A Year Later: 3 Unexpected Experiences since leaving South Africa for England

I don’t pretend for a second that England is without its share of problems—think Brexit, Boris Johnson, the cuts to the National Health Service, negotiations with the US that would drastically increase the price of medications and harm the NHS yet again, the inhumane hours for junior doctors, or the horrendous austerity measures which have wreaked havoc on thousands—but…

Nota and I headed through Cape Town International Airport, 28 November 2018

I arrived in England a year ago. Today marks the first anniversary since we arrived in the UK, landing at 4.45 am GMT on 29 November 2018. It’s been officially been a full year since I’ve seen so many people. It’s still hard to comprehend. Still, I don’t feel I made a mistake leaving South Africa even if I do miss the people fairly regularly. South Africa had a lot to offer me: a great education, good friends, and lots of memories. The question that had to be answered, though: are the good things about South Africa enough to keep me there? No. I don’t mean to seem harsh or spiteful towards the people I’ve left behind; it’s just that you are mobile. Especially with the advent of things like free instant messaging and fast transport, people aren’t bound to a particular geography. The reasons I left are.

It’s easy to think that I left South Africa because things were pushing me away. It’s true, there were quite big push-factors. There were also quite powerful ‘pull-factors’ to the UK; not all motivated by disability although disability did play a major part in the decision. While I have touched on my moving to England on here before and will do again at some stage no doubt, I think the first anniversary is an ideal time to touch on some unexpected observations I’ve picked up since arriving and the ways this move has changed me.

The Price of Milk

I didn’t know the price of a couple of pints of milk in South Africa. It sounds strange even writing this now but it’s true; I seriously didn’t know the cost of milk in Cape Town. On the face of it, it sounds like a rather odd thing to include in a post about my time in a new country but the fact that I know the cost of basic groceries speaks volumes. Why? Because it actually matters for once. 

South Africa has come a long way in recent years on so many issues but it’s still not perfect. While I don’t pretend for a second that England is without its share of problems—think Brexit, Boris Johnson, the cuts to the National Health Service, negotiations with the US that would drastically increase the price of medications and harm the NHS yet again, the inhumane hours for junior doctors, or the horrendous austerity measures which have wreaked havoc on thousands—but it’s still a very different place, especially for disabled people. South Africa might want to become a more inclusive, accepting society but the reality is it’s still largely inaccessible to disabled people. While there are efforts being made by organisations around the country lobbying for change, it will be decades before they reach the same standard as the UK for disabled people. While I wholeheartedly support movements to change this, it’s important to remember that South Africa has decades of systemic and institutionalised discrimination to undo in ways the UK doesn’t. The fact that disability isn’t as high on the list is a sad, albeit understandable, reality.

The reason I’m unable to accurately quote the price of milk, then, isn’t because I was lazy—ok, well, not only because I was lazy—but because it was significantly more difficult for me to go shopping as, more often than not, the shops or the journey to those shops, wasn’t accessible enough to make my buying day-to-day groceries a regular possibility. The times I did go shopping, then, were often as an accompaniment to someone else and, therefore, the need for me to be conscious of prices was nowhere near as important. I mean, if I’m tagging along, there’s not too much point in paying as much attention, right?

Scheduling Life

Precisely because South Africa had notable accessibility problems, it was vastly more difficult for me to move around. While I had the ability to move around my environment and go relatively far distances, the fact that down-curbs and other features of an accessible environment were far less prevalent. As one might expect, the ability for me to walk around my neighbourhood, let alone the city, was greatly diminished. To go and do things I was often reliant on others. When you need to arrange things with others, it’s fairly obvious fairly quickly that you can’t simply arrange things solely around your schedule. To some degree, then, your diary is never truly yours but dependent on some external power—be they friend, foe, or Uber.

The ability to schedule your own day around your availability is remarkably more freeing than it sounds. For once, I can do what I like largely when it suits me and don’t need to rely on others to get to the office, the shops, or the local pub. 

