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I wrote this over a year ago as part of my GCSE English coursework. Some of my views and circumstances have changed since then. 2003-August-04

Being Disabled

"Walk properly."

I reacted with a rush of angry tears, angry at his unfeeling action, angry at the unfairness. I continued walking in my lopsided waddle but my mind was crowded with these primitive emotions, soon developing into fear, hoping to get home, hoping he had not stopped his van and was following. It seems childish to react in the way I did, frightened over a few words and an angry facial expression. On other occasions I have reacted differently, sometimes with anger, sometimes resignation, but nearly always with tears at least welling in my eyes. Even friends have been guilty, joking about something that to me is not in any way a joke, about something of which my sense of humour is completely deficient.

The problem in the situations above is not caused by being disabled, but merely accentuated by being so; the roots are in my personality defects. If I take myself so seriously I cannot ignore comments on truths that I have full knowledge of, no matter how unpleasant these comments are, then I should not seek sympathy because I am disabled but because I am insecure about myself. My inability to accept some facts can lead to an aggravation of problems, especially those which are embarrassing difficulties. I cannot, for instance, easily stand up from a sitting position where the seat is low and toilet seats are almost exclusively low. Instead of admitting this and buying, or allowing my parents to buy, a toilet seat for my use I struggle by leaning against a wall, for no reason other than my own self-importance. I do not want this idiocy to be mistaken for determination: it is not because I think I can manage but because I am ashamed that I continue in this way. My growth-spurt made this problem worse: I lost mobility and as I grew seats became lower. One problem that has remained constant is a tendency to fall over.

I instinctively flinch when someone runs too close, an almost certainly useless reflex designed to prevent over-enthusiastic youths from enacting a nightmare where they are bowling ball and I am a nine-pin. When I was younger these situations usually turned into a bloody mess on the floor; now they are not so bloody. Mostly these were propelled not by a boisterous brat but by various traps cunningly built into pavements. Here I typically ended up by landing on my head, the most unhealthy habit I have ever had in my life. My parents invested in a head-band to neatly cover the damage after they grew tired of the staring populace wondering why this toddler was so scared. I did develop the skill of suddenly collapsing at the knees, which has left me bruised, battered but with brain intact. I still retain the evidence of these early falls: a constellation of these scars in the center of my forehead arranged in the form of a number two. Apart from falling over, retrieving objects from the floor is also a recurring problem.

The four keys escaped through the hole in my pocket, navigated out of my trouser leg and deposited themselves respectfully at my feet. Damn them. (Not being able to pick things up is tiresome, especially in situations such as these. My mother praises me for a tidy bedroom, but little does she know that it would be a carbon-copy of my brother's pigsty if I could easily access the lower regions. Instead my storage is limited to a desk which began life as a place to work on but now finds its usage resembles that of a filing cabinet. I return to my narrative from which I have digressed.) I cunningly proceeded on my travels to collect a friend for that daily journey to that place of hardship and labour that some call "school". Barely five minutes had elapsed before we emerged with the intent to recover these errant keys to find they had eloped in search of better resting grounds. After futile searching and a few days it transpired that an over-zealous do-gooder had transported them to the school lost property.

Picking things up from the floor is one thing I need help with, so is descending from high steps, such as those found in trains. This sometimes leads to unplanned adventures. During a school trip we were on a train in southern part of France when we arrived at our port of call. My comrades fussed and worried over unloading their luggage while I waited to the end for assistance from the designated helper, who in his spare time is a teacher. He quickly leapt back onto the train to fuss and worry over his own luggage but he did not have the burst of speed required and failed to leave the train for the platform before others had taken the initiative and the train had left the platform. So here we were, two teachers and one student, stranded on an impatient train and none of us fluent in the local lingo. We ended up in a town traveling by, or, if my geography is correct, stationary by, the name of Toulouse. All was not lost, only us, but we did manage to return from whence we had came and had another chance to depart from the train. On this occasion I did so in haste and came swiftly to a bruised landing on my back. This was not as bad as it could have been: I was not hurt overly and the impatient whistle blower had been tamed into patience so the train did not depart with one half of me inside and the other half outside. These are, however, relatively uncommon displays of my disability. The thing that probably affects me the most each day is the physiotherapy I have to do, taking between an hour and an hour and a half, a sizable chunk which would be more enjoyable to spend elsewhere. What the physiotherapy actually involves is finding a painful position, making it more painful and then staying there. I discovered recently that I could make the time even worse by doing homework at the same time, which has lead to slightly rushed and messy homework. Exercise taking the form of horse-riding and swimming is another method used to improve the condition of my body. Both came to a end, however. Let me begin with the horse-riding.

Looking back, I am surprised at how loudly I screamed. Not that it did not hurt; it did; but because in moments when I have devoted brain power to the matter I have never thought I could make such a loud noise. Previous to the screaming, I had been riding what I thought was a friendly and obedient horse. After being unnerved by miscellaneous sounds it decided to accelerate rapidly contrary to the wishes of its rider who cunningly waited until we had traveled from the grass and onto the hard concrete before bailing out. With hindsight this seems to have been an unfortunate choice, but I am not skilled in the art of evacuation from volatile horses and so would not have known the recommended way to fall off, even if I had wanted to. After this and then another minor fall I no longer had any trust for these monstrosities and avoided all horse riding. There was one harrowing episode while swimming but I gave that up out of tiredness, laziness and lack of motivation rather than fear.

I speak flippantly of this physiotherapy and exercise but it is very important to me: these hours spent diligently are essential to retain the mobility I have which keeps me outside of a wheelchair.

In this country, and this country is better than most, being wheelchair bound seems severely limits where you can go and what you can do. Houses, buses, trains, shops, schools and just about anywhere else have many areas which are not accessible to someone who cannot ascend or descend stairs. I understand that it would be very costly to refurbish all of these culprits but when new buildings or extensions are constructed the only excuses for not making them accessible are slovenliness and ignorance. As for trains I cannot see why platforms are not made the same height as the entrance to the train: this is an easy modification that requires no inventions or technical knowledge we do not possess.

Even if we look at the problems of someone such as myself who has a relatively mild disability we can see many things that can be done easily and with no extra cost if only people were more aware of the difficulties. Three simple things I will leave you with are regarding banisters, which are usually designed to be admired rather than used. First, they must be perpendicular to the steps, not at forty-five degrees which happens sometimes when the steps are shrinking in width. Secondly, it must not suddenly end at the last step; it will be used to climb that one as well and so must be extended. Thirdly and finally, to all architects or proto-architects if you have any steps, consider a lift if there are many, a ramp if there are only a few, or at the very least a banister or hand-rail, preferably on both sides. Thank you.