Saturday, 19 November 2011

Second class citizens?

We went out shopping at the local large shopping centre on Wednesday and it prompted me to write about the widely different ways in which people act towards me. Some are lovely and give you that warm feeling you get when something unexpected and nice happens. The contrast is when people don't even acknowledge your existence, ignore you at best or actively try to avoid having to get anywhere near you. Or stare at you as if you're a circus exhibit or something. Let me give some examples.

Whenever we go out, which isn't often, I use my mototrised wheelchair with my legs elevated at 90° as usual. We lose track of the number of times that people walk straight in front of us as if we don't exist, wthout an apology or even a look in our direction. Then you get the people who stand in the way and make no attempt to move despite your calls of 'Excuse us please'. The most annoying are those who leap into a lift and then don't wait for you to get into it, often when you were the first ones there in the first place. You can see them frantically pushing the button so that the lift will go and they won't have to share a lift with a disabled person. God forbid!!

Shops who insist on having all sorts of gumph in the aisles are another example of how whelchair users' access is completely ignored despite legislation setting out what they should do. It is hard enough to get around shops at the best of times especially when I am twice as long as a normal wheelchair. Having baskets of stuff, or pointless displays stuck everywhere makes it even harder. I've lost count of the number of times Eric has had to move things and even then it's a very tight squeeze. Robert Dyas, W H Smith, Game, The Works and the vast majority of clothes shops I'm pointing at you!! Really looking forward to the Xmas period as you can imagine! Is it any wonder that the vast majority of things I buy are online? Why should I have to do that just because I have CRPS and in a wheelchair?

Then there's trying to queue and pay for things. The barriers they use are impossible to navigate, the counters are out of reach and now we have chip and pin it is even harder because you can't reach the machine to key your number in. If Eric wasn't with me I'd be completely unable to shop. He pays for everything apart from the occasional accessible counter. I did have a really lovely experience in Primark. They have a disabled till at the end so you don't have to queue. The woman who served me was lovely, put the card in for me, made the effort to move the machine so I could put my PIN in (most don't). She then came round from behind the counter and put the bag on the back of my wheelchair. The exception to the norm but it really made me feel like an ordinary shopper just for once. Like everything else going shopping could be an incredibly frustrating experience, but we do our best to make sure it isn't.

Contrast this with the people who offer help when I cry out in pain getting in or out of the car. Or those who move out of the way so that you can get through without having to stop, will hold doors open, pass you things from a shelf you can't reach. Carry things to a table for you. Those shop assistants that go out of their way to make sure you're happy. Such simple acts of kindness but mean the world to someone who cannot go about life as they used to. You also get lovely people who will not only just pass by, but will smile, say 'hello' and even stop and chat to you (usually having a dog around helps this). I always make a point of thanking them profusely because their small act of kindness makes me feel good about myself. Hopefully by making a point of thanking them they will feel good about themselves as well.

It wasn't until I became disabled that I realised just where we sit in society. The world is not made for the disabled person. I wouldn't expect it to be completely as we are a minority group. However my experiences over the last six years show that there is great deal that needs to be done before we can have anything like a similar experience to able-bodied people. From transport to shop layout, the world is an obstacle course, and one that isn't getting any easier. There are so many things that I cannot access, should I want to. I cannot join an archery club anywhere locally because they have no wheelchair archers and the regimented way that they shoot means that I simply can't keep up. And of course that is before I take into account other issues caused by the CRPS which makes doing anything more difficult. I applied for Archery tickets at the Paralympics next year and was lucky enough to get them. Assuming I will be up to going, which we won't be able to tell until the day, it will be interesting to see just how disabled friendly the venue will be. Should be brilliant you'd have thought? I won't be holding my breath.

My final thought goes to those thoughtful, wonderful people who make our lives easier. Sometimes in the smallest of ways. I salute you and thank you for your kindness.

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