Disabled Parking: Small Incident, Big Ideological Problem

Maybe it’s just me but I like to think that people are not intentionally vindictive beings who set out to make other people’s lives more difficult but, the reality is, that it happens far more than we’d like to admit. From a wheelchair-user’s perspective, one of the ways I see this happening a lot is in disregard for Disabled Parking Bays.

I don’t know how many times I’ve come across Disabled Bays being used illegally. To be honest, it is difficult to understand exactly why this is so common giving how aware a lot of societies are on other issues. Is it that people don’t understand why they exist? Don’t they care? Yes, something like “he’s in my spot” is trivial but I still think it is worth condemning the action as it speaks to the larger issue that is Ableism.

While it is a requirement in several countries that parking areas have allocated Disabled Parking, I don’t think the reasoning behind their existence is adequately explained if at all. In my opinion, there are 2 main reasons for their existence: Safety and Access.

Reasons for a Disabled Bay’s Existence

Safety

I’m sure it goes without saying that, in most cases, wheelchair-users are lower than the average, ambulatory person by the very fact that they are seated. The height difference, in a parking scenario, can lead to potential dangers. To put it frankly, it is harder for drivers to see us.

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Does Being in a Wheelchair Deserve Pity?

With news of Jerry Lewis’s death flying around on Social Media, I became aware of his statement, “[If] you don’t want to be pitied as a cripple in a wheelchair, stay in ya home” through a tweet from Emma Ladau. Regardless of context, this kind of thinking makes me sadder than I can express.

I was born with a physical disability and have spent several years of my life in a wheelchair. Does that make me deserving of pity? Yes, disability has been a part of my life and will be forever. There’s nothing I can do to change that. While disability is part of my identity, it is not the only thing that makes me who I am.

When I think of what defines me, the first things that pop into my head is that I value friends and family above everything, I’m a Literature fan, and that I’m doing what I love. Only after all those things do ‘disabled’ or ‘wheelchair-user’ make an appearance. Yes, being a wheelchair-user comes with some challenges but life is full of them. Should one be pitied because they have challenges when, if we’re honest, everyone has challenges of their own? I think not.

Because of the fact that I was born with a disability, my disability and my wheelchair by extension, cannot be removed from my identity.  That said, it is true that some people do see disability (particularly physical ones as they are often the most visible) as ‘pitiful.’ Does that mean that my identity, either in part or as a whole, is pitiful?

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Why I’m Leaving South Africa

To those South African friends: I’m not due to leave until the end of Undergrad so we’ve still got time together. That said, there are several reasons why I’m going to leave. This post focuses purely on one small aspect of why England is better on the Disability Front (which in and of itself is only one factor in the Emigration Decision).

My mother just got back from a trip through England for the last month earlier today. Yes, she spent some of the time with family and looking around but the primary motivation for the trip is house-hunting.

As a family, we’ve decided that we have to move to England after I’ve finished my Undergraduate for various reasons. While there, my mother decided to have a look around areas more generally as well as at specific properties. Hearing some of the stories of her trip in the hours since she’s been back, I’m amazed at the accessibility and general awareness of disability differences between England and South Africa.

Public Transport

The brief period of time that I spent in London a couple of years ago really opened my eyes to how accessible Public Transport could be for disabled people. Not once was there a bus, train, or taxi that I couldn’t use. Although I did not spend my time exclusively in London, London was the place where I used Public Transport the most.

Cape Town, in contrast with London, is largely unaware of its disabled population on the Public Transport Front. While one could argue South Africa’s awareness is somewhat justified given its past, it was refreshing to be in a place where accessing the city was possible (not to mention easy and affordable).

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Tables, Lights, Doors: My Other Nemeses

Hey guys,

Sorry for the late post today but, hey, it’s been one of those weeks (well, months). For those of you who’ve been reading the blog relatively regularly recently will know that I recently highlighted the latent discriminatory nature of the table-legs of a certain type of café table. I think it is time, though, that I bring up a similar, related issue: the height of certain appliances/counters that make life that much more difficult for those of us in wheelchairs. Namely, there are three things, in particular, I have a grudge against Table/Counter Height, Light Switches, and Self-Closing Doors.

