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.


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. 

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.

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?

Service Dogs are People Too!!!



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

NHS v Medical Aid: A Collaboration with Diary of a Disabled Person

There are a great many cultural divides between the UK and South Africa, and unsurprisingly this extends to disability. With two radically different systems of health care and financial support for the disabled, the lives of wheelchair users in either country greatly differs, as do the social perceptions and stigmas surrounding disability.

UK (Emma Steer, Diary of a Disabled Person).

One of the defining features of British culture, aside from an addiction to Gregg’s bakeries and a general disinterest in the royal family, is the National Health Service (NHS). The NHS allows UK citizens to receive medical aid whenever they need at no cost bar a portion of the tax they pay to the government. Of course, the average citizen has to pay for prescriptions, opticians, dentists, and doctors letters, costs which add up to a surprising total, but this system ensures that medicine usually reaches those who are ill regardless of what is in their bank account.

The NHS is under ever-increasing pressure to diagnose and treat more patients in a shorter time span, with less money and resources to support them, and it’s prominence as a topic on the news is growing every day. The fears that the NHS will either crumble under its own weight, or that it will financially ruin the government have lead the public to bemoan anyone who is deemed a strain upon the NHS, and on more than one occasion, I have been deemed one of those strains.

In addition to the cost of my medical care is the financial support from the government to cover the costs of using a wheelchair, as obtaining a suitable wheelchair on the NHS is a bit like trying to herd fifty cats into a bath at once. Since many assume that I am unemployed the moment they set eyes on me, or rather, my wheelchair, it is assumed that the cost of unemployment support can be added to that total. Even for those who cannot work, the stigma should not be bemoaning the cost of their financial support, but bemoaning the lack of suitable work for the disabled.

All-in-all, the bombardment of news articles depicting disability as a strain on the economy, rightfully or not, has led to a whole new set of stigmas about disability. Instead of being pitiful and patronised for our incapacities, we are despised for the effects of those incapacities. It has even been said by a prominent politician that disabled employees are problematic due to reduced productivity and increased costs of adapting the workspace to suit them, but of course he deems disability to be an inadequate excuse for unemployment, and condemns those that are forced to live that way.

The disabled are simply reduced to a number; the financial cost they inflict upon society.

South Africa (Aidan Bizony, The Disability Diaries).

While I can understand people’s frustration with the NHS because, yes, it has its flaws and we must be aware of those, I still marvel at the concept. Leave aside, for a moment, all the negatives that the NHS presents and look at the concept behind the structure: an attempt by the government to give its citizens a good, if somewhat tedious, medical scheme. South Africa doesn’t have the NHS.

Rather than having a government system that provides good, safe healthcare, South Africa’s public healthcare leaves a lot (I really mean “a lot”) to be desired. To expect South Africa, given her history, to have a medical system on par with the NHS – even in its current incarnation – is perhaps a little naïve and overly-critical but I do feel that we could be closer to the ideal of reliable, sustainable, safe healthcare than we are at present.

I know that the South African system is not necessarily the world’s worst healthcare system but, still, it leaves a lot to be desired. As bad as the public system is, I have to admit that the private system (if you can afford the high fees) is good. Luckily, we’re in a financial position to afford private medical care. As fortunate as it is that we can afford good, reliable medical care in South Africa is, it distresses me immensely to see that our premiums continue to increase with practically no rise in the benefits we receive. When you consider that inflation is a real thing, the fact that the benefits don’t grow in proportion to the premiums is all the more disturbing.

To be honest, the medical aid scheme in this country is increasingly becoming a ‘damned if you do; damned if you don’t’ thing.  But, yes, it costs a lot and it does continues to get worse but at least you get the payments you need, right? Nope. The plan that I’m on (which is one of the highest with the country’s ‘best’ medical aid) has had payments declined that I am legally entitled to. For instance: my plan allows for a certain amount to be made available to me each year for “external medical benefits” (e.g. wheelchairs) but I had an experience relatively recently whereby a chair I bought, which was within budget got declined because we didn’t file the correct paperwork. Since the reason the incorrect paperwork got filed was because Discovery, the Medical Aid Scheme, provided us with the wrong forms. To cut a long story short, we were on the verge of taking them to court when a letter from our lawyer to the CEO’s personal assistant lead to the payment we were entitled to six months earlier. The trouble aside, we at least got the wheelchair we ordered. That is until three years later when we had to repeat the process.

As bad as the NHS has gotten when compared to what it used to be; it’s still far better than the public system we have in South Africa. Hell, when I was in England in mid-2015 my parents and I decided to visit a local, NHS hospital in London and were surprised with what we saw. In retrospect, given the exposure we had of the public healthcare system, it is hardly surprising that we were shocked. We discovered that the NHS, public hospitals in England are better than the very expensive private hospitals that an elite of South African society can afford. Needless to say, the benefits of the NHS is a not-insignificant motivation to make the move to England as quickly as we can.

5 Days & Counting

The two Bizony siblings in London 2015

So it’s t-minus five days until my parents and I are due to land at Heathrow Airport to meet up with my sister and her husband for the first time in over a year. After they moved to London on 2017’s Friday the Thirteenth, the five of us haven’t been in the same room. My sister and I haven’t seen each other at all during that time.

As much as this trip will be a chance for us to see each other again and catch up about 12+ months that we haven’t communicated sans the Internet, it will also help us get the ball rolling and immigration front. I mean we’re already there so why not take advantage of the opportunity. This added stress, though, means planning this trip has been a little more intense than it should be.

I’m kind of glad you can’t see inside my house at the minute; it looks a bit of a state in places. With all the packing all the sorting, packing, and panicking, it is easy to forget that we’re doing this trip primarily as a way to reconnect with the family. From the state of it, you’d think we were never coming back in early April. Still, I can’t wait to be leaving for a whole host of reasons, not least which family & friends. At least, if all goes according to plan we will be moving to England by the end of the year.

To be honest, the end of the year feels like such a long way away.What is truly scary, though, is that by the time we get back we will have not quite eight months before we leave and not quite six months until the end of my degree. As much as I want to be going, part of me can’t face leaving. I suppose this year is understandable when you consider that the only city I’ve ever truly known. I’d say that moving to the UK would have me lose my established support network but when I consider that the majority of the most important and oldest links network are already in England or soon to be going, that’s not entirely true. Still, I’ll be leaving behind some great people.

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Cape Town Globalist… Meet The Disability Diaries

Now in the final year of my degree, the decision to go to UCT’s ‘Plaza Week’ (the event at which you can sign up for whatever society manages to catch your eye) was made more out of a desire to see friends I hadn’t seen in the three-month vacation more than it was to sign up for any society. While strolling the Plaza looking at the full range of stalls from the anti-abortionists (sigh) to UCT’s LGBT+ community, RainbowUCT, I came to The Cape Town Globalist. As you could guess from the title or my tweets (assuming you follow me on Twitter; if you don’t, my handle is @AidanBizony), I signed up with them.

Important Links:
Facebook: The Globalist
Twitter: The Globalist

Tonight was the first meeting of the year for the society. To be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect and was just a tad cynical. Having left there less than three hours ago, I am truly surprised by them and am willing to work with them on an ongoing basis. If everything outlined tonight comes to fruition, I think it could be the start of a brilliant relationship.

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