proof of disability, which is understandable if a little frustrating. What’s even more annoying, though, is being asked for proof of my disability when I’m actually sat in front of people in my wheelchair. It’s as if people expect you to go to the trouble of hiring a wheelchair all day just to get a free ride on the bus or half price entry to a museum. I’m sure some people half think I’m going to turn around and say ‘Yep, you’ve got me there. I’ve got away with pretending I need a wheelchair for 23 years so I can jump the odd queue but now the game’s up’, before I reveal my secret career as an Olympic pole vaulter.
- Disabled people cannot speak for themselves
I’ve lost count of the number of times that people automatically ignore me when asking questions and automatically address the person I’m with, as if my inability to balance for long periods of time without falling over in an undignified heap has also affected my capacity to remember what train I’m catching or whether I’d like a tea or a coffee. I might not be able to walk very far and the Customer Service desk might be set too high for you to make eye contact, but it doesn’t mean I have to be constantly talked about in the third person.
I better leave it there, I’m not travelling by train again until next week but I should probably give them time to source the raw materials for the ‘assistance’ process. Those ramps won’t build themselves you know…