While services like Uber allows greater flexibility on your own time in South Africa you are still beholden to some other ‘controlling mechanism.’ In Uber’s case, cost. It’s also less embarrassing having to order an Uber after having drinks to literally travel a mere four streets to get back to your house after you already started walking back with them because you realise a little too late that the area you’ve lived in for most of your life is still so inaccessible you can’t move less than two miles without severe difficulty and, sometimes, injury. A year later, it is pleasantly surprising how a once-regular experience feels so astonishingly foreign.

Calm

It was not uncommon for me to be on some form of crusade while still in South Africa. Those who knew me, especially at university, would know of the many times I would be furiously scurrying around the place, often near boiling point as I tried to find an alternative access route or going to complain to a rather silent maintenance department or other official. Almost from the moment we landed, I was truly calm for the first time in a long time. For the first time in years, I didn’t have underlying anger waiting below the surface, almost waiting to burst out of me the moment yet another lift broke. For the first time in years, there wasn’t a ‘need’ to summon the level of energy that went hand-in-hand with rage. Even the times I come across the rare inaccessibility, I am constantly surprised at how hilarious I find it simply because of how anachronistic those experiences are with the new environment. Any joke would cease being funny if told too many times. Don’t get me wrong, I still remain committed to making the world more accessible; encountering inaccessibility is just far less aggravating than it used to be. Maybe it’s because I matured more this past year or maybe its because the vast majority of the people I encounter during these experiences are so apologetic about it in ways few South Africans that I’m able to keep calmer and healthier. 

Would I go back?

England has its problems just like South Africa. It just so happened that the difficulties I faced in South Africa meant it made sense for me to move. I didn’t leave South Africa so much out of a need to get away from its problems as it was to run towards solutions available to me in England. For me to say I’d go back to South Africa permanently is almost impossible to say. The decision to move here was based on several factors of which the only one was love for the country itself. A decision to do the reverse would be influenced by the same considerations, if not wholly new and unexpected ones. The truth is, then, there’s no way to say. At least not yet. At the moment, though, I might well go back at some stage for a brief period but not to live.

PS, to those of you who would enjoy the poetry of it: this post went live at 4.45 am GMT. 

Maddie’s Tea Room, Devizes: Accessible Coffee Shop Serving Communities

Maddies Tea Room cake stand
Maddie’s Tea Room Interior

It’s my third time at this small, sweet coffee shop along the route between my house and our local Sainsbury’s. It’s so small, in fact, I thought it was just an extension of the nail bar next door and it was only many weeks into my living in Devizes that I realised this coffee shop existed. Even once I ‘discovered’ this place, I was a little hesitant to try it out. Being someone who is quite… particular… about his coffee (and food generally), trying a new place can be a bit of a challenge. I was especially hesitant trying Maddie’s Tea Room when I discovered that it is, in fact, linked to the neighbouring nail bar. Was it a place for a decent cup of coffee or was it just a place to get a quick cup while your sister has her nails done in the next room? As usual, my hesitancy was unwarranted.


From the moment you walk into the place, you know exactly what you’re getting into: a wholesome, community-oriented, adorable little coffee shop that has a disproportionately large menu for the floor space it occupies and, somewhat surprisingly, good coffee. On all three of my visits to Maddie’s, I’ve made different orders—something uncharacteristically adventurous coming from me. I’ve been impressed every time. The coffee’s never burnt; the snacks always good. 


I think it goes without saying in this era that independence is something to be fiercely protected. It should be obvious, then, that your experience would be cheapened if you couldn’t engage with the place independently. As a wheelchair-user, this means that my time in a restaurant or coffee shop is often that little bit worse because of easy-to-fix arrangements that make it that little bit more inaccessible; whether it be the table height, the legs the table uses, or the height of the bar when placing your order. Maddie’s Team Room is almost perfect for the manual wheelchair-user. On account of the usual British weather I can forgive a place that has a relatively heavy door but what makes Maddie’s great is the door is no heavier than it needed to be and the staff are quick to give you a hand if they see you struggling.


My ultimate pet hate about coffee shops is the tables. One of my earliest blog posts on The Disability Diaries about how irritating and unintentionally alienating the forked-base table is for wheelchairs. The way the base of the table operates to prevent the chair getting fully under the table and, as a result, rendering the wheelchair-user at permanent risk of dropping food on their trousers—or worse, hot coffee. While Maddie’s haven’t moved to the four-legged table, the bases of their tables are such that a wheelchair can easily fit under the table and not feel like they’re sitting in the middle of the footpaths while Maddie’s continue to benefit from the space-saving advantage of a ‘single-column nightmare.’

