Five Misconceptions About Disabled People

The photo on the left hand side of the image is Emma, a young white woman with brown hair and tinted glasses, smiling into the camera whilst sat in her wheelchair. She is wearing a red check shirt, red leather jacket and a purple face covering around her neck. The blue text on the right hand side reads "Five Misconceptions About Disabled People"
Image Description: The photo on the left hand side of the image is Emma, a young white woman with brown hair and tinted glasses, smiling into the camera whilst sat in her wheelchair. She is wearing a red check shirt, red leather jacket and a purple face covering around her neck. The blue text on the right hand side reads "Five Misconceptions About Disabled People"

I often wonder how I’d answer the question “what’s the hardest part of being disabled?” If I was ever asked. I think my true answer is, actually being disabled isn’t the hard bit. It’s the perceptions and responses of non-disabled people to my disability that I find the toughest. I have seen  five general perceptions (these are the five I’ve heard or heard of the most but there are probably more). Who knows? Maybe some day I’ll hear all five of these perceptions in one day!

  • Disabled People Are Not Disabled “Enough”

The first perception is seeing disabled people as not disabled ENOUGH to actually be considered disabled or worthy of help and accommodations. This is linked to the idea that disabled people are fakers and scroungers who are only PRETENDING to be disabled for the benefits (both the actual disability benefit and any other perceived benefits such as queue skipping. This can show up in phrases like “oh you can do X, well then you’re not really disabled” or when you comment on a disabled person changing which mobility aid they use on a day to day basis as though variable health conditions don’t exist. This is perhaps the most dangerous misconception as it leaves disabled people constantly proving their disability in order to access the most basic help. It also can lead to internalised ableism on the part of the disabled person. This is something I can personally attest to as I often feel like if I am physically able to do something myself or have the time to then I should do it. Otherwise I feel like I am not doing enough and don’t qualify as “disabled enough” to allow myself rest or assistance.

  • Disabled People Are Incompetent or Incapable

This misconception is probably the one that annoys me the most. It’s this idea that, just because we are disabled, we are incompetent or incapable of living independently and need help with everything. This misconception rears its head in the oddest moments. I can simply be rolling down the street minding my own business or pulled to the side and waiting for a friend and someone will approach me and say, “Are you ok?, do you need help?”. And quite frankly my honest answer is “with what?”. If I’m not DOING anything and I’m just here, existing, alone, what can I possibly need help with? I think it’s the alone part that throws people. There’s this idea that disabled people have carers and are constantly attached to them, so if we’re out in the world alone, something must be wrong.

The second part of this incompetence and incapability misconception is when I’m doing something, say grabbing something off a shelf, and a non-disabled person asks if I need help. I’ll usually say no (mostly because I have my own independent methods and I know they work). However, people often ignore my answer and go about ‘helping’ me anyway. This is particularly frustrating and potentially dangerous as well because the methods disabled people develop for completing tasks are something they’ve figured out to live as independently as possible without hurting or overexerting themselves. Therefore, your unrequested ‘help’ as a non-disabled person can actually be more of hindrance, with us exerting more energy as we work around you, and potentially injuring ourselves.

  • Disabled People are Inspirational (In the Concept of Inspiration Porn)

This one’s a bit more difficult to explain. Of course sometimes disabled people ARE inspirational. There are plenty of disabled people who inspire me. My issue comes when disabled people are seen as inspirational for doing the smaller, regular things. I’ll be shopping for food, or out at the bar with friends and I’ll be called inspirational. What am I supposed to do, sit at home, and starve? stay inside and not have fun with my friends? And I think that’s the point, most of society doesn’t see our disabled lives as ones worth LIVING, just existing. It’s almost like we’re just expected to sit at home within four walls and cry about being disabled and doing anything outside of that narrative is considered inspirational.

The other part of Inspiration Porn that bothers me is the posts you see on social media of a disabled person (usually in the gym) doing something and a caption along the lines of “if they can do it, what’s your excuse not to?” It infuriates me every time. Disabled people don’t exist as motivational objects or for you to use to put others down and make them feel bad for not being able to do something or choosing not to do it.

  • Disabled People Are Angry Or Whiny

I don’t know if you’d fully call this a misconception, but I think that’s the closest term to what it is. There’s this idea that raises its head whenever disabled people bring up an issue, whether that be something as simple and regularly occurring as wheelchair accessibility issues or a bigger more complex issues like the lack of marriage equality for disabled people. Whenever issues like this are raised, it’s always said that disabled people are just angry or  whiny and complaining about everything. This is a misconception because it makes it sound like we LIKE complaining, but we don’t. We just want equality and the rights and access to do the same things as everyone else. Acting like we are whining, complaining, or asking for the moon when we ask for equality makes it sound as those equality is not something you expect or will allow us to have.

  • Disabled People Are Broken or Need To Be Fixed  

Remember when I said that the incompetence and incapability misconception annoyed me the most? Yeah I changed my mind, that accolade goes to this misconception. It often comes from people I call ‘healers’ or more widely those who have some form of religious faith. It is those kinds of people who will approach me, randomly in the street may I add, and ask to pray over me and tell me that their religious figure will fix or heal me. Firstly, saying disabled people will be fixed implies we are broken, which we are NOT.  Secondly, I feel that this whole misconception stems from the idea that being disabled is a bad thing, a terrible existence and that if we are disabled there is no way we can be happy. The idea that the only way we can be happy if we become non-disabled.  I can speak only for myself here but I can say I AM disabled AND happy. And frankly, since I’ve been disabled from birth, if I suddenly became able bodied, I wouldn’t have a clue how to handle it. My life is a disabled one. And it’s a happy one. And that’s fine by me.

So what’s the message of this blog post?  Please think about the perceptions you have of disabled people, and why you have those perceptions, because they may well be misconceptions. And if you’re disabled, what do you think of the misconceptions I’ve discussed here? Are there any I’ve missed?

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

The Cost of Disability

A selection of photos and text on a white background. The image on the left hand side is Emma, a white woman with brown hair and glasses, smiling into the camera. The image on the right is a jar, tipped on its side with coins spilling out, on a white background. There is also a section of blue text above the images and one below. The top centre text reads "The Cost" and the bottom centre text reads "Of Disability"
Image Description: A selection of photos and text on a white background. The image on the left hand side is Emma, a white woman with brown hair and glasses, smiling into the camera. The image on the right is a jar, tipped on its side with coins spilling out, on a white background. There is also a section of blue text above the images and one below. The top centre text reads "The Cost" and the bottom centre text reads "Of Disability"

A little diversion from my usual content here, but I need to discuss a perception about disabled people that’s a perpetual annoyance to me.