Table Height

I had this problem recently when I went to see The Tale of Irma Vep at the Theatre on The Bay a couple of weeks ago. Before the show started I wanted to order a coffee while I waited for people to shuffle their way into the theatre before I took my seat in the customary empty space they leave available for wheelchairs. The problem with this plan of ‘world coffee domination’ was by the time I got to the Coffee Counter I found that to the barista I must have looked like a disembodied head as the counter itself came up to my neck height.

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The Mountain University, Student Antics, ‘Lifts’

So, as my UCT readers will know, the Semester started today. Yay… for now. It’s day one but in the few hours I’ve been on campus I’ve had to brush the cobwebs off of the Student Files stored somewhere very, very deep in my brain and actually engage.

I can see that, as the week continues, I have to actually have to sit up and pay attention. In between classes and the customary curriculum changes, I was struck by the fact that I am once again walking from the extreme ends of campus – not because that’s where my venues are but because that is where the accessible routes are located.

Why is it that the accessible routes are the most convoluted and hidden on campus?

I’m sure it is largely due to the fact that UCT is built on a mountain and built at a time when Disabled People were largely unseen and unheard. That said, the fact that I’m often walking far more than my non-disabled friends is somewhat ironic.

The ‘mountain build’ means that, of the buildings that are relatively accessible, it often involves one or more lifts. If you’ve been reading some of my other posts then you’d know that the UCT Lift Situation is… risky. 

I thought today would go according to plan and the lifts would be working the way you’d expect. They did. At the same time, though, I was reminded that the lifts are on a tenuous, thin lifeline. L50 (my best inanimate friend), for example, decided to clunk loudly enough halfway up the shaft that for a moment I had a serious concern that I’d be trapped in it… again.

Don’t get me wrong, I love what I’m studying but it’s times like lifts breaking down that I’m reminded that society, more often than not, allows those with physical problems to participate in it only as second-class citizens. Something as simple as a placement of a ramp or a lift’s operation speaks volumes. 

So, Why the Wheelchair?

I think it’s time I tell you why I’m in a wheelchair even though, technically, I have the ability to ambulate. While I might be able to physically create the motions which one requires for walking, I have less than zero balance on my feet. To illustrate how little balance I have something I often say to people, and I’m not exaggerating, “A brick would float before I’d be able to stand unaided.”

So, why the wheelchair?

In a word: simplicity. Yes, I can ‘walk’ in a walker but the majority of them are high-risk to use as, although the help with walking, they often do very little in the way of supporting you. Combine the lack of support with non-existent balance and the result is not a pretty one.

Yes, I can ‘walk’ in a walker but the majority of them are high-risk to use as, although the help with walking, they often do very little in the way of supporting you. Combine the lack of support with non-existent balance and the result is not a pretty one.

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Assistance Dogs

Nota as a pup sporting the ‘Puppy in Training’ uniform

I’ve had a Golden Retriever Service Dog from Guide Dogs Association of South Africa for a number of years now and cannot stress enough the difference these furry creatures can make. While Service, Guide, and Emotional-Support dogs do so much good for those they work with, it is astonishing to me to see how some people don’t understand them/the support they offer.

While misunderstandings are becoming less frequent, they still occur on occasion – Nota (the aforementioned Golden) and I, too, have had some problems in the past on this issue (the biggest escapade we found ourselves in you can read about below in The Weaponised Pooch).

Rather than harp on the problems that arise from those misunderstandings, I want to focus more on the uses I/others have for Assistance Dogs as well as the South African Training Process.

Nota’s Primary Use:

Carrying stuff I don’t want to/can’t.

Found this Silly Goof getting the wrong idea after school one day

One of the biggest problems for me was carrying things on my back, or at all for that matter. I don’t have as great a bone density in my spine as doctors keep telling me I should so I stopped carrying as much as I used to – at one stage in high school I was carrying about 10kg (22lbs) of stuff around. Fitting within health regulations as laid down from on high (my Vet), Nota took about half of the load off of me.

Nota’s Golden nature meant that while she liked Class, she liked not working a little bit better. So, by the time we got to varsity she was chuffed to discover that the load of stuff reduced even further between the both of us.

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