The magnificent Maddie’s Tea Room clock from Sassy Chic


The only thing I would say ‘against’ Maddie’s is the space issue. It’s quite a small dining area which might not be the best place for those of you who don’t much like small spaces. At the same time, though, the small space is one of the reasons I like Maddie’s. I like that there’s enough space for a manual wheelchair, several people, and a pram while still offering enough space to not feel too on top of each other. It forces a dialogue to develop between the customers. Given that Devizes is relatively small, the fact that a dialogue is imposed on you it helps to develop the community feel of the coffee shop. Add to that the fact that some of the décor is clearly signposted as to the local shop it came from, Maddie’s Tea Room offers an atmosphere of being central in the local community.


Overall, Maddie’s Tea Room is one of the sweetest coffee shops I’ve come across in England that is accessible for wheelchairs. I’d whole-heartedly recommend it to any wheelchair-user who’s fancying a cup of coffee while avoiding the chain, impersonal feeling of somewhere like Costa.


Maddie’s Team Room has gone from a coffee shop I didn’t know existed to rapidly becoming a regular haunt. I’m impressed.

The Carrot & Stick that is #JustAskDontGrab

I know I haven’t written in a while. It’s thanks to various personal issues, a nasty case of writer’s block, and laziness. While I haven’t written anything of publishable quality in the last few months, I’ve kept my ear to the ground. Something I’ve noticed especially recently from several disabled activists is the growing trend of #JustAskDontGrab. While I feel this hashtag, part of a larger campaign to assert the independence of disabled people, can be a valuable teaching tool, I have my reservations. I whole-heartedly support the campaign to educate misunderstanding abled-bodied people – Mr Ableds – about disability #JustAskDontGrab supports but I feel I wouldn’t serve the cause if I didn’t raise my concerns.

Fellow disabled people will know what I mean about the irritation we feel when someone helps you do things without properly engaging with you about it. Social Media and Twitter especially have given rise to the #JustAskDontGrab campaign which, at the very least, aims to raise awareness about unwanted and unnecessary help from other people. At the risk of setting a cat among pigeons, I think we (the Disabled Community) should be wary not to overuse this powerful social tool into scaring off people’s humanity.

In the ideal world, disability and other issues do not limit one’s ability to experience society just as much as the next person. This is not the ideal world. In the world we live in, everyone has their challenges and the things they have to overcome; disability is just one. We would all benefit from getting help from other people when we need it. To think that we can function entirely without help is as naïve as it is reckless. We need people in our corner. We should be doing everything in our power to attract people to us while still maintaining our independence.

#JustAsk as Teacher & Carrot

So much of ableist belief stems from a lack of education of what disability is at its core. Part of the reason I love the term ‘disabled’ specifically is the extent to which it doesn’t shy away from highlighting society’s ableist shortcomings. Rather than emphasising the ’strengths versus weaknesses’ argument that terms like ‘differently-abled’ do, ‘disabled’ highlights the extent to which these shortcomings prevent a person’s full and active participation in society. At the same time, though, ‘disabled’ has connotations of being ‘unable’ to do things. 

Particularly as a wheelchair-user, it is easier to forget that everyone is disabled. We all have things that we can and cannot do. I write but I can’t play the violin or sing opera. I know opera who can’t write and violinists who can’t put pen to paper. That’s fine. We have our strengths and weaknesses and that’s natural. Being born physically disabled and only knowing that perspective, it’s easy to forget that physically-abled people can see the way I navigate my environment as a ‘weakness.’ As irritating as it may be for someone like me to think their way of doing things is ‘weaker’ than others, it is from the perspective of Mr Abled watching us. By Mr Abled’s frame of reference, we are objectively ‘worse off.’ Mr Abled’s helping us to go somewhere, then, isn’t a rejection of our independence but as a caring, spontaneous offer to make our lives easier, stronger. It’s not about ’scoring social brownie points.’ It is fundamentally positive.  

