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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!

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