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Thursday, 24 March 2016

Outspoken but overlooked

Last week ended on, what I would call, a bit of a high.
The pictures people see of me on ski slopes and in woods suggest I’m some sort of outdoor character. This is quite true, but anyone who really knows me knows that my favourite type of gossip and chatter involves the “P” word, Politics. Westminster is my Hollywood and Malcolm Tucker is my spirit animal. So when it all kicks off in Whitehall, I love it!

On Friday night, my phone buzzed with a BBC News update.
Probably someone’s died, I thought.
Iain Duncan Smith had resigned from his role as Secretary of State for the Department of Work and Pensions.
This was my reaction:

I saw it simply and shallowly as relief (He’s gone!) and a bit of excitement, knowing there’d be major drama to watch over during a weekend where I had nothing planned. I never thought it would coincide and lead to people with disabilities, the House of Lords select committee and the media finally speaking out and exposing what I always think and say, but never really have the confidence to publicly write about.

Well that’s all changed.

Last month it was the 11-year anniversary of my spinal cord injury. I’m 22. So it marked the moment where I had been alive paralysed as long as I’ve been alive and not paralysed. It hit me hard. I’ve had a lot of health problems over the last 2-3 years connected to my injury that have contributed to my mental health spiralling dangerously downhill. In many ways I find it difficult to admit and share this fact, as I know I’ve achieved a lot in 11 years that I should be and am, proud of. But as I’ve grown older and hit the milestones we all hit in our lives, the way I view myself and the world around me has become increasingly harder to deal with.

I was an able bodied 1 and a bit year old when the Disability Discrimination Act was introduced in 1995. So being injured in 2005, in modern British society, you’d think that everything would be perfectly in place for someone who’s paralysed from the chest down to have access to everyday amenities and pleasures in order to live a happy and fulfilled life, right?


This is why I’ve been so scared to write this. On paper and in reality I do “amazing things.” I didn’t miss a crucial year of school despite being in hospital for 53 weeks, I have excellent GCSEs, A levels and I’m now working towards a great degree. I travelled to Canada on my own at the age of 19, I’ve climbed Snowdon twice and I managed to get through majority of this whilst battling a 6-year court case that ended in the High Court. But all of these “amazing” achievements are just on the surface and what people love to see and so therefore, choose to see.

They didn’t see me crying in my room at uni when I realised I couldn’t get into the one nightclub in Crewe that plays the music I like and occasionally holds gigs and themed nights I’d enjoy, meaning that every Tuesday I have to pretend I don’t really like going out anymore. They didn’t see me pulling up to a petrol station in rural England, without any cash or an ATM nearby and me having to trust a complete stranger with my pin number. They didn’t see me trying to convince myself that I’d be happier living in Halls at the age of 22, whilst majority of my friends moved out into houses at the beginning of this year. They don’t see me now, worrying about whether I’ll be able to find an accessible flat to rent whilst I do a Masters or whether I’ll have to move into halls, whilst I see my college friends graduating and naturally having the choice to live at home or rent a flat and just grow. These are just a few examples that don’t really sound like much, and certainly sound like “first world problems”. However, they are simple, key things that are part of everyday life. Whenever I make new friends and we meet barriers such as inaccessible shops, pubs and no accessible toilets they’re shocked, angry and and almost always ask,

“Isn’t this supposed to be against the law?”
Yes, it is.
But there always seems to be a way round it when you confront the owner of said shop, bar or restaurant.

I recently re-visited a bar in Manchester I found a few years ago that was amazing and had the added bonus of an accessible toilet. So I went back with my friends. Nature called, I headed to the bathroom only to find the accessible toilet had been converted into two smaller, separate male and female toilets that I couldn’t fit into without leaving the door open. So I had to get someone to guard the main door, whilst I tried my best to go to the toilet as quickly as I could whilst a huge queue built up outside and people began to get angry and wonder what was going on. It was so embarrassing, but I’m used to it and brush it off. When everyone realised the situation they were apologetic towards me and angry at the owners. I smiled it off, as I do.
I don’t want to cause trouble.
I don’t want to come across as one of those “moaning disabled people”.
But surely, this can’t be “it”, forever?

That’s what’s hit me over the last few years. That’s why I’ve struggled mentally.

If I can ski down a mountain, why can’t I go to the toilet in a bar?
I asked the manager and he said they do have an accessible toilet, in the bar they own next door and I was free to use that one. How is that fair? How is that reasonable? Why should I have to go outside (down a step) and into another bar just to use their toilet? I have a spinal cord injury, that means no bladder control, and when drinking, that kind of extra journey would mean it’d all be too late and my evening would be ruined.

This is something myself, my family, my friends and everyone else in similar situations have to think about and experience everyday. But it always feels like whenever I speak out, it’s just ignored and I have to add it to the constant weight that’s starting to cripple my shoulders.

Finally, this week, it seems the world has begun to take notice.

Today the House of Lords’ Select Committee on the Equality Act 2010 and Disability released their findings into the Equality Act 2010: the impact on disabled people. If anything it simply spelled out and publicised the everyday struggles people with disabilities are facing everyday in Britain in the year 2016. It’s made a few headlines, people are appearing on news programmes speaking about it and I finally feel it’s ok for me to write something I’ve needed to write for a long time.

The findings are vast, and there is so much that needs to be done. The recent resignations, protests and U-Turns are only the beginning. I've gotten used to being outspoken but overlooked and ignored, not just by politicians but by business owners and the world in general. But now the wider media and world are finally taking notice, maybe people will begin to do something about it and some of the weight on mine, and many others shoulders may begin to lift.

I'll return to being outspoken and I won't let myself be overlooked.