This blog post was inspired by a friend of mine surprising me by agreeing with a comment I put on Facebook regarding the fact that I think “Walking Disabled” should be legally treated in the same way as “Wheeled Disabled” when it comes to buses. Those who are in a wheelchair are now covered by a law which means people with pushchairs and prams can be asked to leave a bus in order to allow wheelchairs on. Unfortunately, the same does not apply to the “Walking Disabled” actually getting a seat on the same crowded bus without relying on the (usually) nonexistent manners and politeness of other passengers.
I will expand on my various experiences of being a “Walking Disabled” person on a bus in my personal blog.
Being me can sometimes be a fun experience (and not necessarily in a humourous way). I actually find it very depressing how quickly people’s attitudes towards me can change depending on what I am wearing or carrying.
Before I lost my hair and started to wear what I call “sleeves” I spent a large amount of my life trying to merge in with the scenery and hiding my differences.
To be honest, the attitude change of the bus driver the only time I ever used my white stick on a bus put me off using one ever again in any situation. Don’t get me wrong – he wasn’t abusive towards me. In fact, he was the total opposite – almost fawning over me (and if you have read my blog posts before now you will realise how much I hate being treated differently from everyone else).
My “sleeves” don’t attract much attention (except for the odd compliment). I chose the “sleeve” option because I couldn’t be bothered trying to wrap scarves around my head or wearing wigs (which would make me feel like a fraud – I want to feel like me as much as possible). Actually – I think I have got Nadiya who does the cookery programmes on the BBC to thank for making me feel comfy wearing my sleeves. She wears her hijab wrapped around her hair without covering her neck and shoulders – and she wears it confidently. I know it is not the same thing but if you see someone doing something quirky it makes you feel more confident doing something similar.
The biggest (and most upsetting for me) change in attitude comes when I am attached to my Walking Tank. OK – so I can smile when someone almost stages an evacuation of a bus in order for me to sit down. However, it is little things which bug me, like being asked if I am OK or people picking things up when I know I can reach them (one lady even offered to tie my shoelaces for me when they came undone).
As someone who finds it difficult to ask for and accept help at the best of times you might not realise how embarrassing I find the attitude change in some people depending on what they see when they look at me.
A sleeve is something that other people wear in various forms – could be a hijab, a beanie, or other form of headgear. This usually gets past people unnoticed. I have to play by the same rules as everyone else – just the way I like it.
Anything which signals any kind of disability is usually seen as a request for help (whether or not it is necessary or required). That is when it is not seen as an invitation for abuse (which I have escaped so far).
My question is – why should it matter what I am carrying or wearing??? If I need your help with something I need your help with it whether I am just me, carrying a white stick, or wearing my Walking Tank. (The same goes for if I need to sit down on a crowded bus – my temper doesn’t change because of what I am carrying or wearing. It does, however, change depending on how much my back is hurting and how my eyes are feeling (neither of which are obvious unless I choose to give you a verbal printout of my exact state of health at that particular minute).
When you organise an event – please do not automatically decide that every disabled person is going to need lots of assistance – at the same time don’t let us struggle on our own when we do have unforseen difficulty with some aspect of it.
The best way to make someone like me honestly feel included is either by involving me in the organisation (even just by asking for my suggestions as to how to make it accessible for me), by doing what some of my friends did when they were organising an event they knew I was going to attend – and made sure I could take part in the craft activity without asking me what I could and couldn’t do (a clue – avoid scissors and anything which involves halfway decent hand-eye coordination, as well as drawing), or even listen to me with both ears and your brain when I make suggestions as to how I can be made to feel more included at your next event. Basically – and I know how difficult this probably is for most of you – pretend you or one of your friends or close relatives are like me and think how you would like to be treated. As well as how you would wish to feel when leaving the event.