There’s this idea that disabled people are just “in it for the benefits”. That we’re a bunch of scroungers and fakers who get a butler, a mansion and a car all paid for by the government. This idea couldn’t be further from the truth. Disability is actually very expensive. Research from the disability charity Scope found that disabled people in the UK incur costs of an extra £583 a month. Where do these extra costs come from you ask? Well…

The first aspect to consider is medical bills. In the UK this can include paying for prescriptions  for the medications we need to keep us going, or for private therapy if the NHS will not provide them. I know these payments must be even higher in the US where every medical treatment and hospital stay incurs a cost.

Then there is the cost of equipment and all the other basics we need to exist and live. For example, this can include mobility equipment such as cars, wheelchairs, canes, or other mobility aids. Whilst I know that in the UK we have some schemes, such as the Motability Scheme. However, for those who cannot access such schemes or whose mobility aid cannot be funded by such schemes, they usually have to use some form of crowdfunding to fund their mobility equipment. Add to this the cost of any specific assistive equipment such as a shower seat or grab rail and the cost increases even further. Any disabled person will tell you that simply adding the word “assistance” or “adaptive” to the name of any items will significantly inflate the price. Even if we leave aside the costs of baying for pieces of equipment, there is also the cost of paying for assistance in the form of carers for those with disabled people who require them, these carers costs may not be covered by benefit, which means yet more additional costs for the disabled person.

Then we have to considered the cost of housing. For example, in my  university accommodation, the difference in rent between an accessible flat and a non-accessible flat was not covered, so I essentially paying more to live in a specific type of flat, not through choice but because it was the only place I could feasibly independently live. Even if we move beyond student accommodation, accessible housing on the general property market is a lot rarer than I think people are led to believe. This means that, through the guise of  supply and demand, such accessible houses are likely to be more expensive. So you think, ok you have your house, that’s the end of the additional housing costs right? Wrong. Then we have to account for utilities. For example disabled people may have higher energy and heating costs due to charging wheelchairs or running other equipment or even just through having their heating on more to help with muscular or temperature regulation issues. So even within the idea of “housing costs” there are so many additional costs

So we’ve covered equipment and housing, that must be it? Nope, even simple things like clothing can have additional costs. Like I mentioned earlier with assistive equipment, adding the term “adaptive” or “adapted” to a piece of clothing, or even just insinuating that a piece of clothing will be useful for disabled people, often means it will be priced higher. One recent  example is the Nike Go Flyease shoe. This a something that I saw many of my disabled peers saying would be the perfect shoe for them in terms of accessibility, but these shoes are $120, likely well out of budget for most disabled people. Even for those who do not require specific adaptive clothing, there are still additional costs, such as the need to shop with certain brands because of the accessibility of their clothing. For example, as a wheelchair user, I need to wear certain clothes that fit well when sat down constantly as I often am. Such brands and items are often more expensive than if I did not have those accessibility considerations. There is also the impact of additional delivery costs if there is a shop we want to buy our clothes from which isn’t accessible (in my case, the shop may not have step free wheelchair access). This additional cost should be something that everyone is more aware of given the impact of the recent lockdown and the fact that delivery was the only way we could buy anything, not just clothes.

I bet you’re thinking, “what can there be left to add?” Well, contrary to popular belief, disabled people like to go out and socialise and attend events too, and even our leisure activities can incur extra costs. For example, if I want to go to a pub or restaurant, it is likely that the more accessible places will be more expensive, but if I want to go out I have no CHOICE but to pay those prices as those are the only accessible locations. And if I choose to attend an event, I have to think about the difference in pricing of accessible seating. For example, when I got tickets to a UFC event in Liverpool a few years ago, I was initially quoted £200 for an accessible seating ticket and managed to get them to give me one of the £80 accessible seats instead. I will never understand why accessible seating is not just set at the lowest ticket price, particularly given that disabled attendees often can’t choose our seats and just have to sit wherever the accessible seating is placed.

So there must be some benefits and forms of help for disabled people to offset all these extra costs? Well yes and no. Whilst there are some schemes like the Motability scheme I mentioned earlier, not every disabled person is eligible for all schemes and all help. For example, in England, disabled people can get a reduction on their council tax. However, this only applies if your home is adapted for your disability (and only certain things count as adaptations). This means that I (very much a disabled person) do not qualify for a disability related council tax reduction because my house is not suitably adapted. And even if we ARE eligible for these help schemes, we often end up having to PAY first to gain access to them. This is the case in the UK for a disabled railcard, a Blue Badge disabled parking placard, and even paying for doctors notes to PROVE we are disabled in order to access a specific scheme. So, even where there are helpful schemes, we often have to pay for those too, incurring another additional cost on top of everything else. This is the price of accessibility and disability.

What I’m saying is, if you think disabled people get everything paid for and are living on easy street because we get government benefits, try balancing that against all the additional costs we have to pay to exist and live. I think you’ll find that we are paying out even more than everyone else. An average of an extra £583 a month to be exact

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Undergoing a Cervical Screening as a Wheelchair User with Cerebral Palsy

The photo on the left hand side of the image is Emma, a young white woman with brown hair and tinted glasses, smiling into the camera whilst sat in her wheelchair. She is wearing a red check shirt, red leather jacket and a purple face covering around her neck. The blue text on the right hand side reads "Undergoing a Cervical Screening as a Wheelchair User with Cerebral Palsy"
Original Photo Credit: Dev Place Photos. Image Description: The photo on the left hand side of the image is Emma, a young white woman with brown hair and tinted glasses, smiling into the camera whilst sat in her wheelchair. She is wearing a red check shirt, red leather jacket and a purple face covering around her neck. The blue text on the right hand side reads "Undergoing a Cervical Screening as a Wheelchair User with Cerebral Palsy"

As a woman approaching her 25th birthday (the quarter century is approaching rather quicker than I’d like) I was recently invited to and underwent my first cervical screening (or ‘smear test’). I thought I’d let you in on how the process went for me as a wheelchair user in case anyone else is in the same situation and would like some insight.

Receiving the Invitation

Since I am almost 25, I received a letter in the post inviting me to book my cervical screening via my GP. I instantly began what the process was and what pitfalls I may encounter or additional access needs I would have as a wheelchair user with Cerebral Palsy.

Booking the Appointment

When it came to booking the appointment, I’m registered with an online/digital GP service who also have physical locations. This meant I had to book the screening appointment over the phone in order to get an appointment at the actual GP surgery. I tried that for a few days but wasn’t able to get an answer or book an appointment. So, as I often do, I took to Twitter. This eventually lead to me getting a call back from the doctors and I was able to arrange the appointment. Throughout the appointment booking process, I didn’t mention my Cerebral Palsy. This is because I knew the doctors surgery was accessible since I’d been before. Plus I believe my Cerebral Palsy isn’t relevant to a situation until it is relevant, so it’s a “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” kind of situation. Also, given that this is my doctors we are talking about, I figured my lifelong medical condition would be on record already anyway.

