Thursday 9th August 2012

I've been trying to keep my blog more technical in nature these days, but as this was originally posted on Facebook (among much controversy), and also as per suggestions, posted to Reddit (/r/disability and /r/london) I decided I should have it here for posterity's sake (and the fact that here, I control the comments and the content.)



For a number of years, I’ve had knee problems. I’m not entirely sure what started them, or rather, what exacerbated them. I remember from a young age having a knee that’d give way now and again. Now I’m 26, I have recurring problems with knee pain and general knee weakness. There’s not a lot I can do about it, there’s painkillers and anti-inflammatories, but they’re really not solving the root problem. I’m not sure what would. 

I’ve been thinking about this for some time, but these last few days, with the Olympics, have made my commutes throughout London particularly difficult. 

Along with my good friend Sam Hunt, I wrote this to illustrate my feelings on London transport (although, it probably equally transfers to other cities). 



Dear London,

Some of us are disabled. Sometimes it's not obvious, or visible. 

That does not mean it's OK to disbelieve us or ask us personal questions. 

Here’s a limited example of the questions that I’m talking about:

* “What’s wrong with you?”

* “You can’t be disabled, you’re so young.”

* “You should give me your seat, I’m pregnant, I need it more than you.”

* “But you made it *onto* the train whilst standing up, why do you need to sit down now?”

Asking these questions does two things.

* 1) It embarrasses us. 

* 2) It makes you look stupid/insensitive/cruel. 

**Don’t do it.**

Some disabled people are willing to talk about their disability with complete strangers, but most are not; would you reveal to a stranger your penis length? Or your most intimate secrets? I’m not saying it’s the same, but it’s an embarrassing thing to ask of a perfect stranger.

Sometimes we have good days. Sometimes we have bad days. We don’t get to choose which day is good and which day is bad. Just because you’ve had a bad day at work, does not give you the right to harass us because you want a seat on a tube train (or bus, DLR, Overground or any other form of public transport). Your want does not outweigh our need.

I don’t always carry my walking stick. This does not mean that I’m not always disabled though. Even on good days (usually towards the end of them) I am in some degree of pain. Some people’s disability is obvious (someone in a wheelchair, or with a pair of crutches), other people’s are not obvious (someone with ME, or a pacemaker).

I didn’t make a choice to be disabled. I didn’t one day think “Hey, I know what I want. I want pain in my knee, and I want it to be difficult to walk when I’m tired, or cold, and I really want this”. I don’t know a single disabled person who’d wish any disability on anybody else. We play the cards we’re dealt, because there’s not much other choice. 

I have to get into work, every day. I live in West London and work in Soho. I wish I had an entirely step-free commute, I really do. But I don’t. And that’s not likely to change for a long while. My chosen route (for getting to work on time) takes 40-50 minutes. If I took an entirely step free route, I’d be looking at a 1h30+ commute. Each Way. Many of Central London’s transport network is off-limits to those unable to do stairs.

So whilst I have to make a daily commute that’s no fun, you (Londoners and London in general) can make life easier for me (and everyone else who’s disabled and forced to use Public Transport).

Here’s how:

* If we look tired, pained or generally unwell: Offer your seat.

* If someone asks for a seat, give it without question

* Don’t ask questions (as mentioned above).

* Get out of the way  -- I mean this in the nicest possible way, but when I’m navigating stairs, either up or down, I personally grip the handrail with my right hand (strongest side), regardless of the flow of people. Again, I wish I had a choice here, but I do not.

Here’s something else that upsets me: 

When a particularly good looking individual makes eye contact with you, looks you up and down, then instead of maintaining eye contact, instead looks disgusted, repulsed, or otherwise at unease by the simple fact that you’re carrying a walking stick, or a crutch, or you're in a wheelchair. 

This has happened on a number of occasions. Please Londoners, don’t judge based on outside appearance. It’s really just as bad as if I were black, or asian, or of any other ethnic origin; I cannot change my disability just as much as they cannot change their race. 

It’s just rude, and upsetting, and unnecessary. 

If tomorrow, you had an accident and became disabled for the rest of your life, I’m sure you would wish people to show consideration and compassion, even just a little bit. 

We ask for that today.

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