Do some people really believe that some token concessions make up for discrimination, marginalisation and systemic ableism? (Picture: Samantha Renke)
‘But you get free parking, and you get to jump to the front of the queue. What about those nice big toilets, they can’t be all that bad, hey?’
These are just some of the comments I’ve had over the years as a disabled woman; small microaggressions rooted in very harmful ableist attitudes.
Admittedly, I’ve often brushed these comments off, putting them down to people trying to be humorous. Many non-disabled people still feel awkward around disability so making light of our circumstance is a regular occurrence.
I’d often smile, laugh along and say ‘Yeah, it’s great!’ I’d never challenge or question these attitudes because I honestly believed people never truly thought that disabled people get the better end of the deal. I assumed these comments were purely to break the ice and instigate conversation.
That is until I became more involved in my activism work. I began to notice more remarks like these – accompanied by anger from those hurling them my way.
A recent comment on social media accused me of being hypocritical, stating that I use my disability to get ‘special treatment’ while claiming I want to be treated like everyone else.
My jaw dropped. Do some people really believe that some token concessions make up for discrimination, marginalisation and systemic ableism?
This person may look on it as ‘special treatment’, I say it’s levelling the playing field; safeguarding our health and civil rights. It’s enabling us to live an independent and autonomous existence in an incredibly disabling world.
For example, disabled parking badges and bays were introduced to facilitate wheelchair users safely unloading and transferring into their wheelchairs without bumping the car next to them. They also allow those with limited mobility or respiratory conditions – or those with sensory disabilities – to access stores without having to walk far. It’s not a luxury!
How about attending a concert? Yes, we often have a separate ticket hotline and our tickets are reduced for us and one companion. But most venues only have very limited space for disabled concert-goers. I could save all year because I want front row seats but irrespective of cost, as a wheelchair user, I wouldn’t be allowed because I’m deemed a fire risk. We don’t have a choice; we get what we are given.
Whoever accompanies us gets a reduced ticket or a free ticket because your PA/carer/friend are essentially being employed to assist with access needs. They are not on a jolly. Our friends accompanying us are also there to help in an emergency and many venues only meet minimum access needs.
In the grand scheme of things they are minuscule ‘benefits’ in a world that devalues, discriminates and marginalises us daily
If a mate needs to carry me up some stairs because the lift is broken, I think a free ticket is the least a venue can offer to compensate for their effort. Believe me, this has happened to me more than once.
Let’s not forget we are only allowed one companion. I remember going to a concert with three friends and because of this rule we all had to be separated, which really put a downer on the night.
Some people may be disgruntled after freezing in the queue to get into a bar or nightclub only to see someone in a wheelchair go to the front. This isn’t because we are VIP; it’s mostly for our safety or because the bouncer or steward needs to escort us to a secure spot near an accessible bathroom or emergency exit. I don’t enjoy it when it happens because of the snide comments I’ve received.
One time, queueing for the London Eye, I was brought to the front. The sneers came thick and fast with raised voices bemoaning how long they had been waiting. In order for a wheelchair user to get on, they have to stop the wheel and this needs to be timed accurately to keep everyone safe.
Travel is another bugbear some non-disabled people seem to hold a grudge towards me for. I have a disabled railcard that allows me a third off travel but it’s important to note that as a wheelchair user there are only three designated spaces on any given train. This means I have to wait for another train when they are taken.
I often accept the price reduction as a way to justify the cost of upgrading to first class. Sounds fancy, of course, but in reality I do this because whenever I try to get into standard carriages I’m usually faced with luggage piled high blocking the wheelchair bay.
Concessions, special treatment, compassion, health and safety legislation or a token of goodwill – whatever you want to call it – don’t make disabled people feel guilty for accessing these facilities. In the grand scheme of things they are minuscule ‘benefits’ in a world that devalues, discriminates and marginalises us daily.
We live in a developed, privileged country where we have a welfare system supports many and an NHS that is invaluable. Yet the disability community still faces daily barriers that infringe on our civil rights and take away our choice and independence.
I do not feel like an equal member of society when I compare my living standards, freedom of movement, employment opportunities or access to higher education to my non-disabled peers.
I cannot go on spontaneous trips out as I need to methodically plan my journey, taking into consideration accessible transport, venues or bathroom facilities.
Most of the time I can’t even get to the end of my street due to insufficient drop curbs, nor can I withdraw cash to pay for groceries because the machines are too high – something many people take for granted.
We may be seen as having some ‘perks’ but, not wanting to sound like a victim rather someone who loves life, I do believe that we deserve a darn sight more than some meagre gestures.
What we really need is to be valued and respected by fellow humans that truly want to create an inclusive society.
To anyone accusing disabled people of getting the better end of the deal, I urge you to reflect on your own privilege and ask what you’d rather have: free choice or no choice?