The Actual Appointment

On the day of the appointment, I just walked to the surgery, entered, and waited to be called in for my appointment. Once I was called into the appointment, the nurse explained what would be happening and asked some basic questions. I found the tone of the explanation kind of patronising, but I did wonder whether it was just explained in that time because it was my first time having the screening? When it came time to start the screening I just parked my wheelchair beside the bed and transferred over. The nurse then asked me to remove my underwear, shoes, and socks. I was somewhat annoyed at the need to take off my shoes. I’d specifically worn a skirt to the appointment, since I know putting on shoes is difficult for me and I hate struggling with tasks in front of people. I was then asked to widen my hips and flop my legs out to the side. This kind of request is something I’m used to from medical professionals since I’ve spent a lot of my life having  doctors testing my hip flexion which is somewhat a similar position. I was, however, aware that my legs weren’t evenly flat (due to muscle tightness from my Cerebral Palsy) and wondered whether that would affect how easy the screening would be. In order to obtain a sample, the nurse inserted a speculum. It was somewhat uncomfortable and took 3 attempts to get a decent sample. I think that was probably somewhat because of the muscle tightness from my Cerebral Palsy as well. Once a decent sample was obtained and the screening was over, I simply  cleaned myself up, redressed (leaving my shoes off until I got out of the room so I could struggle in peace) and transferred back into my wheelchair and the appointment was done. I didn’t have any pains afterwards that I was aware of. Also, for those who are bothered, my screening came back clear so I don’t need to undergo any further testing or intervention until 2024.

I hope this provides some insight for other wheelchair users (or those with other disabilities and access needs) who want or need more information on the process of undergoing a cervical screening.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Experiencing Harassment and Stranger Interactions as a Disabled Woman

The photo on the left hand side of the image is Emma, a young white woman with brown hair and tinted glasses, smiling into the camera whilst sat in her wheelchair. She is wearing a red check shirt, red leather jacket and a purple face covering around her neck. The blue text on the right hand side reads "Experiencing Harassment and Stranger Interactions as a Disabled Woman".
Original Photo Credit: Dev Place Photos. Image Description: The photo on the left hand side of the image is Emma, a young white woman with brown hair and tinted glasses, smiling into the camera whilst sat in her wheelchair. She is wearing a red check shirt, red leather jacket and a purple face covering around her neck. The blue text on the right hand side reads "Experiencing Harassment and Stranger Interactions as a Disabled Woman".

Recently, I experienced 3 different interactions in the space of 5 days that really stuck with me (in a bad way). Two of them were very clear cut harassment and one more what I would call a ‘stranger interaction’. This is something I know other people, and specifically other disabled people, have  talked about, so it’s something I thought I should discuss. Firstly, I wanted to just address why I have separated stranger interactions and harassment in the title, because frankly the answer is I don’t know why. Initially, I was going to address these two things as separate ideas in two separate posts, but as my friend Dev pointed out over on my Instagram, there’s a whole bunch of overlap between the two ideas. The definition of harassment  is ‘unwanted behaviour’ which the person finds ‘offensive’ or which leaves them feeling ‘humiliated or intimidated’ and asking a disabled person you have never met how they have sex (which strangers often do) is DEFINITELY ‘offensive’, strangers talking to me is also generally ‘unwanted behaviour’, like, if I don’t  know you, please don’t randomly spark up a conversation. I guess what I’m saying here is stranger interactions ARE harassment as a disabled person and I don’t know why it’s taken this long for that to click for me.

Now on to the actual incidents. This first one, the more ‘stranger interaction’ type incident, happened in the middle of my mission to vote in the latest round of elections. A woman stopped me in the middle of the pavement and started the conversation with “I don’t mean to accost you dear”.  BIG red flag here, if you “don’t mean” to accost me, then…don’t. If you say that then continue talking to me, your ‘accosting me’ is 100% intentional. She then proceeded to tell me this story about her disabled friend and some funny nickname a random kid had given to the friend’s wheelchair once. This struck me as odd for two reasons: 1) Don’t reveal your friend’s status as a disabled person to a random stranger, that’s personal information and I just… nah don’t do that, and 2) You thought that little anecdote was worthy of stopping a stranger in the middle of the street who was OBVIOUSLY in the middle of doing something? Kids say cute things about mobility aids all the time, I’ve heard stories like that at least weekly for like the past decade. I wasn’t entirely sure how to react to this rando, anecdote. This woman then became somewhat annoyed about my lack of reaction (my face is the kind that can’t fake a reaction if I don’t actually care about what you just said) which was odd. I’m not a performing monkey who’s going to react positively because you’re telling me a story involving a disabled person and I AM a disabled person. But at the same time I’m also trying not to anger this woman in case the situation escalates and she gets more annoyed and tries to attack me or something, which sounds entirely ridiculous. WHY am I still altering my response to harassment as a disabled person in the year 2021 purely out of fear of being attacked for reacting ‘wrong’?

I think I’ve figured out why I previously saw these stranger interactions as different from the clearer cut harassment  is that these incidents are often framed as people “just trying to be nice” or “just trying to communicate/start a conversation”. If all you can find to discuss with me is disability related, that doesn’t sound like you want to know me, that just sounds like you want a free disability encyclopaedia. Also why are we still giving people props for  “trying” to communicate with disabled people? it’s 2021 for pity’s sake, I’m disabled, I’m not an alien, communicating with me is NOT that difficult.

Now onto the incidents of clear cut harassment. Both of these involved strange men giving  “compliments” to my friends and I as we sat having coffee. As a  disabled woman, I’m always scared of these kind of incidents happening, because I can’t get away as easily. In the first of these two incidents, the man was ‘complimenting’ my friends but not me. Was that because I’m disabled? Was it because I was not responding to him? Who knows, what I do know is that I immediately jumped to making sure I wasn’t going to anger him and trying to find what weapons I could use to defend myself if he attacked. I grabbed at my keys, checked that my footplates were down so I could catch his ankles, and checked whether I was at the right level to drop kick him in the crown jewels if he grabbed me. I also began wondering what I’d do if I was alone in this situation, because I  couldn’t easily enter shop the coffee shop we were at to get help. I also noticed a severe lack of bystander intervention in both incidents, other than some shocked looks when I told the guy in the second incident to fuck off (*gasp* the disabled girl said a sweary word). Thankfully, I was able to get away from both harassers, in the first instance, I was able to drop a little signal hint to my friend who went inside the coffee shop to get help, and then the staff there were able to shoo the harasser away. However, in the second incident both myself and the friend were wheelchair users and so couldn’t  enter the coffee  shop to get help (and our path into the shop was also blocked by the harasser at some points). Luckily, we know the staff in that coffee shop quite well and so they saw us having issues and came out to stop the harassment.

I don’t really know why I wrote this blog post other than to get these incidents off my chest and show you that harassment does happen to disabled people, perhaps more often than you think.  Disabled women in particular are at higher risk of being harassed and assaulted. In fact, according to the disability and crime report published in 2019, disabled women are twice as likely to be sexually assaulted or harassed than non-disabled women. I don’t know for sure why this but I’d guess it’s because we’re seen as an easier target.  I think this is because it’s harder for us to get into a venue to ask for help and it may be harder for us to physically defend ourselves from attack.

