This is the first time I’ve shared a picture of myself using a wheelchair. Up until now, I’d have stood out of the chair or I just wouldn’t have bothered with a picture. I wasn’t going to post this at first, but then it dawned on me that the reason for not sharing my holiday snap was not because I disliked the way my hair sat or because I was stood at a funny angle, it was because I was in a wheelchair and that wasn’t something I was used to seeing. I was used to going on holiday and walking until my feet burned and ached and this new image of me was something I had to work towards accepting.
However, having used the chair in wonderfully accessible places like Copenhagen and then places like Dublin and Boston, which aren’t very accessible, I’ve learnt that my biggest issue with using a wheelchair is not that I see myself as disabled, it’s that the outside world is designed in such an inaccessible way that it highlights my disability and sets up barriers for inclusion at every turn. Simply put, by using a wheelchair, you are not considered or treated as equal by society.
During this trip I have been bought close to tears as I’ve sat outside cafes I couldn’t get into in sub-zero temperatures, bins left in the middle of and cars parked on paths, forcing me to go the long way around, no dropped curbs, no marked disabled toilets. Because I was using a walking stick, a drunk who tried to push past us for our taxi, started to refer to me as elderly.
By using a wheelchair, you are not considered or treated as equal by society.
To end things on a ‘nice’ note I was left waiting for almost an hour at airport security, separated from my husband, for a pat-down because I was in a wheelchair. The excuse was they had to wait for a female security personnel. But I watched people walk through scanners that beeped and receive pat-downs by female staff ahead of me. Why did I not receive equal treatment?
Then there’s all the other fun that comes with travelling with a wheelchair, like on the way over when I discovered one of the foot straps on my chair had been broken in transit despite being perfect when it was given to the handlers at the aircraft door. Not to let the side down, on the return journey I was left waiting for my wheelchair and told to walk to the lifts to retrieve it. My mobility is always worse after a long flight. I couldn’t make the walk so my husband went to check and sure enough the wheelchair wasn’t there. It took a further 10 minutes to locate it. It’s like people can’t get their heads around what reduced mobility means. That chair should have been waiting for me at the doors of the aircraft as promised.
“You look so good”
People see me on the good days and think I’m doing great, that I’m better. The reality is that there are days I cannot leave the house without my walking stick or get around the shops without my wheelchair. I can’t possibly begin to explain just how difficult it is to live with MS and chronic pain, the impact it has on every area of your life and on your loved one’s lives. I put my head down and I push on because life is precious and none of us know when our time is up. Despite the difficulties, I feel so blessed to be surrounded by people who love and support me and I want to enjoy every moment with them. For me, MS has brought into focus what’s truly important in life.
Help us fight for equality
You think this isn’t your fight, right? Yet accessibility will affect most of us someday. If you’re lucky enough to meet old age, reduced mobility is likely to become an issue at some point, and whether you use a wheelchair or a walking aid, or a loved one those – or even if you have a child in a pram – a more accessible world benefits us all. So why then do we ignore the need for change? Why are we happy for people with disabilities to remain isolated at home?
If you get the chance during next year’s local and European elections (maybe even a general election), ask the question: What is being done to include people with disabilities? Why is our capital city, among many others, not accessible? Why is there no policy to make shops and other public buildings accessible when, in my experience, 90% of the time all it would take are a couple of shovels of concrete to create a sloped entrance up to a step.
Speak up for us, for your children, your grandchildren and for your future self so that one day we can live in a world where disabled isn’t considered less and where a wheelchair doesn’t limit you but opens you up to experiencing the world equally.
Is equality really too much to ask for?