Well, today’s the big day: Blogging Against Disablism Day. I’m not entirely sure about what I want to write, so I’ll just let it leak out of my head onto the keyboard.
I don’t think I’ve really encountered much prejudice myself - there have been plenty of times when people I’ve never seen before in my life bend down and say “Are you alright, love?” loudly whilst nodding, but is that prejudice? Or ignorance? And sometimes I think even ‘ignorance’ is a harsh word to use. A lot of people have no idea how to talk to a person with disabilities because they’ve never known any - they see a wheelchair and panic, and it’s not as if the press or media help: most of the time a token cripple appears in a TV drama they’ve got this big chip on their shoulder.
When I was secondary school, I did have a big chip on my shoulder, but I’d like to think that it was not directly linked to me having muscular dystrophy, but more because of the way I was treated by some of the kids: I’d get called names because of the way I looked, walked and talked. Half the trouble was that I would always answer back with abuse of some kind and this only seemed to fuel their taunts.
When I reached my final year, aged 15, I’d had enough and made a conscious decision to just ignore the taunters and, after about 3 months, the name calling had all but stopped. By the time I’d moved to sixth form college, I’d even managed to make friends with a few people that had never been part of the bullies, but that had suffered verbal abuse from myself as a result of ‘the chip’. Thankfully, they were bigger persons than I was and they forgave me my abuse and we’re still friends to this day - if they’re reading this then I hope they know who they are.
At the company where I had my last job as a computer programmer in a printing factory, there were plenty of people who were willing to help me if I ever needed a hand, from fetching me a drink to walking in front of me so I could grip their shoulders to lifting me up the 4 or 5 steps on to the level where the room I worked in was situated before the lift was fitted. There were, however, others who weren’t so helpful.
One such person was the factory manager who decided that, after me working there for over two years, he no longer wanted the guys who took it in turns to lift me out of my car and into my wheelchair each morning to leave their machines for the 5 minutes that the job took; so he told the men who did this that they weren’t allowed to lift me and instructed the cleaner (I don’t know if he’d want his name displayed here, so we’ll use his initial: G) that he had to do it instead … and he did this without saying a word to me - the first I knew about it was when G came to my car as I parked, explained what he and the others had been told and apologised to me because he didn’t think he’d be able to lift me. That’s right: he apologised. Well, I felt fucking terrible and made sure I impressed into him that he had nothing to apologise for and it should be the factory manager who should be saying sorry. Fortunately for me, the guys who usually did the lifting were still prepared to help me so I got into work as normal.
When I confronted the factory manager about it and asked him how he expected G to lift me and why he hadn’t talked to me about it first, he mumbled something about “time away from machines” but conceded that we (me and the lifters) might as well carry on as we had been - there was no apology and he gave the impression that he thought he was doing me a favour. Sure, the guys who lifted me had to leave their machines for 5 minutes to walk outside, assemble my wheelchair, lift me into in and wheel me inside, but they took longer than that going to the toilet or fetching a drink.
As I said before, there have been plenty of times when people I’ve never seen before in my life bend down and say “Are you alright, love?”, but I usually just smile and say “Yes, thanks”.
One time I remember in particular: me and a mate, E, had just walked and wheeled into a pub (The Brewery Tap). E offered to buy the drinks as I’d driven and, as he was at the bar, a woman (also at the bar) looked round and did the talking loudly thing. She then turned to E and had a brief conversation:
Her: “I work with people like him.”
E: “People like what?”
Her: “You know, disabled people!”
She then turned to me:
Her: (loudly): “What’s yer name, love?”
Me: “Er … Tim?”
Her: “Mine’s [I can’t actually remember]”
Me: “That’s nice.”
A few moments of uncomfortable silence passed. And then she turned to the guy stood with her:
Her: *pointing at me* “This is Tim”
Him: “What? Oh, hello.”
Him: *looks embarrassed*
A few more moments pass. She turns back to E, just as he’s paying for the drinks:
Her: “So, you’ve brought him out for the night then?”
E: “He’s brought me.”
Her: *confused look* “Erm, what do you mean?”
E: “He drove us here.”
Her: “Wha- … ? Erm …”
She glanced at me with a look of horror, picked up her drink and walked off. Me and E laughed for ages.
Sometimes it’s people who simply do not know or understand how to act or treat those of us with disabilities, physical or otherwise - see Social, above.
Sometimes it’s people who focus on the disability, not the person, and think that they know best without asking the person concerned.
Yes: we’re different, but then so is everyone. No: we’re not special or brave, we’re just getting on with our lives as best we can. How should you treat us? The same as you treat everyone else.
Thank you for reading.