Oh and while I still have your attention, asking disabled people random questions about their disability or their lives IS harassment, no matter how you frame it. Search engines exist, if you have questions about life as a disabled person, use them, disabled people are not your rolling encyclopaedias of disability knowledge. Orrrrrrrrrrr, you could just check out the rest of my blog and see if any of my posts answer your questions.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Discussing Life as a Disabled School Student: Collaboration Q & A with Buttons and Ramps

A selection of photos and text on a white background. The image on the left hand side is Emma, a white woman with brown hair and glasses, smiling into the camera. The image on the right is Melissa, a white woman with brown hair, smiling into the camera There are also 3 sections of blue text written underneath each other in the centre of the image. The top centre text reads "Discussing Life as a Disabled School Student". The middle centre text reads "Collaboration Q & A" and the bottom centre text reads "With Melissa From Buttons and Ramps"
Original Photo Credit for photo of Emma: Dev Place Photos. Image Description: A selection of photos and text on a white background. The image on the left hand side is Emma, a white woman with brown hair and glasses, smiling into the camera. The image on the right is Melissa, a white woman with brown hair, smiling into the camera There are also 3 sections of blue text written underneath each other in the centre of the image. The top centre text reads "Discussing Life as a Disabled School Student". The middle centre text reads "Collaboration Q & A" and the bottom centre text reads "With Melissa From Buttons and Ramps"

A very exciting collaboration for today’s post. A little collaborative Q & A with Melissa from Buttons and Ramps discussing our experiences as disabled students within the school system. These are the questions I asked Melissa and her answers, and you can find my responses to her questions in her blog post over here. Anyway, enough with the babbling on and on with the Q & A.

  1. Are you the only disabled person in your school? How open was your school about their accessibility/becoming accessible?

There’s now another wheelchair user in the year below me, but when I started school I was the first person in a wheelchair to go there, and my family and I were very much discouraged by the council and told to go to a more accessible school. At first, there were lots of makeshift ramps and teachers who looked like they’d never seen a wheelchair before but eventually teachers learned to adapt lessons and lots of the doors in the corridors were wedged open for me. There’s still no lift, but luckily I’m able to go upstairs with a little bit of help.

2. Could/can you access all the different lessons? (dance/PE/other subjects?) What is your school’s response like if you can’t?

In S1 (the first year of secondary school in Scotland, when I was 11 or 12), I was encouraged to do every subject but I had most of my classes in the same rooms on the ground floor which annoyed me and my classmates. I’ve found that the accessibility of subjects really depends on the teacher. For example, in S1 my art teacher really encouraged me even though my hands were shaky and the lines I drew weren’t straight but in S2 my art teacher marked me down and told me not to continue the subject simply because of my shaking. I think if a teacher understands accessibility and is able to adapt lessons, it makes a big difference. There have been few occasions that I’ve been excluded from lessons but if I do ever feel at a disadvantage, I’m able to speak to my pastoral care teacher and it always gets sorted.

3. What was one concern you had going into secondary school?

I had many concerns going into secondary school, my biggest concern was how the other pupils would react to me. I was anxious about being in a wheelchair as well since I hadn’t had much experience in an electric chair before and I’d never imagined myself being in a wheelchair all the time. I didn’t want to be known as ‘the disabled kid’.

4. What is one concern you have now about the next transition – college/uni/whatever?

I’m still unsure of where I’m headed. I’d quite like to go to a conservatoire and see how far acting could take me, but I also need to be realistic and have a back-up plan. If I can’t go to a conservatoire, I would like to go to university and study English and writing. I would love to be an author or playwright as well as being an actor. I worry that my disability will limit me, especially in acting. I don’t want to end up losing out on the opportunity to act because of the way I speak or how I move. My disability shouldn’t affect my writing in theory, but it’s always funny how even things you wouldn’t assume would be different are. I just hope that whatever I’m doing, I’m happy and able to have the same quality of education as I would if I weren’t disabled.

5. what is one piece of advice you’d give to younger disabled person about school?

School is never easy for anyone. It’s important to understand your own self-worth and to be able to learn to advocate for your own needs, even if you have people who would be willing to advocate for you. Your disability is a part of you, but it doesn’t define you or limit what you can do. If people aren’t willing to understand your disability and learn how to accommodate you, they are in the wrong. You are entitled to the same quality of education as anyone else, even if it looks a bit different from your peers’ education. Treat yourself with respect and don’t let anyone but yourself dictate what you’re capable of.

6. How is the social aspect of school for you? How do other kids react to your disability?

It’s been the most challenging aspect of school for me. I’ve kept a few close friends from primary but I’ve really struggled with making new friends. I’ve found that as much as my wheelchair helps me, it’s also sometimes a barrier for me because people see it and immediately make assumptions about who I am. My speech impairment also doesn’t help much as secondary school is very fast paced and people don’t really have time to listen to me and tune in to the way I speak. I’m also someone who’s very outgoing with people they know but I tend to be pretty shy with new people, especially of my age. I find it hard to know what groups to approach and tend to just stick to talking to the same few friends I have. People are very nice to me but I find that I’m often people don’t make the effort to actually become friends with me. I think secondary school is generally not a great environment for anyone who doesn’t fit into social normalities but being disabled definitely makes things more challenging.

7. How did you find receiving support at school (i.e. teaching assistant support)?

At first I wasn’t keen on having support. I wanted to be just like everyone else but having assistants to help me with daily activities and lessons definitely makes my life easier. I have great relationships with all of my assistants and I actually really enjoy their company. I have one assistant who I especially love and I honestly think I would have moved school if it weren’t for her. Having someone to talk to (even if it’s a middle aged woman) is really helpful and valuable. I think it’s so important that you have good relationships with teaching assistants, it’s so beneficial to be able to communicate what you need and how you feel in order to have the best education possible.

8. What is one topic about school/uni you’d like to see me discuss/discuss more on my blog?

I’d love to hear more about your experiences with university (getting in, learning how to be a disabled student) and how your attitude to disability has changed in adulthood.

I loved reading Melissa’s responses to these questions and I hope you did too. Don’t forget to check out my responses to her questions in her blog post here.

Stay Invincible

Voting As A Disabled Person: Wheelchair User Edition

Recently, I voted in the election of the West Midlands Mayor and Police and Crime Commissioner, and this reminded me exactly what it’s like voting as a disabled person, so I thought I would discuss the experience. I will be discussing this most recent experience and one other.

It all starts with registering and preparing to vote. This is something I have to do every time I move to a new location. As a student for the past half decade, I have moved a lot so you can understand that’s a lot of registering to vote. Then, maybe a couple of weeks before the election, I am sent my polling card which includes my polling location where I need to go to vote. It literally says ON THIS CARD, that those with access needs should call to check  the accessibility of their polling station. This begs the questions, why not just make all polling stations accessible? Like, as far as I understand it someone selects the polling stations, so why not just pick accessible locations, surely that would be easier than fielding 100s of calls from disabled voters? On this occasion, I called 2 days before the election and provided all my information, to be told that my polling station was accessible.

