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Sunday, 27 February 2011

Are Disabled People invisible in a mainstream world?

I was in my local pub when I started to think about my last blog post as a result of how some of the non-locals made me feel. On the most part I have become a well known face and am treated with respect that I feel I deserve. I am not treated any differently to anyone else in the pub, by all those that know me there. It is the people who don't know me who seem to have no respect for me or my feelings and have made me feel unwelcome or different at times and as my blog post title suggests I am made to feel invisible by some able bodied people. A regular occurrence that irritates me, is when people knock into me without a second thought. I hate it because it feels like the only reason they knock into me is because I am invisible to them. People go past me and will knock into me even though the 10 people before have managed fine to get past me without it being a problem.  Some people are very apologetic, others barge past without a second glance as though they just knocked into an inanimate object.

For disabled people the biggest problem they face on a daily basis is the way that they are treated differently, often in an unfair way. Through the prejudice of society and the perceived view that 'normal' people have about disabled people, equality is an idea very much in the distance for those who live with a disability. There has been many a time over my lifetime that I have felt invisible to people around me when experiencing life in a mainstream world as a direct result of being a wheelchair user. It feels as though it is my fault that I am in the way of them getting somewhere. When I am stationary and people walk into me I still receive a look that suggests that I went into them.

I learnt very young that disabled people are treated different and rarely was it to the benefit of the disabled person themselves, an example of  this was when I used to go into fast food restaurants and order food for myself and then they would tell my mum or whoever I was with how much the meal cost and expect them to pay looking upon me as incapable of such a straightforward task. The saddest aspect of this, being that it was often those who were younger who would treat me the worse (one would hope that the younger generation would now have more understanding as a result of better education of such issues). When I was younger I wouldn't always notice until it was pointed out to me. I suppose I assumed that this was normal behaviour so accepted it for that. As I have got older I now realise this is a popular form of inequality, disabled people are being discriminated against like this on a daily basis. I have learnt to express my dislike for the discriminatory behaviour being practised because as I have learnt the people portraying this behaviour do so because they know no better, assuming they are doing nothing wrong because they have not been educated to think anything different.

As mentioned in previous posts I have learnt to behave appropriately and be diplomatic in these situations because unfortunately lowering myself to their level doesn't teach them anything and in the long run doesn't make me feel any better. There are many circumstance where I have found I have experienced inequality whether it be through education, employment or social environments. I have learnt to educate people as best as I can and show them a positive side to disability and my abilities, whether I have ever changed people's perceived views, that remains to be seen. I can positively say that there are some people who I haven't been able to show them my abilities and so unfortunately have had to approach these situations with the attitude that you win some you lose some. Not every disabled person has the confidence or the strength to approach inequality in this way and there are times I become fed up with the fight for equality. Equality for all will not happen until disabled people are not seen any differently to fellow humans who are seen as not having a disability.

The following link helps to show that my opinion and experiences are unfortunately based on fact  There are an estimated 400 million disabled people in the developing world and there is still a great inequality experienced within the disabled community-

It's a sad fact that what this government is doing will only increase this inequality for disabled meaning many will face increased discrimination and a decreased quality of life. 

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

How did a disabled person find her voice in a mainstream world?

After my gap in writing I have decided to write about how I found my voice in a mainstream world. To do this I am going to write about what I have been up to. Right . . . so what has been going on that is more important? I hear you ask. Unfortunately this is a time of much uncertainty for many people, not least disabled people. Which has led myself and many other people to show their passion and want their voices to be heard. So this is what I have been trying to do. As part of this I have become more involved in union based activities, going to different conferences, meetings and generally asking many questions. I have also learnt some of the joys of social media and how they can help to put my point across and learn more about what interests me so I am better informed, these include twitter and blogging as I am doing now.

For many years I never shared my opinion no matter how small because I was scared of what people would think. My family have always had strong opinions which if I am honest I have not always agreed with, this has made it difficult to air my views in public. Some of this nervousness about having an opinion that I shared, is as a result of society and the need to fit in, I have also had to learn which battles are worth fighting and whether if I shared my views they would be listened to anyway.

In more recent years I have learnt that it is possible for me to have an opinion, even if it is different to other people. Having said that I am still careful in certain situations as I am sure you can imagine, its not always easy to change how you are with specific people and as mentioned above you have to choose the battles you fight.

I owe the new voice that I have found to my husband, who has shown me that it is important to have my own opinion and challenge what you believe to not be right as this is the only way that things will change. This is very true with regards to society, and the way they view disability.

Society is one of the biggest problems for disabled people, because it is often the opinions of others that stop disabled people from being part of society and able to experience all that others in the society I live in experience.

