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Sunday, 12 June 2016

What disables us?

Quite a while ago, I read something about social models of disability. I can't remember most of it but the general gist was that physical limitations don't disable a person; society causes the disability. When I read it, I didn't really agree. At that time, maybe I didn't understand what the writer was getting at.

Yesterday, Neil and I visited a couple of garden centres. We've just had a design done for our back garden and we were starting to look for materials, ideas and prices. In general, garden centres are a very easy place for me to visit. There's always parking on site, often with several blue badge spaces. Because there's almost always a coffee shop, there are usually toilets available - nearly always an accessible toilet. Shoppers need to push those big trolleys around, so in general garden centres have level access. Any ramps are usually not too steep and there's rarely any steps.

Garden centres are set up for the needs of their shoppers and it just so happens that garden centre customers and wheelchair users have similar needs. This means that in a garden centre, I don't feel disabled. We don't have to engage in much forward planning. We can just decide, on the spur of the moment, to pop out to the garden centre... and it's all fine.

After our garden centre visits, we continued to visit my parents and my sister. They were going to an event in their village for the Queen's birthday celebrations. It was held at a primary school, though we knew it would be outdoors and predominantly on the field. Grass and wheelchairs are not the best combination, but we knew in advance, so we took my freewheel. With this, I know I can manage most surfaces. We'd checked the weather forecast and as a result, took a jumper and had a waterproof coat in the car. What else should we have checked?

Toilets! Okay, I did think about toilets. I even commented to Neil that they may not have an accessible toilet but generally primary schools have a staff toilet where Neil could have helped me if I couldn't manage. Actually, that disables me. Most people can go to the loo without needing assistance, so I feel disabled when I need help with that basic function. But I had decided it was worth that risk to spend an evening out with my family.

It hadn't occurred to me that the school building would be closed and only one single portaloo available in the corner of the field. This would have been impossible for me without having the door open, Neil helping and the queue of waiting people watching my struggle. Knowing that I couldn't manage the whole evening and then the journey back without a toilet visit (or probably 3 or 4) and having checked that there were no other facilities close by (in the pub) we gave up and went home. This felt embarrassing for me but probably also for my family. The lack of thought by the school and the lack of information on the event flyer meant that I was disabled... to the point of not being able to participate.

I'm still not sure that this social model tells the whole story but yeah, I get it. The physical condition is always there but what society does, makes the difference between being able to participate as an equal or not.

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