Then comes the mission of actually getting TO your polling station as a disabled person. The accessible route somewhere is not always the same as someone else’s route. On this occasion, maps informed me that my polling station was a 5 minute walk down one straight road. However, roadworks with poor disabled access, specifically pavements with a distinct lack of drop kerbs, meant a 5 minute trip was more like 20 minutes. The polling station was also poorly signposted, so poorly signposted that I actually missed it on my first time walking past because the signs were so small, and I am just ridiculously unobservant so I cannot imagine how it is for someone who is visually impaired. I was also randomly accosted by a woman , but I will be discussing THAT incident (and others) in an upcoming post regarding experiencing harassment as a disabled person.

Then I FINALLY got to the point of requiring access to the actual polling station. Whenever a venue of any kind simply tells me they are “accessible” without any details I always wonder what they mean by that. This time, I approached the polling station and instantly saw stairs with no ramp in sight and sighed, assuming I had been misinformed regarding accessibility. But then I spotted an alternative access sign and a stair lift that looked about 400 years old. I got in and pressed the up button but it didn’t move. Luckily, I was able to ask a fellow voter to inform the staff inside that I needed to get in and just assumed the staff would have to turn the lift on. Then someone comes out and their sentence begins with “unfortunately…”. It was at that point I  knew already that the lift did not work. It turned out the  lack of use over lockdown had led to the battery burning out, it is so BIZARRE what happens when you don’t use a piece of equipment for an extended period of time (heavy sarcasm, I could have told you from the start that would happen). I then asked for the ballot papers and boxes to be brought outside, which they were, this meant I was still able to vote, albeit with absolutely ZERO privacy or independence.

2022 Update: I called ahead to the council helpline to check that the polling station was CURRENTLY accessible given the the situation last year (see above), specifically asking if it was accessible for the upcoming elections. The call handler found my polling station, went away and came back to say it was accessible. For clarification, I asked if it was CURRENTLY accessible, and explained what had happened last year. I was then told “well you didn’t ask that?!” and “do you want to know if it’s currently accessible then?” I thought it was clear enough that that was my intention when I asked if the polling station was accessible for the UPCOMING elections. but apparently not. The call handler then suggested contacting the polling station directly (something I thought she would do, given that this was a helpline meant to give out information about polling station accessibility) but she just started reeling the phone number off from Google (where I could have found it myself).

Can someone explain to me, what is the point of a helpline for information on polling station accessibility, if their response to a request for CURRENT, ACCURATE access information is “here’s the phone number from Google, ask them yourselves”? Although disabled people are often expected to do all the work when it comes to finding accessibility information, so I can’t say that this response was remotely surprising. Oh, and to top it off, when I called the polling station no one picked up!

Long story short, guess who’s given up chasing people for BASIC information and decided she’s just turning up on the day and demanding she be able to access an in person vote? *raises hand*. Catch me being an absolute menace, and likely annoying someone at least once, on May 5th.

2022 update v2: Arrived at the polling station discover *gasps in fake shock*… the lift was out of action! After asking someone who was entering the polling station to alert staff to my presence, a staff member came out to verify what the issue and take my polling card. Then they came out with a polling card which I had to fill out, fold up and hand back to be taken back inside to be placed into the ballot box by the staff member.

Needless to say, I rang the council once I got home. I informed them they’d need to remove my polling station from whatever “accessible polling stations” list they have, since it obviously WASN’T and ISN’T. That complaint has been logged so now we’ll see what they do. Bets for their response being to do a whole lot of sod all?

It also bears saying that even when polling stations are “accessible”, that access is still dodgy as hell. During a  previous experience (voting in a different constituency, that of our current Prime Minister no less), the wheelchair access to the polling station was a very makeshift wooden ramp. I was able to enter the polling station fine, but when I tried to get out, the ramp slipped and I ended up stuck suspended over a significant drop, praying my heavy electric wheelchair didn’t tip over and you know, crush me. And yes that’s just as terrifying to experience as it sounds.

Overall, what should have been a simple 15 minute job to vote recently took over an hour simply because of inaccessibility. I hope that my discussing this experience gives you some insight into the reality of voting as a disabled person.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

My Experience Receiving the COVID 19 Vaccine as a Wheelchair User with Cerebral Palsy

Back at the beginning of March, I was lucky enough to get my first dose of the COVID 19 vaccine! I ran polls on my social media and my readers said they would be interested in a post on my experience of the vaccination process as a wheelchair user with Cerebral Palsy, so that’s what this post is. Before I get into the post, I would like to say that I have complete solidarity with my fellow disabled people who have been #LeftOffTheList for priority vaccination and I hope everyone is able to receive the vaccine soon.

In terms of the structure of  this post, it will be split into the booking process, my on the day experience of actually getting the vaccine and then any aftereffects I experienced.


When it came to booking my vaccination, Cerebral Palsy is in vaccine priority group 6 here in England  (something I found out via friends online who also have CP, not actual government communications *rolls eyes at the disorganisation from our government*). After a little while of group 6 being contacted to arrange their vaccinations, I’d still heard nothing.  Then my mum (who has been shielding and was therefore one of the highest priority groups for vaccination) said I could just book online with my NHS number and postcode rather than waiting to be contacted. I tried that a few times but was initially not allowed to book a timeslot. When the system finally let me in, the first thing I was asked was if I had any specific accessibility requirements (I selected wheelchair accessible, step free access and disabled toilet). I was able to select a timeslot for my first vaccination, but initially couldn’t select a timeslot for my second injection at that same vaccination centre. This meant I had to spend time researching how I was going to get to one of the other vaccination centres. It turned out that I would have to get a short train to the next nearest centre, which meant spending EVEN MORE time researching whether I could actually use that train station. By the time I’d done all of the research, the website had timed out, so I had to go through the booking process again. However, the website timing out was kind of lucky as, at the second time of asking, I was able to book both injections at the same vaccination centre which was in walking distance of my house. I then got confirmation of my vaccination appointments via text.