Where #JustAskDontGrab is a powerful, positive tool for social change is it provides an effective platform for the Disabled Community to communicate to the Mr Ableds of the world how our way of navigating the world is not ‘weaker’ but ‘different.’ Both are valid, individual ways of doing things. It helps to inform Mr Abled that what he perceives as a spontaneous act of charity to his fellow human can be deeply disempowering and, in some cases, dangerous. Rather than being ’spontaneously good,’ #JustAskDontGrab encourages dialogue between us and Mr Abled. 

#JustAsk as Disciplinarian & Stick

In a world which is increasingly living online, it is easy for us to slip into the habit of unleashing our frustrations onto the inherently public space of social media. We’ve all had moments where we feel emotional about something and just want to share that feeling with others. It’s understandable, then, that there are many stories of frustration with the way a Mr Abled’s help ultimately caused emotional or physical problems for them. Given the hashtag’s popularity in relation to this type of thing, the extent to which this fury is intertwined with #JustAskDontGrab is understandable. 

Moaning too much about how someone’s misunderstanding of your situation led them to take your arm and help you into the bus didn’t allow you to board yourself can cause new problems. Yes, 99% of these tweets don’t mention Mr Abled’s name but that doesn’t change the fact that Mr Abled’s spontaneous charity is now derided, consciously or unconsciously, by thousands of people. As social media evolves and expands together with #JustAskDontGrab, it is not unreasonable to assume that potential Mr Ableds come across someone’s bad day as a result of some Mr Other Abled’s spontaneous kind act. Especially considering that society is increasingly digital, it isn’t too much of a stretch to think that Mr Potential Abled is put off doing kind acts – note, I didn’t say ’spontaneous kind acts’ – for fear of being socially ridiculed. While #JustAsk may have prevented another Mr Abled being born, it also prevented any constructive, positive help. It shrank the assistance pool where it was expected to expand it.

#JustAsk for Social Interaction

Humans are naturally social creatures. We need to interact with each other to survive and to thrive. While all of us can do some things on our own, we will need to lean on others at some point in our lives. #JustAsk was created as part of a larger effort for disabled people to be better integrated into society. A large part of that social integration revolves around inter-personal interaction. The spirit of #JustAskDontGrab expresses the independence and abilities of the Disabled Community as a means of communicating humanity’s independent characteristics. Saturating a fantastic mechanism with what can be perceived as ‘hostility’ can push people away just as it strives to unite them.

While I support educating the Mr Ableds of the world about how disabled people, the physically disabled especially, are able to live independent, valid, and different lives. My biggest concern about #JustAsk is the extent to which misinterpretations of how some people use it can lead to the fragmenting of one’s relationship with society and the dangers it poses when one needs someone to lean on and they all run in the opposite direction.

#JustAskDontGrab has great potential to help change the Disabled Community’s fundamental relationship with ableist society. If used recklessly, it could cost the Disabled Community the humanity, compassion, and interaction all humans need.

The Importance of a Disabled Bay & How Companies Should React to Employees’ Ableism

In 2018, I found an FS Systems vehicle illegally parked in a disabled bay on the University of Cape Town’s campus. After posting this on my Twitter account, FS Systems were quick to respond and condemned their employee’s actions. Since then, the company’s response has made me realise the importance of social responsibility.


‘It’s a parking space, chill everyone’


Regardless of who we are, we all know the frustration of trying to find a parking space.


While disabled bays have a specific purpose, it’s worth remembering that they are, after all, just parking spaces. For people to get overly angry at the fact a bay is taken, even if it’s by someone who has no ‘right’ to it, is a bit melodramatic. Life’s too short to lose whole hours drafting blog posts about it. What’s far more important to address than ‘Healthy, abled Joe Bloggs stole my spot’ is the ideology that either directly or indirectly went into Joe’s decision to park there. All drivers would, at some point, have encountered the disabled bay as a concept and seen that it was designated to a specific group of people for presumably legitimate, concrete reasons. To know the ‘role’ of The Disabled Bay, as all drivers would have known at some point, and to still park there illegitimately is to ignore the reasons for their existence. Joe’s ‘justification’ for parking where he shouldn’t be challenged, not his parking.


