Once again I find that life gets in the way of the things that I want to do, like writing for instance. Of course I had no intention of getting so distracted but it happened anyway. There is always an element of opportunity in these things; however, you just have to be canny enough to spot it when it is there.
I think that the subject that I perceived in my diversion is one worth writing about simply because it impacts upon myself; disability. I have never hidden the fact that I am disabled, although when I was in my teens I desperately wanted to be ‘normal’; teenage angst and all that. I have impaired mobility; I walk with a stick and require leg splints fitted into custom made ‘monster’ boots. I have undergone more surgical procedures than I can remember and as if the deformity in my feet was not enough I have a rare muscle condition that requires me to use a heart drug just so that my muscles can relax in an almost normal fashion. However, this blog post is not really about me, it is about how other people perceive and treat the disabled.
Despite my mobility problems, or even maybe because of them, I have been a traveller. I am not exactly in the same class as Michael Palin, perhaps, but I have been around a lot of Europe, a bit of Asia (Turkey), and just recently I got close to Western Africa with a trip to the Canary Island of Tenerife. This was an impromptu winter holiday dreamt up by my wife.
We stayed in the Los Christianos in the south of the island, in the Castle Harbour apartments, without a castle in sight and nowhere near the harbour. Although our apartment was situated at the top of a noticeable incline generally Los Christianos boasted some very level and smooth pavements with dropped kerbs for pushchairs, wheelchairs, and disability scooters. Indeed, there seemed to be more of the latter than anything else but then the Canary Islands have become a popular retirement destination for all manner of people from Europe.
Even with my own disability I found Los Christianos one of the easier resorts to get around. The local people were mostly friendly and accommodating. The only expression of resentment that I encountered was on the return journey home .We found ourselves stood near the front of the check in desk at the airport. While we waited for the desk to open, some 50 minutes later than it should have, several passengers in wheelchairs were wheeled to the front. This is not unique. I have seen it before, but several of the passengers stood in line behind us started to nosily voice their discontent. Basically they objected to people in wheelchairs being given preferential treatment.
I have heard this kind of thing before. People today seem to assume that anyone who is disabled gets everything given to them. I suppose this presumption comes from 5 years under the ConDem government who attacked the disabled during the last Parliament, using a very condemning newspaper campaign to rob the disabled of any public sympathy in respect of the government significantly reducing disability benefits. Unsurprisingly hate crime against the disabled went up during this period as well. Regardless of what the truth of the matter is generally the disabled earn less, pay more, and are treated worse than most other people.
I know this to be true and here’s an example. I decided to learn to drive and applied for a provisional licence, instead of 6 weeks it took 9 months even though I had paid the same amount as an able bodied person. I then had to pay another £80 to be assessed as not only fit to drive but also what adaptations I might need to operate the car. When it came to buying my car I had to pay £1,800 on top of the price to have the car adapted. There are no grants or handouts of public money for this extra fee. I also had the choice of only 1 instructor for lessons as well. When I felt ready to take my driving test I had to wait 3 months because I am a disabled driver and the testing authority has to allot 2 periods to my test so that the examiner can complete extra paperwork afterwards (so the authority told me on the telephone). If I had been able bodied I would have had to wait only 3 weeks.
To go back to the passengers in wheelchairs there is a reason why they go to the front of the queue, the airlines like to get them seated first for safety considerations, it is not preferential treatment. The downside to this is that their wheelchairs are stowed away first so they often have to wait until last to leave the plane after it has landed. It is not uncommon for them to be left in an area on their own until a security person comes to collect them.
There are no advantages to being disabled. I have spent time in a wheelchair but fortunately I am at a point in my life where I am able to get about almost on my own. Yes, my legs hurt when I am stood for too long or walk too far, and my muscles are weaker than they should be and stiffen up all too quickly, but I can get on and off aeroplanes more or less on my own. I have also been denied job opportunities simply because I am disabled, and I have also spent an inordinate amount of time in hospital. Pain is companion throughout my life, one I wish that I did not have.
I suppose the point of all this is one of perception. It might sometimes seem that the disabled get some preferential treatment but before judging it is always worthwhile stopping and thinking about the situation; would you really like to be at the front of the queue even if it meant that you had to be so disabled that you needed to use a wheelchair? If people knew more about the other aspects of life that the disabled miss out on then perhaps they would be less inclined to begrudge them the odd occasion when the do get a little consideration.