Today I officially became a member of the disabled club. Do you think I might get sent my membership card and welcome letter in the post? Now that it’s official surely that’s the least I can expect.
Following last month’s blog I have the Government’s rubber stamp of approval to include disabled person in my title (read I’m Disabled, Hurray! if you haven’t had the pleasure yet) but clearly the Disabled Gods were waiting for me to finalise my membership this afternoon.
Let me set the scene: It’s a lovely sunny Sunday on a bank holiday weekend. I’ve had a busy week with work and socializing in Edinburgh and spent the majority of the weekend so far recharging the batteries. By Sunday afternoon I decided it was time to leave the flat and should really make use of my gym membership. A membership which was new and this was my first proper swim so I was a bit nervous about it. It seemed accessible when I went to visit and the fellow swimmers didn’t appear to be meathead splashy swimmers but would that be what I find when I get there? So, I was a little nervous about going. Nonetheless the bag was packed, pain killers taken in time to ensure the hips were able to get me through a swim and I get in the car and head to the pool.
As it’s sunny I decide to delay the swim and take a stroll to the supermarket to pick up the washing detergent I had annoyingly forgotten in last night’s Tesco delivery and needed to tackle the huge pile of laundry waiting for me back home. So, off I trot, in my electric wheelchair and sunglasses on, down the road to Sainbury’s. All very boring, mundane and decidedly normal. See I’m just like you, I just use wheels to get around. Silly me to be enjoying the mundanity of life.
There I was, enjoying the sun and waiting at the traffic lights to cross the road when two lads in a white car with the music blaring and windows down sped around the corner. They spot me and shout “LITTLE MIDGET GIRL, HAHA!” Shocking and distressing vocabularly to say the least. I won’t go into detail about my feelings on this word as I already have done here: What’s the Word? Unfortunately, in the typically frustrating way of the world it all happened before I was able to conjure up a retort and they were gone up the road.
Why am I telling this story? I’m thirty years old and have had my disability every single day of those thirty years so it may come as a surprise that this is the first time I’ve experienced something like this. I’ve had the stares, the ignorant chats and the whispered comments but I’ve actually never experienced the shout and run, the deliberate aggressive abuse. If I’m honest, internally I was always a bit smug about it. When I’ve read, or heard of similar tales from friends or acquaintances I would think how awful for them but that has never, and would never, happen to me. Yes, I look different and am clearly physically disabled but people also know not to fuck with me. I’m confident, or have developed the look of impenetrable confidence, and I always assumed that it just wouldn’t happen to me. It’s not arrogance, merely wishful thinking I guess.
Now that it’s happened what do I think? Honestly, not very much. I spent a good 10 minutes internally patting myself down. You know when you’ve had a fall and you’re not sure if you’ve hurt yourself so you give yourself a rub down to make sure you’re all in one piece? I wasn’t sure how I felt, did I need to cry? Should I get angry and try and chase after them? No, none of the above. What I needed was to find the Ariel non bio pods and choose a nice birthday card for my mate’s birthday.
Those lads didn’t see me, they saw my circumstance. That abuse wasn’t about me, my life or who I am. If we were locked in a room together and they said those things to my face and they were forced to see the reaction would they think twice? Undoubtedly so. In fact, I’m fairly sure they wouldn’t say those things in the first place. If we are forced to face up to the reality and the consequences of our actions, our behaviour changes. The trouble is, there are so many people out there who don’t take a second to think about the effect their comments or actions might have on the people they are directed at. The lack of empathy and kindness when we hold people at arm’s length is worrying whether that is disabled people or any one of the minority and targeted groups in our society.
(Balcony with a delicious lunch, a beer and a good book – my happy place)
So, whilst I sit here in my happy place contemplating how to spend the next sunny day can I ask you this? I don’t want you to tell me how awful this is to have happened. I don’t need you to rant and tell me you have my back, that disabled people shouldn’t have to endure this kind of thing and that something should be done. Instead, go quietly. Keep talking and telling people you know about what’s really happening out there. Don’t shout but quietly and continuously keep it in the conscious mind of everyone you know. Bigots and ignorant people generally, in my opinion, don’t listen to shouts and screams about how wrong their thoughts and behaviours are. What we all need to do is keep talking, and keep listening. So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to keep talking when things happen and I’m going to keep listening. Maybe that way we can make a change. It’s worth a shot I guess..!