‘It’s just parking. Nothing to do with ideology’

Not quite.

There is concrete justification behind the existence of The Disabled Bay. They exist to reduce the amount of physical stress on a disabled person in navigating particular scenarios as well as making their navigation safer. Whether the logic behind them is not necessarily known to every driver, for Joe Bloggs to know their justification and elect to ignore it, suggests that Mr Bloggs ultimately deems the Disabled Community to be of little consequence and undeserving of an equal shot at social interaction. In essence, for one to be aware of the need of disabled bays and ignore a disabled person’s need of them is just another symptom of society’s engrained ableism.


‘Disabled bays are good delivery spaces, their nearer and wider’


Yes, disabled bays are generally nearer to a building’s entrance and are generally wider than the average parking bay. 

Considering that only 15% of the world’s population (one billion people) are disabled as of 26 September 2018 according to The World Bank, disabled people are by far the minority. It is perfectly correct, then, for the world to be designed around the 85% non-disabled, ‘normal’ people. That said, the abled society offers problems for the disabled minority that cannot be ignored. Perhaps most obvious of these is height.


Wheelchair-users, in particular, are (surprise, surprise) often shorter than the average abled-bodied person, or ‘Normal.’ Although many disabled people and wheelchair-users drive, it’s worth remembering that the height of cars was designed for the Normal. Given that wheelchair-users are physically lower than the average Normal, the fact is they are often not easy to spot in cars, particularly from the large, Toyota Fortuner-type cars. Wheelchair-users and other disabled people, then, are at a far higher risk of being hit by drivers. An easy, realistic solution to this problem, then, is to reduce the amount of time a wheelchair-user has to spend in the ‘danger zone’ of busy parking lots. Disabled bays, then, are often nearer to entrances as it decreases their time in those ‘danger zones.’ Similarly, their proximity reduces the distances someone with walking difficulties has to travel to get from an entrance to their car.


A well-designed disabled bay is wider for similar reasons: it gives adequate, necessary, useable space. I don’t know of a single disabled person (myself included) who would use a wheelchair/walking aid by choice. Even the lightest and narrowest of them is still relatively cumbersome. They’re also something we can just ‘elect’ not to use as they (to use a Normal’s language) our only means of locomotion. Disabled bays are wider, then, to allow the wheelchair to come alongside the vehicle so that wheelchair-users can actually leave their cars.


Given that a well-designed disabled bay would be closer and offering more space, it’s not surprising that delivery drivers use them, they are easier. All too often, I know of companies (or their representative drivers) ignore the Disabled Community’s need of designated parking spaces precisely because of their convenience. When I engage companies on this, I often receive lip-service to the effect of ‘yes, we agree, it’s terrible. The driver will be dealt with’ and then never hearing anything about active change.


’So What Makes FS Systems Special?’

In the years of dealing with delivery drivers and organisations, including the South African Postal Service, FS Systems were the first to go beyond the meaningless lip-service. Within hours of my tweet about their driver’s behaviour, they publicly condemned their driver’s activity and promised to take action – as almost all of them did. Where they differed was their apology. In addition to dealing with the driver and public condemnation of illegitimate use of disabled bays, they provided the University of Cape Town’s Disability Unit a free fire evacuation chair as a symbol of their support not only of the university’s disabled population but of the Disabled Community generally. 

To be honest, after I received their message about donating a key piece of equipment to UCT, I was a tad cynical that anything would actually materialise. I’m glad I was wrong. FS Systems kept to their word and handed over the chair to the Unit. 

Strictly speaking, it was one of FS’s employees who took the decision to park illegally in a disabled bay. The company themselves were not at fault. FS System’s decision to not only come out publicly against this kind of behaviour but to donate products by way of reparation was unexpected while not unwelcome. 

FS Systems took an active decision to take responsibility for the actions of one of their employees and make good on a fault that they themselves did not commit. Rather than letting this kind of behaviour be implicitly condoned, they assumed responsibility and took concrete, public steps to repair the situation. It’s a bit sad that I have to say this makes FS Systems unique by comparison with the other companies I’ve had dealings within South Africa but it is what it is. 

