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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?