Categories
Blog Posts

Voting as an Invisibly Disabled Person

If I were in my wheelchair would they have said that? If my arm was in a sling, would they have said that?

We pulled into the polling station, parked in the disabled spot, put the blue badge up and as I put my mask on, my Mum tells me to  ‘walk carefully’. 

Walk carefully. Look a bit sad. Prove you are in as much pain as you feel. Wipe off that brave smile so we don’t have to deal with an argument. That’s the reality when you are invisibly ill. And as I walk up to the entrance I pause, wondering if I am putting on more of a limp than I really ‘need’ to, even though my hip is in agonising pain. I wonder if the person behind the desk will ask. I wonder what I will say. A year not having to deal with strangers, questioning, misunderstanding. A year of learning about ableism and advocacy and watching society ignore the most vulnerable. And I think, no, I am in pain. I don’t want to explain why it is wrong to ask. And maybe they won’t ask! And as I decide that I won’t answer, the person has walked out from behind the polling station desk to be as near as possible when they ask me: 

‘Do you need to use the disabled entrance?’ 

Tired. I sigh. ‘Yes.’ 

‘Okay!’

They hurry back. And I try to brush it off, well that wasn’t so bad, they weren’t rude, they didn’t argue. And I try not to think about my parents walking in behind me and I try not to assume that their assumption will be that I am using the disabled entrance for my parents, not that my parents are using it for me. If I were in my wheelchair would they have said that? If my arm was in a sling, would they have said that? If I was using a stick- if I looked less than perfectly healthy? 

I chastise myself for being offended- snowflake, you’ve had much worse, they didn’t argue with you. But it was the assumption. The reminder that even though I had a two hour seizure less than a week before, even though I couldn’t get out of bed just yesterday, nobody can see the excruciating pain I am struggling with.

There is no accessible polling booth that I can see, there is no stool or chair to use as I cross the box for the Green Party. If I were in my wheelchair I wouldn’t be able to reach the table to write my vote.

If I hadn’t recorded a podcast episode earlier today about this very thing, maybe I wouldn’t have noticed how bad it made me feel? No, I would have noticed. I just wouldn’t have understood why it made me feel bad.

Why didn’t they check our car for the blue badge? Why did they have to ask me? Why am I so upset about this- they didn’t say anything rude! Except… they did. And I am upset. 80% of disabled people are invisibly disabled. It is not okay to challenge someone for using access. You never know the full story, and most of the time, you shouldn’t need to. There was no queue, nobody behind us. What damage did they think they was preventing if her suspicion was correct, and I was a faker- has anyone actually ever met somebody who faked a disability? Why should the rest of us suffer for their deceitfulness? Why didn’t the person behind the desk, the person with a duty of care, think of the damage they’d do if they were wrong?

Categories
Blog Posts

Public Transport Excludes 18% of The Public

The thing you need to understand about ambulatory wheelchair users: a wheelchair is not an escape. It does not fix the pain.

We don’t notice how uneven the pavement is, how high curbs are, how narrow so many doorways are, no we really don’t notice half of our surroundings until we try to navigate the world in a wheelchair. We don’t realise that so much of the so-called access we have is not designed by disabled people, but is the bare minimum in imagining what a disabled person might need by able bodied people. 

If you have any form of disability, are neurodivergent, or have sensory issues, you will know what a nightmare being in public spaces is, let alone public transport. With this in mind, for my latest hospital appointment in London my mother and I decided to get hospital transport so I could lie down. Ambulances, ironically, do not feel safe. In the UK lots of them are converted vans, and they are very painful to travel in as they lack suspension. So, unfortunately that did not solve the issues I face when travelling. 

In the hopes of a less stressful journey back, my brother booked us a first class train ticket, only £10 more expensive, but that way I had more hope of being able to lie down and it would be a shorter journey. At the train station we asked the first attendant we saw about a ramp, how to get on board, this is our ticket, she replied with the platform the train would be pulling into and that was it. The second person we spoke to was slightly more helpful, telling us to ask a guard. When we got to the platform and asked the guard, he put down a ramp for us, and the first time the entire trip I felt like something was going right, until we got on board the train and my wheelchair couldn’t fit between the seats to get to the first class compartment where I could lie down. As soon as we asked the guard for help he shrugged and practically ran away whilst saying ‘this is the only compartment I can put the ramp down’. No offer to carry a bag or help carry the wheelchair to the next carriage.

I am an ambulatory wheelchair user, which means I can sometimes walk. At the moment I can only just stand my pain is so excruciating. Leaning on the seats so that my mother could fold up the wheelchair I was shouting to deal with the pain and frustration. How unfair. How ridiculous. Why isn’t the world built for me?! Why is every minute another challenge in every possible way? Even folded up, the wheelchair was too big to fit through the aisle, so, exhausted, after wandering the station to find help, and travelling across London, as well as a torturous hospital appointment, we had to shove it down the aisle of one carriage, and then another, until we finally ended up in the right carriage. Whilst, yes you could argue that the ‘accessible’ seating where I could have just sat in my wheelchair and not travelled to the carriage we had paid for, is what I should have done, what does that say about our view of disabled people? That they don’t deserve to use first class? That they’re not welcome there?

I had been sitting up all day with awful pain, and the is the thing you need to understand about pain and ambulatory wheelchair users: a wheelchair is not an escape. It does not fix the pain. It does not help enough. It simply means I don’t have to walk as much so I can sometimes prevent more symptoms. I can’t even push myself. Being wheeled over cobblestones and grids and being tilted up curbs? It is just as exhausting as walking. After those two days in an unfamiliar environment with rigorous hospital testing, I needed to lie down.

When we arrived at our stop, the guard came and lifted the wheelchair out whilst Mum helped me, and she said on the way out of the station that he had redeemed himself. Yes, I agreed, and then thought about it. No. No he did not redeem himself by doing the bare minimum. That did not make up for his rudeness or lack of concern. And though he may not be responsible, there is no making up for the fact that public transport excludes 18% of the public’s population.