Opinions have changed and on the most part for the better, but there are still times when every disabled person will have to face prejudice and small minded views on what it means to live with a disability. I can recollect many occasion where young and old have treated me noticeably different to other people that they come into contact with just because that is the accepted norm with people they know.  This is quite hard to deal with at times but I have learnt some acceptance of this where individuals are concerned because I realise that this is isn't how everyone sees disability and I try to educate people so they deal with disability the way people with disabilities want to be. Educating people isn't always easy, especially for the older generation, who have had grandparents and parents to guide them in their beliefs. I used to think it was something I said or done and couldn't see what other people saw because I only saw me, I didn't see someone in a wheelchair.

As I said previously, choosing the right battles is the most important aspect for me, I now see that the friends I have and the people that come into close contact with me see who I am, rather than the wheelchair that I sit in. Unfortunately I have had to accept that not everyone sees me and all they see are the problems that are caused by sitting in a wheelchair.

One such situation of people seeing the wheelchair and not me is employment, over the past 10 years I have had numerous volunteer roles and one employed part time. I am currently in the employed position and for the most part I enjoy the job that I do. It has given me great experience and has allowed me to grow in confidence, but it will never be a career and will never pay me what I feel that I am worth, considering the qualifications that I have gained over the years.

I have applied for other jobs, which I either haven't had an interview for or have been unsuccessful at interview. The interviewer of the job where I actually got an interview, let slip that the reason that they did not employ someone was due to them being in a wheelchair. Yep, I can hear what you are saying . . . outrageous, the problem is I only heard what she said and she was very quick to back track so not really a lot that can be said there. It's the whole choosing the battles you fight scenario again. But as I am sure you can imagine, this has knocked my confidence and doubt myself. I am also aware that there are many people in a worse position than myself, who aren't in a job and are finding it very difficult to find suitable employment able-bodied or disabled. I fear this is only going to get worse under this government as there are more people unemployed than there are jobs and so the opinion of employers will continue to get worse because they will want to employ people who are seen fit and able to do the job, especially with all other spending cuts that are being put in place like funding to Access to Work, that if you don't know about it helps remove some of the physical barriers for disabled people to allow them to work.

So all in all these are trying times, and I feel this is only the beginning of the fight for many disabled people, I am glad I am not a disabled child in this period as I feel that this will be a very sad time for those who are, with all the changes that the ConDem government are trying to enforce.

Monday, 7 February 2011

How is life as a disabled person in a mainstream world?

I have spoke about some of my struggles of attending mainstream school, which were always made more difficult due to the continual health problems that I experienced but in this post I want to focus my attention to how I coped with the adjustment required to go through mainstream schooling and cope in mainstream society. Living with a disability no matter how 'normal' you are treated by people around you will always provide challenges that many able bodied people will not ever have to think about.

Throughout my schooling I experienced some high points but I also experienced some low points. Many of my low points were as a direct result of other people and their attitudes towards me and my disability. The low points when bullied which made me feel all alone. Outside of the times I was bullied I always loved going to school but when I was bullied my school life became miserable. Now I am older I can see its because people did not understand me, cliché as it sounds I was bullied because I was different. I only wanted to be liked and so this meant I tried to fit in and be the same as everyone else although this did not always work.

As I got older this made me stronger, I always felt that I had to prove my capabilities, which in turn has made me quite hard on myself. Some of these traits I have carried into my adulthood and am unlikely to ever change now. When I first went into mainstream I remember being provided with help and pushing this help away, I wasn't always able to do this in the best way and so most likely upset people along the way. I had to do this though to prove to myself and other people that I was able to look after myself and didn't need any special treatment just because I was in a wheelchair. As I have got older I have learnt to be more diplomatic and if I turn down help now I decline in a much more polite way.

The main time that I feel I grew as a person and really began to experience life as a person rather than as a disabled person was when I went to Upper School. During my time at the school, life was not always easy and there were times that I was still bullied but I can look back at this time with much happier memories.

It was the time when I met real friends (some who I am thankfully still friends with today) and experienced real life. I went to parties, I went to the cinema, I had crushes and relationships, I got into trouble but most of all I learnt what it was to be treated like everyone else. I belonged to a group of friends who wanted to know me for who I was. I went through the same stages that all my friends went through, I had exam stress, too much homework and feeling sorry for myself but so did my friends. Although this is true, there was daily tasks that were always much harder for me which meant that I became tired quicker, I always have to give myself longer to get out especially when in the car because it takes time to get my wheelchair in and out of the car. This is also things that added to the difficult times because no matter how much people seemed to understand, could they ever understand fully?

