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Monday, 27 September 2021

The social model of disability

I may have mentioned this before. The social model states that a person isn't disabled by their medical condition, their body, their impairment or any difference in the way they have to do things. They are disabled by the barriers, attitudes, lack of adjustments, etc in society.


At the end of August, Liggy and I set out on our own and spent a few nights camping in the motorhome at Waleswood, near Rother Valley Country Park. Although I was initially nervous about the whole camping alone idea, it was something I wanted to be able to do and felt it should be possible. I chose Waleswood because it had awesome reviews, especially from disabled people. 

Everything about the site had been thought about from an accessibility perspective. I could even empty the toilet myself... something I can rarely contemplate. 

So I got settled, forgot I'm supposed to be disabled and just got on with life... using my wheelchair/mountain trike and with Liggy at my side... but not disabled. I could do everything I needed or wanted to do. 



Yesterday, we got back from a weekend camping in Teversal. It was a club site, so I expected it to be accessible. The woods and nature reserve opposite looked to be completely accessible. I was looking forward to a relaxing weekend... and then decided I'd like to stay on for a few days to work on a project that required concentration and no distractions.

I arrived there on Friday to find the entire site is pebble. I couldn't use my wheelchair at all. The front wheels just sank into the pebbles and even wheelying didn't really work. So I switched to my mountain trike. That got me around the site but I can't do precise manoevres in it. I have to disconnect the gears to go backwards. It's wider. It's designed for the open world, not shops, doorways, toilets etc.

I needed Neil to help with everything. 

Never mind, the woods and nature reserve were calling. I couldn't get in though. They must have problems with motorbikes or something, as all the entrances had barriers. They might as well have put up a huge sign saying "No crips allowed!" I felt excluded. People like me should just stay at home, out of sight and suffer quietly, so nobody else has to deal with us.

We managed to have a pleasant enough weekend and with Neil's help, eventually got in for a nice walk... but I was disabled... very disabled all weekend.

So what?

Design is rarely acciental. I'm a designer. Every aspect of design is a choice. We look at the problem and create a solution, deciding what is important and what doesn't matter. It's the same with everything.

Campsites are designed. A lot of time and money goes into layout, pitches, electrics, toilets, access for towing/long vehicles. 

Why would somebody decide to make all the roads and paths of pebbles? Okay, so pebbles are terrible for me, but I also noticed:

  • They are noisy - every person that walked or cycled or drove past could be heard. At night, it was loud enough to wake me.
  • They get kicked up by tyres and can damage vehicles.
  • They are difficult to walk on, even for non-disabled people. 
  • They hurt when a child falls over.

There are so many reasons why pebbles are not the ideal surface and yet someone made that decision. 

I wasn't the only disabled person there. I spoke to several others who were finding it difficult. I spoke to others who found accessing the woods difficult or impossible. I got the signs in my head again...

Wheelchair users only welcome with carer!

It feels like it's okay to send that message out because it's just the norm. The Waleswoods of this world are the exception, rather than the rule. Nobody is standing up, protesting, declaring the injustice of it all. It will happen. I know it will happen because once there were signs prohibiting black people, gay people, breastfeeding mums... anyone who isn't the majority. And they fought for justice. They demanded equality. One day, equality won't need to be demanded. We'll realise one day that it is the only way for society to be okay. Equality, on all levels, should be the norm.

Until then, I believe in the social model. It's not my impairment that disables me. It's the barriers and attitudes and difficulties that stop me because my way of living is different from yours.

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