Friday, 29 December 2017

What do you see?

I've just seen a post on Facebook that got me thinking. There was a picture of a lady in a wheelchair on a beach (in the USA, I think) and she looked rather sad. She had written, "I wish people would see me and not the wheelchair." My first thought was to agree with her. I get what she means. She just wants to be like everyone else and for people to treat her like they treat other people. I read a lot of posts like this from across The Pond and I wonder whether it's somewhat more difficult there than it is here.

My second thought was about how she got onto that beach. It was soft sand. I remember trying to get onto the beach in Kemi last summer. I was determined to get onto the beach and paddle in the sea... more so because Neil is reluctant to even try to help me because it's so impossible. With a lot of help from my friends, I made it onto Kemi beach and then walked on crutches and paddled in the sea. It took so long to get over the sand that I was exhausted by the time I reached the sea! So I wonder how the sad-faced lady got onto the beach and why she was there. Wouldn't it have been easier if people had considered her wheelchair... my wheelchair... wheels in general? Wouldn't it be great if there was some way of getting onto the beach in a chair?

Is the problem that people do see the chair and assume that the person wouldn't want to go on the beach OR is it that they don't see the chair and therefore don't make adjustments? Okay, so most beaches aren't designed by anyone. Nobody is responsible for making a beach... but lets transfer this question to other places. My family are going out for dinner at the weekend and the restaurant is not completely accessible. I rang to find out about it but was left with uncertainty, as they talked about manhandling me down an internal step. Are they seeing the person and not the chair? Are they not seeing the obstacles that are in my way? OR are they seeing the chair and not the person? Are they just not getting that normal people don't like strangers manhandling them and in that chair is a person?

Recently, on the news, there was something about accessibility in towns and how businesses are missing out on huge amounts of business by not being accessible. They might think that all disabled people are poor... because obviously we don't work! Well I do work. Sometimes I work very happily and feel immensely grateful that I have a job. Other days, I work through pain, fatigue and feel immensely stressed and wish I didn't have to go to work. The money that I earn, like most working people, is hard-earned. Therefore I am becoming more and more reluctant to spend it in places that are inaccessible. Why would I do that?!?!? There are great places that have gone to a lot of trouble and expense to be accessible. I'd like to spend my money there.

So do I want people to see me or my chair? Well, I think I want them to see both... together. I'm not saying that my disability defines me but it is a part of who I am. I don't want to spend my life feeling sad about that or frustrated because life is built around the majority. If people happen to see my chair first, well, okay... they're going to meet me next. Once they get to know me, the chair will fade into the background. In reality though, people don't see me or my chair... they see Liggy first. We proved that yesterday, walking round Ikea and Meadowhall. A few children pointed at my flashing front casters but lots of people commented on my beautiful dog and how well-trained she is. Then I just feel so proud to be wheeling alongside her!

Friday, 22 December 2017

Advent and some thoughts on waiting

It's almost Christmas! For some, the excitement is probably too much to bear, as the number of sleeps gradually decreases and that special day gets nearer. For others, Christmas isn't that big a deal or might have sad memories or reasons why we don't feel like celebrating. I'll be honest - it's not my favourite festival. I have a multitude of reasons why Christmas is associated with stress rather than joy but let's not go there.

Advent is about waiting... waiting for morning to open another door on the calendar and be allowed to eat chocolate at breakfast time... waiting for the arrival of the baby Jesus... waiting for a saviour... waiting...waiting...waiting. I do feel a little guilty, as a Christian, that I don't find Christmas more exciting. I've never been the greatest fan of waiting either. God does seem to like to keep us waiting.

This year, has seen the end of various seasons of waiting for me. In September, I completed my final paper of my MA and had an impatient wait for the final results, which signalled the end of my studies. Now I'm waiting for my certificate and then I'll be waiting for the graduation ceremony.

Also in September, I got the wonderful news that my wait for an assistance dog was over and now my beautiful Liggy and I are learning how to work together and develop a bond that will ensure a decade or so of a much-longed-for partnership. Ironically, in continuing her training, one word seems to dominate... WAIT!

We are a good match and mirror each other in so many ways. We both love our food, especially treats, but have allergies that mean we have to be careful about what we consume. We both need our sleep or we become grumpy. We both need fresh air and exercise or we become lethargic and lose our sparkle. And, neither of us likes to wait! Of course, we do it... but only because we have to.

I'm still waiting for some things. We've been waiting for ages to get the building work done so that the house is fully accessible for me, though the garden was a welcome measure to tide me over whilst waiting. The day the builders actually show up, I'm sure choirs of angels will sing joyfully. I certainly will!

If, like me, you don't like waiting, well at least the wait for Christmas is nearly done. If you waiting for other things, especially the big stuff of life, I wish you all the peace, patience and joy that is possible... and maybe some that goes beyond the possible. Merry Christmas and happy new year!