I don’t feel angry for long anymore. Just a few moments. I’ve learnt you can’t allow yourself to feel that angry that often. Just long enough to make your point, or file away under the Life as Disabled Person (Indignities Of).
Travel is the worst of course. And air travel the worst of the worst.
I have 2 full time jobs. One I get paid for and one I don’t. The latter is living as a disabled person in a world that exhibits a pro-active disinterest in understanding my needs. I depend on crutches to be mobile. They are my legs. To travel companies they are ‘hand luggage’ and treated with the same lack of care everyone’s hand luggage is..to be chucked in a crushed overhead locker.
Though that is if the flight attendant has decided that’s where they should go today. You see as well as the obvious physical barriers to travel as a disabled person, you need to adapt to the world’s desire to infantilise you. Everyone now has the right to tell you what to do or take your control away from you. “You have to give your legs to me.”… “You have to put them in the overhead locker.”.. “You have to give them to me”.
Let’s say today it’s ‘you have to give them to me’.
A complete stranger publicly demands that you give them your legs. In front of others you have to abandon the illusion of self-determination. A stranger can touch your precious legs, take control of them, at their whim. Can take them away and not tell you where they are putting them. You sit there now, legless, wondering where they are. If they are safe. Now imagine you have reached your destination. You’ve paid for a seat near the exit to get out quickly. But your tormentor has forgotten he has your legs. You sit fretfully trying to get his attention until finally, sighing, he resentfully returns them to you. As if he’s time to be worrying about your hand luggage…
Now let’s say that as you patiently hand your crutches to the attendant the next time you are flying she snaps at you, ‘You have to put them in the overhead…’ with that same look of ‘how dare you’ reserved for someone asking them to put their bag in the locker for them. People behind you tutting as you hold up the boarding. You struggle to rearrange baggage to get them in to the already overcrowded overhead lockers, to be squashed and (on more than one occasion) broken.
Imagine if every time you boarded a plane you had to remove your legs and put them in the overhead locker? How many times have you sat for a whole flight fretting about whether the guy who boarded late and shoved his huge heavy bag in on top of your stuff has wrecked your coat or broken that bottle of whisky you bought in duty free? Imagine now if instead of spending the entire flight imagining that broken bottle or ruined coat you were imaging your broken legs. Fretting about how you’d get off the plane, let alone get home, without them. You arrive and now, legless, you must stand up and struggle to get your crutches out the locker, hoping they have survived, tutted at as you slow down the expert ‘de-boarder’ desperate to be first off.
I’ve given up guessing what ‘the rule’ (as I am firmly told exists if I query the ‘rule’) is that airline, that day, that flight attendant. I have flown on the same plane, same route, same company twice in 2 days and found the ‘rule’ changes. When quizzed where this rule comes from, where the training manual or guidance is that this ‘rule’ is captured in I am given the ‘how dare you be pushy you’re a cripple you should be grateful’ look. Only when pushed will I hear what I have heard repeatedly ‘it is not written it’s how we are trained…’.
My right to dignity, to self-determination, to safe and secure treatment of my ‘legs’ is not a given. It’s not even a regular occurrence. It’s the exception (almost always, it turns out in conversation, because the flight attendant has a disabled relative).
Does this make you feel a little angry on my behalf? Or sorry for me? If it does well frankly my dears, I don’t give a damn. Your pity will not fix this. Only your active concern and campaigning will. Not for me, don’t kid yourself. You should actually be doing this is for yourself.
Oh I know; you’re invincible. You will live your whole life in a state of reasonable fitness and mental and physical ability. You will never have to haul a malfunctioning body through a world designed for the fit and able bodied. You’re special that way…
I don’t feel angry for too long anymore because I can’t do that too myself. I just sit safe in the knowledge that almost certainly sooner or later it will be my tormentor’s turn. Your turn. Everyone’s turn. Though I may not get the satisfaction of being there when it happens to you all, I do have the satisfaction of thinking right now … I told you so.
Even better than feeling sorry, how about you help me sort this out right now? You see the pity runs the other way. I watch you all traipsing freely through the world and feel so sorry for you, knowing what I do about what one day, sooner or later, for a long time or a fairly short time, will be your fate. Sort this out not for me, but for your future self.