I commend FS Systems and their Management Team for their reaction to this and thank them once again for their response. I hope other organisations learn from their example.

Music & Poetry: Musings on the Self-Destructive Addiction to Beauty

The artist is the creator of beautiful things.

To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.

The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Beauty attracts.


Regardless of what your definition of ‘Beauty’ is, you can’t deny that this statement holds true. It’s natural. We are attracted to what we find pleasing. Why, then, do we find the painful beautiful? We know it hurts and yet, like a moth to the flame that will burn it, we gravitate towards it. What compels us to subject ourselves to suffering that can easily be avoided?


Music is my flame; both the aural and the literary. There are some pieces that penetrate the very core of my soul and send me into near-crippling despair. I still engage with them. Often, I actively seek them out. It nearly destroys me every time but does it stop me? No. No matter how physically and emotionally painful it is for me, there are some pieces of music or poetry that, as F. Scott Fitzgerald puts it inThe Great Gatsby, has me “borne back ceaselessly into the past.” The worst part: I don’t even try to escape it. Somehow I don’t feel I’m alone in this.


Perhaps it’s because of the deep-seated associations we make between ourselves and the ‘inanimate.’ It’s not the music or the poetry that we find so devastating in its beauty, it’s the association with it that we have made on a largely subconscious level that ruins us. The music or the poetry, then, is harmless in its magnificence but the damage is caused by how we interpret that beauty.At the end of November, three years of planning came together and my parents and I boarded a plane and officially moved to England. After being here for the better part of three weeks, I’m slowly beginning to feel totally comfortable and settle in. But, only having our WiFi set up since yesterday, I haven’t really read any poetry nor listened to any music I collected over the last two decades. Today was the first time I listened to any kind of music. All the emotions came flooding back with a vengeance that would terrify Lucifer.


Honestly, I don’t miss Cape Town. It was years of inaccessibility and a pervading sense of captivity for me. I miss the people (and my old house and high school). Having lived there until less than a month ago, EVERYONE I knew other than the handful that moved to England a couple of years ago, is several thousand miles away. Whoever said that the digital age built bridges between geographical areas was lying. It helped, yes, but technology is a piece of string if anything, not a bridge. I’m not going back to Cape Town, though. Not in any real sense. Frankly, I don’t want to go back to a place that was so inaccessible for me. Yet, I still hear its siren song. The people still remain at the forefront of my mind.

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Goodbye, Degree. Hello, (Un)fortunate Readers

Hey Everyone,

It feels like a lifetime since I’ve written, doesn’t it? Anyway, I’m free for a bit so…

I finished the last set of exams for my Undergraduate degree last week. I’m now in that weird holding-pattern of waiting for my results to be released. If the exams went the way I think they did, I’m in a good position so yay. Still, my finishing my degree doesn’t mean the pressure’s off. It’s just shifted. My new goal: relocating.

At the end of September, we booked our flights. As of 22 September this year we made leaving for England a certainty. It’s no longer the semi-tangible idea my family had for the last three years. It’s happening.

I’ve been wanting to write for a while but, between being procrastinatingly lazy and too busy, it never materialised until now. If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you’ll know that I took most of October off due to the exam season. If you’ve been following me closely on Twitter, you’ll know that my self-defined deadline expired about a week ago. Lazy boy. Between work, university, and the various projects relating to our relocating halfway across the globe, there’s a lot to write about. My problem: sitting down and actually typing the stuff up.

With all the excitement recently, I’ve started quite a few posts and got distracted by ‘the shiny.’ Something that I think would be most interesting, though, would a brief breakdown of the various tasks involved in moving three people, two wheelchairs, and two Golden Retrievers from Cape Town to England. Or do you think a brief outline of my Master’s Thesis idea be more interesting?

Just know that I haven’t forgotten my readers. I’m busy drafting stuff for you guys. Hopefully, you’ll have something more interesting to read within a week 🙂

Is ‘Legalese’ a Defence?