On The Day

On the day of my actual vaccination, I just walked to the vaccination centre. My maps took me to the car park entrance which wasn’t very helpful. There was also very little signage directing me to the entrance, until I was right in front of the building (which was named with a giant sign on it anyway). When I did find the entrance, there were actually 2 entrances, one down a set of stairs and one on my entrance level for those with mobility issues. The centre had a one way system with those waiting to vaccinated entering via a different door than the exit door used by those who had just BEEN vaccinated. There was also a socially distanced queue outside. Once I was let into the centre, I was checked in by giving my name and Date Of Birth. I was then given some hand gel and told to follow the markers down to the main seating area. Once I was down there, I was asked to sit in the open space rather than the organised seating area so that volunteers would not have to move a chair out of the way in the seating are. Usually this would have annoyed me but, in this context, it kind of made sense in terms of infection control and minimising the amount of objects touched. Then I was  told I was next up and was checked in again (this time I sat opposite someone at a desk with a computer and they moved the chair out of the way  so I could position my wheelchair. This person initially asked for my NHS number which I did not have to hand. So instead they asked for my address, Date Of Birth and some other details in order to find me on the system. I was then directed to the station where I had the injection and where another assistant at a separate computer checked me in again. Then the nurse explained the vaccination process whilst she set up the injection, and I asked her to inject the vaccine into my “non-driving” arm (aka the arm I DON’T use to control my wheelchair). I don’t like needles so I looked away whilst the nurse did the actual injection. I did bleed slightly afterwards but it was nothing that couldn’t be stopped by a plaster. Then nurse then gave me a “what to expect” leaflet and my vaccine card (which she told me to keep for when I got the second dose). THEN she asked if I was driving and this is where it got a little awkward because do I say yes or no? My wheelchair isn’t a car but I’m kind of in charge of a vehicle (I said no, but I think, since my wheelchair is a road legal vehicle, I should have actually said yes). Because I said I wasn’t driving, I was told I could go straight home without waiting to see if I had an adverse reaction.

After Effects

In terms of aftereffects , my main ones were tiredness and shivering alongside an achy injection site and general muscle soreness (I would describe it as similar to my worst days with Cerebral Palsy Spasticity). Those effects lasted about 2 days. I would say the arm soreness was the worst since I can’t actually rest my arms because I have to use them to move my walker and generally get around. I think these aftereffects probably felt worse since I am a terrible patient who has real difficulty following suggestions like “rest” and “do nothing”.

I hope this post gives helpful insight into my experience receiving the COVID 19 vaccine as a wheelchair user with Cerebral Palsy and what you can possibly expect when you receive your vaccine.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

The Times I Wish I Wasn’t Disabled

This one’s a pretty deep post, but it’s something I think needs talking about. I recently encountered a  scenario which brought up some rare feelings about my disability and my attitude to being disabled, and I’d like to discuss those with you.

Those of you who have been following me the last few months will know I am currently job hunting, a process I have written about previously on the blog. In the last couple of weeks, I had a really good telephone interview, and then the interviewer invited me to visit the workplace to work out some possible accessibility issues they could see. This seemed like an entire sensible request, so I headed up to visit. But the visit didn’t go so well, there were indeed accessibility issues which meant that working at that location was a no go for me.

As I was waiting for my train home, I felt angry and frustrated, to the point where I was wishing I wasn’t disabled and I somewhat wanted to rip my legs off and throw them in the nearest part of the canal. That probably sounds dramatic but this kind of situation is rough to deal with.

It’s rough when you’ve been job hunting forever and finally feeling like you’re getting somewhere, only to keep hitting the same roadblock repeatedly.

It’s difficult knowing you have the skills and qualifications for the job and the accessibility is the only issue. I began thinking “I would have that job if I wasn’t disabled” particularly as this was the second time in pretty quick succession that issues with accessibility had been the reason I hadn’t secured a role.

It’s rough trying not to be noticeably angry when interviewers and employers tell you that accessibility is the issue that stops you securing a role, in case you look like a bad potential employee.

It’s rough trying to balance being happy when employers try to come up with solutions to accessibility issues, with being angry because those issues really shouldn’t exist in 2021.

It’s rough trying not to internalise the issue. Trying not to see it as a problem with yourself (like I was doing when I wanted to chuck my legs in the canal)  and remember that the problem of inaccessibility lies with the system and society at large.

I hope this shines a light on the deeper problems’ inaccessibility can cause, that we can’t just brush it off as an “oops”. I hope it also shows that I’m not as invincible as some might think, I struggle with these confidence issues around my disability just like everyone else.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Job Hunting for Disabled People: Combatting Barriers with Unique Skills, From InvincibleWomanOnWheels & Dotted Pages

I’m back! Something a little different today. Firstly, today’s blog is a collaboration with the lovely Helen from Dotted Pages Blog. Secondly, a slightly different topic today. On the heels of my earlier post regarding my own experience job hunting as a disabled person, this post will delve more into the statistics and legislation surrounding disability and employment, as well as Helen discussing transferable skills. 

A little bit of background on why I’ve decided to discuss this and why this is a collab post. I recently happened up Helen’s blog post series on job hunting, and specifically her blog post on knowing your worth in employment and as an employee. She split this into 2 parts; one discussing knowing your worth in terms of the salary you should be earning and another part discussing transferable skills.

This got me thinking about how these different aspects are relevant or different when considering employment for disabled people, this is obviously something that is currently very relevant to me personally as I am a disabled person job hunting as we speak. I was also interested to discover whether the situation was different on opposite sides of the world. As I am UK based and Helen is based in Australia, it was a no brainer to ask Helen to join me in writing this post.


Right, onto the stats! According to a 2019 report by the Trade Union Congress (TUC), the disability employment gap in the UK is 30%. However, a Scope report using data from 2020 suggests that disabled people are more than twice as likely to be unemployed compared to their non-disabled counterparts. This sharp increase suggests that COVID is disproportionately affecting the employment chances of disabled people.

This disparity does not stop once you’re employed, the same TUC report suggests that the UK disability pay gap is 15.5%, which means that disabled people are paid around £1.65 an hour less than a non-disabled counterpart in the same role at the same level of the same company. That is approximately  £3,003 a year.

Obviously, this likely varies depending on the specific disability but that’s still a pretty large ‘standard’ wage gap. That of course doesn’t consider the fact that disability isn’t the only thing that could affect salary, there are multiple facets and areas of identity to consider. One specific stat that stood out to me is the fact that disabled women face a  bigger pay gap than both disabled men and non-disabled women, this is obviously particularly concerning as I am a disabled woman myself. Sooooooooooo all in all, I have to honestly say the landscape doesn’t look too rosy as a disabled person job hunting in the UK.

Unfortunately, the prospects for disabled job seekers is no rosier on the other side of the world. As of 2019 statistics, there were just over two million disabled Australians of working age. Of these, only 47.8% were employed. This is compared to 80.3% of employment amongst the same group of people without disabilities.

While these are some disheartening statistics, it does look like (pre-COVID anyway) things are improving. In 2018 in Australia, 11.4% of people with a severe or profound disability had full-time employment. While not a high number, this is up from 7.9% in 2015. Hopefully, then, COVID doesn’t stop this upwards trend!

In terms of the disability pay gap in Australia, the starkest data I could find states that for every $1.00 a person without a disability earns, a disabled worker only makes $0.66. That’s a huge disparity, and one that is further compounded by the way workplace laws are geared to those without disabilities. For example, complications such as chronic pain are not easily dealt with by the standard sick-leave structure. 


So what is the legislation that’s supposed to stop these kinds of gaps from happening? and what information can you clue yourself upon to know what you’re entitled to as a disabled person job hunting or already employed?

