Thursday, 18 April 2013

On the Right Track

Leisure activities, especially weekends away, when you're disabled turn into a military exercise as everything has to be organised. I've just returned from a long weekend away in Keighley, West Yorkshire visiting a friend. I say "I" but to facilitate the trip I needed to take my PA, which is the first difference from able-bodied travellers. We decided to travel by train and to be honest it wasn't that expensive apart from having the extra expense of a taxi journey between Waterloo and Kings Cross. Our tickets did include the underground but when you have a balance issue due to Cerebral Palsy, travelling up and down steep escalators and on and off trains in dense crowds becomes human Russian roulette. As it was, I definitely would've struggled making the journey on my own. That may sound wimpish but the combination of speech and mobility impairments makes travelling on public transport quite a headache.

Anyway, the journey was quite an adventure. I decided for the purposes of modesty I wouldn't drink fluid on both journeys so I wouldn't need to use the toilet on route. This sounds really silly but trains move and therefore contending with a moving train with an ungainly walk and very little balance is tricky if not a danger to getting injured or worse. Apart from a bit of aggression on the way up
on the London to Leeds leg of the trip, our original train got cancelled and we were put on the next one, which meant the reserved seating system now had two passengers to one seat. Don't individuals get precious over such trivial matters - a seat is a seat or perhaps I'm missing the point?

The accessible room in the hotel was okay. I think I would've struggled as a wheelchair user however, there were adaptations such as a half sink in the bathroom but there was no surface alongside the sink to keep your toothbrush etc., but for a couple of days stay it was manageable. What amazed me was the people, not just hotel staff but the people in general were friendlier, on several occasions people offered help or conversation and not in an awkward way either. Generally in my experience in the south people make out that they are too busy, rushing everywhere, heaven forbid making eye contact with others and if you happen to have a disability then people avoid making any contact at all. And yet here we were, strangers and southerners and I felt not "a burden" but instead a sense of community, that sounds terribly dramatic but after forty odd years of community isolation it is important to me.

I'm an ordinary guy who happens to be disabled, the media and some government rhetoric have painted this blanket picture that all disabled people are "scroungers", benefit kings and queens that stay at home and bleed the state dry. In fact lots of severely disabled people like me do work, often for low incomes so yes we need state help but purely as a top up. This was my first independent trip in four years; my parents take the family away once a year so I do get a break, so I'm lucky. The reason why I'm saying this is currently the view of disabled people is one of we don't work, we live on benefits and we're quite happy to do so, but this is not always the case. In actual fact, some of us do work, some of us don't like benefits, and we try to go about as independently as possible and even enjoy a social life! For me, my short break planning was trickier because I needed to take a PA which meant the cost increased and more importantly we had to get on! J