I learnt then that I didn't cope with stress well and this has stayed true into my adult life. Unfortunately I didn't learn how to cope with it then and so at times found it very hard to cope with. I don't find it much easier now but at least I can recognise when I am getting stressed easier now and so it is easier to control the fall out of this happening. I came away from my GCSE year with something to show for my hard work and so then progressed into the Sixth Form to carry on with my studies. I did reasonably well in this time, few ups and downs but I coped it gave me more time to grow as a person and grow in confidence especially after passing my driving test which I was going to learn was the best thing that I ever did as it gave me the independence that I required.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

How did a disabled person cope when she attended a UNITE anti-cuts Conference in London independently?

I am back in the present for time being due to what this day meant to me, it was a day of firsts. It was to be the first time I had travelled on the Train to London before on my own and the first time I had been to an event like this on my own. I have had many a bad experience on the train even with someone there to support me.So how did I cope with this experience?

A couple of days before I rang up Special Assistance for East Midlands Train Service, the person I spoke to was very helpful and reassuring which put me at ease. She gave me telephone numbers to contact people, if for some reason the travelling did not go to plan.

I approached my day with apprehension, as I said earlier it was a day for firsts so wasn't sure what to expect. The morning came and I got myself ready to go out. My husband dropped me at the station and ensured that the first part of my experiences went without a hitch (which it didn't). When I arrived at St. Pancreas International, I looked out for someone and thought they weren't there to meet me. Out of nowhere a lovely chap met me and got me off the train, and came with me to Euston Road where he left me to continue my journey.

I now had to use my own knowledge of where I was going to find the place. This started reasonably well once I got my bearings, so I went on my way following the directions I had been given. On my journey I came across a massive group of EDL supporters, who were being very loud and obnoxious (drinking at 9 in the morning has this effect on people). They made me nervous and so I was happy when I was away from them.

As I followed the directions I had, things seemed to be going well, then I got lost! I ended up going out of my way, but thankfully got on track again and with a little help from GPS on my phone and a lovely old lady managed to find my way again. I arrived just on time, the usual suspects were outside selling their papers etc. Had a quick chat with them before going inside (once upon a time I wouldn't have coped with just that experience). Once inside everyone was very helpful and put me at ease, directing me to where I needed to go. Within minutes I met another wheelchair user who I learnt throughout the day everyone seemed to know and he was very popular. He also became a very useful person to make contact with, which will hopefully lead to more involvement in the union at an equalities level.

The day continued in a similar way, people being very helpful and friendly. The first part of the day involved all the attendees sitting in a hall listening to a variety of different people sharing their knowledge. This was very interesting especially as it allowed me to put a few faces to the names I had heard. We then went on to different workshops that involved sharing their experiences, this was good although a little repetitive at times.  I continued to tweet throughout the day, to inform people how it was going.

Just before lunch was announced, one of the main organisers came to me and asked would I like to get some lunch before people arrived on mass, so I with the other wheelchair user Sean, went to get some lunch. I was quite grateful for this as 400 + people trying to get lunch was actually quite a nightmare!

After lunch we had another workshop, to go to. I went to the Equalities For All session, which unfortunately was in a different building, because of numbers. It didn't matter too much as it wasn't far and I was shown by Sean where to go. Within the Equalities For All session, there was some interesting comments made, although there was an instance where an individual started to rant about the union. Thankfully he was reined in and others were allowed their say. I found my confidence to say a short piece about my experience of employment and how it lacks equality at times. The response I received after I spoke was very good which meant I was pleased I shared my thoughts.

It was then back to the main hall for the last talks before the end of the day. These were interesting, although unfortunately by this point I was beginning to feel tired and not listening as intently but I continued to use twitter.

I had to leave a few minutes before the end, due to having to get back for my train. I was going to get a taxi but as best laid plans go did I see one until I was nearly at the station? No. I ended having to use GPS to get me to the station but my phone battery died part way back. Luckily it survived to get me out of the difficult bit and I managed  to remember how to get back without too much trouble, although not sure I ended up going the quickest route!

Back at the station I waited for someone to meet me at my designated place. I was told to ring a specific number if someone didn't turn up but as I just mentioned the battery on my phone had died so that was not possible. I only waited a few minutes before I started to get a bit worried. I started to look out for someone to ask, but no luck. I asked someone from first capital connect and they suggested that I went to an office which was really near. So this is what I did. Once I was there they were very helpful and got it sorted for me straight away. Another nice person met me and helped me on the train. He reassured me that he would remind Bedford Station that I was on my way. When I got back to the station there was someone waiting for me and so my day ended well.

So although my day didn't go completely smoothly I have learnt from my experiences and am glad that I went as it has allowed me to network and feel part of something. Although I wouldn't choose to do it on my own I realise I coped well enough not to be too scared of the experience if I needed to do something like this again.