Well, firstly it’s best to understand how disability is defined, as that’s the basis for all definitions of disability within employment law. In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 defines disability as:

“a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.”

In this, ‘substantial’ means something that is more than minor or trivial, something which means it takes much longer to complete a daily task such as getting dressed. ‘long term’ refers to a condition which lasts for 12 months or longer.

The next thing would be to understand where discrimination can occur, these are the areas where the Equality Act 2010 is in place to protect against discrimination. Scope suggests that there are 3 main areas where discrimination can occur:


Not being selected for an interview due to your condition would be discrimination. However, it is difficult to prove discrimination on these grounds (probably because writing “we didn’t select you because you are (for example) in a wheelchair” is a little too obviously ableist for companies to get away with writing, and they know that).


If you are refused disability adjustments that you request at an interview, that is discrimination. Whoever is interviewing you is also not allowed to ask you about your specific condition or its effect on you, except for specific limited reasons. Those limited reasons include when it relates to your ability to do the core aspects of the job, or when discussing what adjustments may be necessary for you to perform as well as others in the recruitment process.

At work

Once you’re employed, if your employer does not make reasonable adjustments (such as allowing you to undertake flexible working or different duties to colleagues) which allow you to consider your disability and still do your job, that is discrimination.

You also need to be aware of salaries as a disabled person to make sure you’re being paid what you should be. In the UK, the minimum wage varies by age and what kind of role you are in (such as whether you are an apprentice). I won’t go through every specific difference (but I will leave a link to the April 2020 figures). Overall the figures range from £4.15/hour (apprentice) to £8.72/hour (National Living Wage) so keep those figures in mind when looking at salaries whilst job hunting. However specifically as a disabled person, also keep in mind an average salary for an employee at the level and the role you’re applying for and compare that to the salary you’re being offered, to ensure you’re not being underpaid as a disabled person (which the earlier figures from the TUC would suggest is likely).  

However, it’s not all entirely doom and gloom, there ARE schemes set up to help disabled people get into work in the UK. One of these is Access to Work which is available for those aged 16+ who live in England, Scotland or Wales and have a physical or mental disability or health condition which makes it difficult to get to work or do specific parts of their job. You must be in a paid job (or about to start/return to one). Access to Work can provide support such as helping to assess whether reasonable adjustments could be made to your workplace to make it easier for you to do your job. It could also provide a monetary grant to pay for things such as:

  • adaptations to equipment
  • special equipment/software
  • British Sign Language interpreters and video relay service support, lip speakers or note-takers
  • vehicle adaptations
  • taxi fares to work or a support worker if you cannot use public transport
  • a support worker or job coach
  • personal protective equipment for your support worker, if you employ them yourself
  • disability awareness training for colleagues
  • cost of moving your equipment if you change location or job

That’s all for the legislation and schemes in the UK, I’ll leave it to Helen to tell you about things from the Australian side.

Australia has anti-discrimination laws at both a federal and state level. On a national level, we have the specific Disability Discrimination Act 1992 which covers a huge range of disabilities from physical or intellectual to those that can be caused by a long-term illness. This act covers not just employment, but any other area where discrimination may occur, such as the refusal of entry at a venue or education.

The state-based anti-discrimination tends to be broader brush than this, covering all groups who may face discrimination, regardless of the cause. It is interesting to note these laws often also cover carers, who can face discrimination when job-seeking due to their commitments to dependents.

As Emma mentioned earlier, however, there is a large gap between discrimination being illegal, and that making a material difference in people’s lives. Potential employers aren’t going to come out and say that a disability is a reason they won’t hire you, even if it’s their deciding factor.

While I don’t know enough about it to go into as much detail as Emma has, I am sure there are programs and funding in Australia to assist disabled people in the workforce. I am, however, aware that our National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) has been criticised hugely since its inception, so I don’t think there is currently much political appetite for this sort of assistance.

Bureaucracy and muddy legalities don’t seem them to be much practical help when finding work. It’s therefore important to focus on the things you can positively impact, your skills and suitability for the job.

Transferable/Unique Skills

Now, away from all the stats and documentation. Let’s discuss skills! Specifically transferable and unique skills you can bring to the table as a potential employee. I think this is something that really important for disabled people to focus on, particularly given the unique way we HAVE to approach the world (to work through everyday inaccessibility.)

With stats, I have already discussed how disabled people are disadvantaged getting into employment. Whilst transferrable skills are something I discussed a little in my job-hunting post, I’ll hand over to Helen for the fuller discussion.

When searching for work, something a bit different or interesting on your CV or application can be a great way to get recruiters interested in meeting you to get more detail. The trick is to frame your point of difference in a way that highlights it as a relevant strength.

For example, if your condition limits your stamina, so you have to plan frequent breaks into any activities or travel, you could talk about your ability to work to strict schedules and timeframes. If you have to take extra time to plan a trip due to accessibility issues, you are a forward-thinking problem solver.

Take the strengths you’ve developed in your everyday life and apply corporate-speak to them. It’s no different from an able person talking about teamwork from their years of playing sport. In fact, it’s a lot less generic and predictable- which as I mentioned above, can be a great way to stand out!

Employers want to know the people they’re taking on are up for a challenge and have the ability to push through when things get tough. Well, you’ve been doing that your whole life! You’re detail-oriented, dedicated and determined, which are all great qualities to emphasise in a resume.

Don’t sell yourself short, and while it can be really hard, especially if you’re struggling financially, remember that if an employer doesn’t want you because of who you are, you probably wouldn’t be happy there. I know this isn’t always the most helpful piece of advice, but it is still important. You spend a lot of time at work; finding somewhere you’re comfortable and happy is important.

Everybody has something to offer, whether it’s your positive outlook or the fact you’re a programming whiz from necessity. The trick is highlighting those skills effectively and showing that the positives outweigh any perceived negatives.

Searching for work is hard enough without a disability. What I’ve learnt during this collab has shocked me about the realities of being a disabled job-seeker. I’m also very humbled to have been approached to work on this post. For me, job hunting shouldn’t be made harder by who you are, what you look like or how you get around. It’s about what skills and knowledge you have to offer.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this (lengthy) look into disability, employment and the differences between the UK and Australia.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels) & Helen (Dotted Pages)

My Disability Privilege: Discussing Invisible & Visible Disabilities

Something a little different from me today, discussing a recent post I saw on social media and how that made me think about the way people with invisible disabilities are perceived compared to those who are visibly disabled.

For those who don’t know, I have cerebral palsy spastic diplegia which means I cannot walk unaided.  I am a full-time wheelchair user, at least when I’m outside. I’m probably what you would consider to be your ‘stereotypical’ disabled person; everyone sees a wheelchair user and knows they’re disabled, it’s almost the basic level of disability knowledge. However, I recently saw a Facebook post  that my good friend Lizzie had reshared. She’d originally written it before I even knew her, about an incident that had happened regarding perceptions of her disability and how it made her feel. This post made me realise a level of privilege I have in being your ‘stereotypical’ disabled person. So, I decided to let you in on that realisation and have a bit of a chat with Lizzie more about this issue.