Is something ‘right’ simply because it is legal? This question has been bugging me immensely recently; particularly from a disability perspective.
So often I hear someone saying “person with a disability” and it gets my blood boiling. When I ask them not to use that phrase in front of me, they defend themselves by citing the fact that ‘person with disability’ is the term used in South Africa’s legislation. In other words, they are using the ‘correct’ legal term and I should just get over myself. While, yes, ‘person with disability’ is a valid phrase in disability circles, I have a deep-seated objection to it as I find it deeply offensive. While my disability does not define me, I am defined by it.
At 21, I feel like I’m pretty secure in my identity. I know what I like; I know what I don’t. There are some moments I wish disability didn’t feature in my life but I’d be deceiving myself to deny its impact on my life. For better or worse, Cerebral Palsy is a part of me. For me to deny my whole identity because of the fact that CP might affect the way I carry off wearing a suit because I’m in a wheelchair is just as daft as if I were to ignore the disability altogether. Just because I’m disabled does not mean that my life ends. By the same token, I’m aware of the ways that my disability shaped my sense of self.
This fluid, somewhat-paradoxical relationship between selfhood and disability is precisely why ‘person with disability’ doesn’t sit right with me. As I’ve argued some time ago, this phrase doesn’t pay tribute to the extent disability can be something fundamental to your identity. Instead, it separates the person (and, by extension, their ‘personhood’) from their disability. Rather than acknowledging how disability is one cornerstone to your identity, the phrase implies that disability is some external force which happens to you. I vehemently oppose this idea. While you could argue that ‘person with disability’ allows for the distinction between disability as your identity and just a part of it, the implication that you are some passive entity on which the ‘external’ acts disregards the nuanced relationship between Disabled and Disability.
Given my objections to certain terms, does a politico-commercial entity have the right to dictate which terms I use? Can my employer ‘demand’ I use a particular phrase in my writing even if it is something I have an extreme political objection to? I don’t think so. I say this for two reasons: first, a legal term doesn’t necessarily consider the nuances of a situation has they have to be rigidly defined; second, there is absolutely no way rejecting ‘person with a disability’ would substantially change the content of what I’m saying. Other than the fact that ‘person with disability’ is a convention in some areas of society, there is no reason why ‘disabled person’ could not convey exactly the same meaning.
That said, an easy counter-argument would be that an organisation’s convention which should be obeyed. In this context, then, should you switch to their desired terminology? It may be a convention, be it dictated by legislation or otherwise, does not negate the term being offensive to some. In my case, I have a political and moral objection to the phrase ‘person with a disability.’ For me to bow to convention, then, would require me to break with my own morality. No matter the context, one should never surrender morals simply for convention’s sake. Just because South Africa’s legislation uses ‘person with disability’ does not mean that my moral objection to it is any less valid. While I can accept that some may accept this phrase by virtue of the fact that it is the legal construct, I am not one of them. More importantly, I will not allow its status as ‘the legal term’ to force me to back down from my beliefs.
Should we be precluded from identifying ourselves the way we see fit and for that identification to be recognised by others simply because it doesn’t align with a socio-legal construct? I think not. Do you?

Regression to Nicer Times – Part 1

Part the First – An Introduction

It’s early-July. I’ve finished my semester exams and, now that my results have been announced, I know I will be able to graduate my Undergraduate Degree in English Literature and History by the end of this year. To top it off, by early-December, my parents and I will bid a final farewell to Cape Town and embark on a new and exciting journey in England. Things are on the up. The idea of starting a new chapter in a new country where my opportunities increase dramatically is thrilling.

As good and necessary as this move is for me in particular, the organising, down-sizing, and mental shifts that accompany this next phase have left me feeling somewhat like the Roman god, Janus (from which the month ‘January’ is almost certainly derived), who has two faces facing in opposite directions – one to the future, and one to the past. Just as we should be wrapping up our lives with the last few months we have, I find myself reminiscing about many things: my early childhood, the start of school, the seventeen anesthetics I’ve had over the course of my life, writing my school-leaving exams, starting my degree, and, soon, the closing of the introductory chapters of my story.

Part of our leaving process revolves around reducing the amount of stuff we have to take over to the UK with us. Over the last week, I have been going through the several files and folders that my parents have kept on me in the twenty-one years I have been bugging them. They kept everything.

