Thursday, 1 May 2008

It's not Cricket

Today is Blogging Against Disablism Day. And since my spell checker doesn't even recognise the word disablism you can see what we're up against. The brief is:


On May 1st, bloggers shall write about their experiences, observations and thoughts about disability discrimination (disablism, sometimes ableism) and what we might do about it.


Okay. . .


Am I discriminated against on the grounds of my disability? Probably, yes. Is it blatant? In my experience, rarely. I could bang on about access to public transport and shops. (In fact I almost certainly will at some point in the future.) Equally, I could write for hours on the subject of education; but instead I think I'll recount a tale from my childhood.


The first time I can recall feeling that I was being treated differently from my peers was when I was 9 years old, and recently diagnosed with a condition that I could barely pronounce and with no idea how it would impact on my life. There had been a series of hospital appointments. tests and consultations. Consultations that took place in doctors offices while I sat outside. That was a few months ago, nowI was at Cub Scout camp and we were playing cricket. It was warm and sunny, and we'd spent the morning making toast racks out of twigs and had eaten a lunch of baked beans and dangerously undercooked sausages. The wickets were set and the teams picked. The opposition were put into bat. The game commenced and a tennis ball was slammed for six all over the field. I, like the rest of my team, waited in eager anticipation for my turn at bowling, confident that my unique spin technique would soon get a result. With the innate British sense of fair play and a complete disregard for ability everyone got a turn. Except me. An oversight no doubt. It was time for our team to bat and hopes were high. We had less than 900 runs to get and at least an hour until tea. One by one my team mates took their places at the wicket and the runs were piled on. I waited and waited, making sure I was in line of sight of Akela and Baloo. I saw them talk to each other and look my way. I was ready. I could visualise my sweeping shot, my cover drive and the jubilant appreciation of my team mates as as the last man in I batted us to victory. It didn't happen of course. Akela summoned another boy and put him in to bat to even up the numbers. Even nearly 40 years later I can remember the sense of injustice and devastation that I felt as I realised I'd been labelled the handicapped kid and that somehow different rules were applied to me.


Over the years I've experienced a few occasions when I've felt a similar sense of helpless frustration and impotence. I remember being denied access to a restaurant because the manager thought my wheelchair would take up too much space. I was once refused admittance to a cinema on the grounds of that old cliché 'being a fire hazard`. I've watched as bus drivers have stared fixedly ahead as they've thundered passed me at the bus stop. And I've sat in mortified embarrassment when at a Christian event the service has been interrupted so that some one can pray for my healing. But none of those incidents evoke the same rawness of the memory, and sense of foreboding.


So what was it about this incident that so marked me? Because it was the first? Well certainly that must be significant but is that the only reason? I've pondered the question on and off over the years and the only conclusion I have reached is that that was the first time I'd been embarrassed by something over which I had no control. I'd been embarrassed before, of course, but because of things I'd done or said, not by simply being me. And that I would contend is the real harm of disablism, or disability discrimination, not the denial of access or services, although that is bad enough, but the way it makes you feel. I felt bewildered and isolated, separated from the group I had thought I was a part of.


Well that's my contribution to the debate. Join me next time and I'll tell you how easy it is to get a new wheelchair. I'll give you a clue – not very.