In her post, Lizzie describes the incident; a stranger in a pub pulled her friend aside and said Lizzie “couldn’t really be disabled” because he’d seen her get up from her wheelchair and walk to the jukebox and back. It was then that I realised others questioning my disability is something I don’t really experience as no one sees me out of my wheelchair. The most I’ve ever gotten is “oh my god you’re sitting” said to me once when I transferred out of my wheelchair, but that was more hilarious in its ridiculousness than it was offensive or upsetting.

The other kind of privilege I felt is when Lizzie mentioned that she has multiple conditions. I felt oddly privileged that I only have one condition and don’t have to balance the competing impacts of multiple conditions, this really opened my eyes to what she goes through. Lizzie herself says that until age 19, she would have been considered to have an invisible disability, although she sometimes used a walking stick for both mobility and to help with her visual impairment (that whole thing I mentioned about balancing multiple conditions); people would assume the walking stick was for aesthetic reasons! She would often need to take breaks while walking and saw coffee shops as a good excuse to sit down without drawing attention to herself. On one day she could be walking around town perfectly ‘fine’, the next she might be unable to wear shoes or walk without her walking stick. This process of going from being able to walk to not could even happen within the same day. Her teachers struggled with the variability of her condition and what that meant for her ability to do things. Throughout her teenage years, she was regularly asked probing questions and was even told to give the stick she was using back to the ‘real’ owner. This struck me, as I’d heard of many instances where disabled people were told that they weren’t disabled and to give mobility aids back, but to hear it has happened to one of my best friends really brought it home how prevalent these incidents are.

Lizzie discussed that disability has no ‘look’; you cannot tell if someone is disabled just by looking at them and being a wheelchair user does not automatically mean someone is paralysed or paraplegic. This was one of things where, as a wheelchair user, you read it and then yell “THIS!” at your screen.  As an ambulatory wheelchair user, I can stand to reach items on higher shelves in the supermarket, and when I do that people do a double take. It’s almost as if their brain glitches for a second because they can’t comprehend the existence of an ambulatory wheelchair user. This is an experience that Lizzie echoed (another “THIS!” moment).

She said that as a teen who was invisibly disabled, she never felt ‘disabled enough’ to claim that identity because even we as disabled people are taught this ableist idea of having to meet a certain level of disability to be able to claim, “I am disabled”. For Lizzie that meant battling with the fact that she was visually impaired, but it wasn’t THAT bad, or the fact she had limited mobility but COULD still walk mostly unaided. This left her feeling like she didn’t fit into either category of able bodied or disabled. That was until she became more disabled and realised, she’d missed out on a whole disabled community. Now she wishes she’d stopped trying so hard to pretend to be abled when she wasn’t and embraced the disabled identity and community earlier.

Lizzie also talked about a topic that I often try to show here, that being disabled doesn’t mean you have to stay at home. If you’ve been paying attention to the content of this blog, you’ll know this is also a message I strongly support. I’ll be on a train, or at a pub or a concert or an MMA show (pre COVID times obviously) just living my life and I make no apologies if that breaks your preconceived ideas of disabilities. Lizzie pointed out that she (and other disabled people) often has to forego certain activities so that energy can be used to attend or do something else she REALLY wants to do, so if you see a disabled person out and about socialising, likelihood is they’re sacrificing something else to be there, so PLEASE just leave us to socialise in peace. Oh, and while we’re here: Not all disabled people have carers, especially not 24/7. So, if we’re alone, likelihood is we’re fine, so just leave us in peace please, unless we ask for your assistance.

Something else that Lizzie said is that she has mobility aids because she NEEDS them, not because she’s trying to play the benefits system or get pity. This was another “THIS! *slams hand on table*” moment. I beg, can we PUHLEASE just throw the whole ‘disability scrounger’ narrative in the bin with the rest of the hell that was 2020?! While we’re discussing narratives and ideas around disability, Lizzie made the point that mobility aids aren’t a detriment or a sign of us giving up, they are an improvement. For example, she could only walk around 10 minutes unaided (or more if she pushed it, but she would regret it the next day and be unable to do much at all) compared to around 25 minutes with a walking stick. She can technically walk without aids now, but it’s exhausting and wastes energy for the purpose of moving just a few meters. Using crutches reduces that effort and means she has more energy for activities, and that reduction in effort and saving of energy is even greater when using her wheelchair. Lizzie also made a great point about the response to different mobility aids. She mentioned that if she’s on her crutches she ALWAYS get asked “What have you done?”, “Did you fall over?” or “How long will you be on them?” even though they are bright pink and obviously not NHS standard issue crutches, but these are questions she’s rarely asked in her wheelchair. This is an obvious example of the way different disability aids are viewed by society, and I think it links back to what I said when I opened this post, about wheelchair users being seen as the ‘stereotypical’ disabled person. Wheelchairs are considered a marker of permanent disability whereas any other mobility aids are seen as temporary.

However, Lizzie also said something which reminded me how different our experiences of disability are. She said she’d rather not use crutches or be a wheelchair user, and I realised I don’t know how it must feel to think that way because, as someone who’s been physically disabled and had limited mobility since birth, I don’t know anything other than using mobility aids so it’s very difficult for me to think in terms of a life not using them.

Lizzie’s final point in her post is that she is happy to answer questions or educate people on disability, and I would say I have that same mentality too. However, be aware, if you’re an adult with an inappropriate question, I WILL tell you so, to your face, in public. I’ve spent too long answering questions which are either plain inappropriate or could easily be answered by Google, to run through the whole ‘smile sweetly and trot out my life story’ routine again. Sometimes, someone just needs to tell you you’re asking an inappropriate or personal question. As an extension to this, Lizzie pointed out that sometimes the answers to these questions are long or emotionally taxing, particularly as she OBVIOUSLY doesn’t feel comfortable telling random, nosy passers-by about her cancer treatment or complex genetics in the middle of the street! Overall, there is time and place for deeper questions, which isn’t just in the middle of a pavement, with a random stranger you will probably never meet again. The situation is different when it’s kids asking questions as they’re always welcome to ask and, perhaps more importantly, parents shouldn’t pull them away from disabled people like we’re contagious, because that leads to the kind of people who, as adults, ask inappropriate questions or have the same view of disabled people as the stranger from Lizzie’s original post who had decided she “couldn’t be disabled” because he’d watched her complete one task on one specific date.

Lizzie ended her post by asking 3 things of people: Don’t assume, don’t discriminate, be kind. I thought that summarised the point of the post quite elegantly, so I’m going to forego my usual sign off to leave you with those words too.

Don’t Assume.

Don’t Discriminate.

Be Kind.

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels) & Lizzie (fellow wheelie and general queen)