In a single afternoon, I was able to traverse over two decades of my personal history. I was able to read a 1998 letter stating my acceptance into the foundation phase of my school career while, moments later, I could pick up the last school photo taken months before we embarked on the exams that ultimately ended a thirteen-year-long chapter of my life and sent me catapulting into the beginnings of my professional field. All I can say is that holding eighteen years of history in your hands is a strange feeling that I don’t think you can find anywhere else.

No matter how good that feeling is, though, it’s bitter-sweet if I’m honest. Reading the letters and reports, listening to the recordings, and looking at the photographs has distilled the memories across the last lifetime into a purer, clearer rendition. Events I’d long since forgotten come running back like a speeding train, almost as clear as if they were playing out in front of me. In short, it reminded me that while Cape Town may not be perfect for me, it is the stage upon which all the actors in my life work their magic. Leaving might be good for me but I cannot deny that the gains will mean significant loses.

 

Service Dogs are People Too!!!

 

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The “dangerous weapon”

I came across a tweet by one of my favourite Disability Bloggers, Diary of a Disabled Person, that I feel needs to be echoed so as many people get the message as possible. For my part, however, I want to stress two things:

 

  1. Service Dogs are not “dangerous weapons”
  2. Service Dogs are legitimately allowed to be with you

I’ve had a Golden Retriever Service Dog for several years and the two of us get greeted often with one of two types of responses: “Aw, puppy! Can I hug her?” or “No dogs allowed.” The latter just baffles me. Part of me feels like I should congratulate them for identifying the fact that my aide is, in fact, a dog. The other part wants to scream.

For the six or so years that Sasha, my Golden Retriever minion, and I have been together, she has become (unsurprisingly) a key part of my interaction with society. To be told by people who clearly don’t understand the role ‘service fluffies’ play that the dog is ‘unnecessary,’ a ‘pet,’ or “dangerous weapon” (yes, that legitimately happened. You can read more about it in my earlier post, The Weaponised Pooch) ranges from mildly irritating to mind-bogglingly infuriating. While I can see the sense in restricting access to various non-human species, your telling me that my “dangerous weapon” is not allowed in is denying me access to a key resource that is integral to my being able to fully function in society. You wouldn’t, I hope, insist that a frail person leave their cane at the door and somehow be able to function properly; why would you do it to a service dog? The service dog, in effect, is a furry, animate cane to those who use them.

Yes, we love our service/guide dogs but, frankly, a lot of people would rather not be in a situation in which they need to have that service or guide dog with them. Since this utopia doesn’t exist, though, those dreams are merely dreams. The service or guide dog exists to serve or to guide those who need that bit more assistance to be able to function at their best in society and so that, like everyone else, they too can enjoy the fruits that society has to offer. To deny those individuals’ service/guide dogs access is denying the person access to an equal life. To ban the dog, then, is to ban the Man.

In a world which is becoming increasingly accepting of differences, it saddens me to think that service and guide dogs are still being seen as simply an animal. Yes, they are animals; they’re also so much more.

Stairs, Curse You!

Screen Shot 2018-04-13 at 2.33.14 PMThe latest collaboration I wrote with Diary of a Disabled Person illustrates just one of many ways that England and South Africa vary with respect to their Disabled Communities. Having recently returned from England a week ago, something I have come into contact more than in South Africa is stairs inside homes and other buildings (perhaps it is just something to do with where I was but the fact remains nonetheless). While a lot of these places had lifts for wheelchair-users and others who might need a lift, it got me thinking: if I want to move to England, what would I do about stairs in my home?

Now that I’m back in Cape Town, I decided to set myself on the case and do a little digging. In my research, I came across a UK-based company, Stairlift Guru, who set themselves up to help combat the dreaded, universal curse of wheelchair-users: stairs. From what my digging dug up, Stairlift Guru helps the ‘stair-challenged’ to hunt for, compare, and contact companies that would then install a stairlift for them.

Why not a normal lift?

In a residential setting, I think the answer would be pretty obvious: space. A person’s home, generally, is a fraction of the size of a bank, museum or other public building. Having a traditional lift, then, would take up too much physical real estate to make it a feasible option. Moreover, traditional lifts are vastly more expensive. A stairlift, while not necessarily perfect for wheelchair-users, is significantly cheaper in a variety of ways. Continue reading