Undoubtedly other wheelchair users can identify with this: tables in restaurants and cafés increasingly becoming inaccessible.
I don’t know how many times I’ve been to a café or the like wanting one simple thing: to sit at a table, order whatever’s on my mind, and basically be a normal café-going person relatively faceless in the crowd. Nope, no such luck for me. My evil plan fails right at step one.
Example of the ‘Central Column Love Affair’ Table
How often have you been to a café etc. to find that tables – rather than having the four legs allowing tables to stand the exact same way they have pretty much since the first table was invented – they have this ridiculous ‘central column love affair’ going on with four feet and/or a base at the bottom of this column. The table, in this new arrangement, stands by balancing on a single, central column of some kind.
As I’ve said in a few other posts on this blog, I was born with a physical disability and have spent my entire life having to use some kind of mobility device. At no point in my life have I been entirely ‘normal’ and experienced life from a ‘non-disabled perspective’. Although I’ve peppered details of what my life is like, I don’t think, I have sat down and given you a comprehensive, all-in-one explanation of how I view this topic. I plan on rectifying that now. To make this a little easier to write and, no doubt easier to read, I’m going to structure it around 3 questions.
In November last year, I started working for the Altitude Group as a Researcher. The Altitude Group’s goal is to empower disabled people within the economy and help to increase the numbers of disabled people who are active members of the South African workforce. I blogged about the work Altitude was doing some time ago here on in the Diaries – see the original post here.
I think The Altitude Group are doing a great job of trying to address the disturbingly low number of disabled people in employment in South Africa. I know that there are many, many problems facing South Africa at the moment but I am glad that, in some small way, they are addressing this issue.
Since my last post, I have helped with the administration of a couple of the Learnerships and I have become all the more convinced that the work that the Altitude Group does is fantastic and should be applauded.
In case you want to learn more, you can follow them on FaceBook or find them on Twitter.
* Disclaimer: These are my personal views on the topic and they cannot and should not be taken as being universal to everyone in the Disabled Community. *
Given that I was born with a disability, I’ve never known life any differently. It’s happening a lot less frequently now but I used to get asked by people something a long the lines of “Isn’t there a cure for it?” or “If you could, would you get rid of the disability?”. The answer to the first question is a flat out “no” given current medical science. The answer to the second, however, is a little less clear-cut. Yes, disability comes with its own challenges but, then again, it’s all I’ve known. To change that, then, would be to change everything I know about myself and the world around me and, challenges aside, I’m quite happy with my life.
This same conundrum is brought up when someone hears I’m in a wheelchair and almost reflexively jumps to “I’m sorry” type responses. Yes, I understand why you’d say this in terms of the challenges that I face on a daily basis but, at the same time, those challenges have always been a part of me, it’s all I’ve known. While it would be nice to make some things easier, they’re no harder than they’ve always been, no harder than I’ve expected them to be. Since I’ve grown up with my disability guiding the way I do things in life, my disability is not so much a hindrance that affects me as it is a defining part of my identity as a person.
‘Disabled’ v. ‘Differently-Abled’
While I’m on the topic of Disability and Identity I think it’s time for me to shed some light on the terminology and how I see/use them in case some people may take offense to the way I use certain words or phrases. Given that this is an account of my personal experiences I think it’s only fair that I use terminology, both here and throughout the blog, that reflects my personal views towards terminology etc. in the Disability World. That said, some people disagree with me on some/all of these points (and that’s fine) so please be wary of which terms you use around people. There are only three terms I want to draw your attention to (this far): ‘disabled’, ‘handicapped’, and ‘people with disabilities’.
So, as you’d know if you read the About Page, I was born with a disability and have been in a wheelchair for several years now. There’s no escaping it, Disability is a part of my life. Hell, it’s part of my identity as a person. As you’d expect it brings its own set of challenges. As real as these challenges are I am largely unaware of them on a day-to-day basis. That’s due in part to the exact nature of how my disability affects me, the people I surround myself with, and the way that I manage my life. Some environments though, help to exacerbate the harder-to-avoid challenges. University, as fun and exciting as it is, can often become an environment where ‘the differences’ become a little clearer.
High school, for me, was an environment where disability played a part, yes, but was largely unaffected by it since I went to the school where my father was teaching for several decades and the school themselves were willing to be highly adaptable to the various needs required as I got older. University, however, was a different monster for me altogether. At the University of Cape Town, by contrast, I was an unknown in a way that, for the first 18 years of my life I was wholly unaware of.
If, for some or other reason, I encountered a problem at High School all I had to do was pick up the phone and get ahold of my father who would help to fix the problem that same day or, alternatively, approach any of the academic and/or support staff (a majority of which I had known for most of my life) and they too would help. That in-depth, personal support structure I had grown up with faded away when I moved to UCT. Sure, there were support structures in place but not the same as what I had become accustomed to.
As daunting as you’d expect this pivotal transition in my life to be, without all the added problems that disability would automatically bring to the party, I’m beyond glad that this happened. Why? It taught me to become that more self-sufficient and to further realise that I am capable of handling my own problems – even in an environment where I am a stranger. That freedom that University grants a person, that undeniable sense of a new beginning, the opportunity to prove that you are becoming more and more the person you want to be is the basis of this entire blog.
I posted this rant on my Facebook Page but think it should also go here.
Yes, I understand that certain changes may take time to effect and that I cannot expect ‘all my problems to be solved with the snap of my fingers’ but I feel distressed that, because of no fault of my own, access to key buildings in my university career may well be denied to me for the remainder of my Degree.
The Beattie Lift, the only lift in the building in which the Humanities Faculty is housed, is constantly breaking down. More recently, the lift even broke down with me in it. I heard from the Disability Service a couple of days ago that the Beattie Lift is due for replacement but, due to circumstances out of their control, it will take 12-18 MONTHS FOR THE LIFT TO BE REPLACED.
Hey Guys… Me again…
In November last year, when UCT was closed due to tensions between the Fees Must Fall Protesters and the University Administration, I started working with a Disability Employment Agency in Wynberg as a Researcher. Since then, I’ve been involved in several projects with them.
Once varsity re-started a couple of weeks ago I’ve continued working for Altitude in my free time – something that, thanks to my combined academic and Altitude work coupled with my various extra-mural activities, I seem to have very little of at the moment. Mais c’est la vie je pense so, I’ll keep on keeping on.
Recently I helped them complete a recruitment drive for over 100 learners for a Services SETA Learnership starting last month. It’s been several months since I started with them and I am still amazed by the various ways in which they try and assist the Cape Town Disabled Community.
My belief in their project is, quite frankly, the primary reason that I decided to continue my work with them. Then again, the fact that a protracted time with them looks really good on my CV this early in my career sounds awesome too but that’s just a bonus.
As part of the various tasks I’ve been doing for them, I’ve written a few articles on who they are, what they do as well as what they’re cooking up in their collective heads for further community development. In between my article-writing gig with them I’ve also been managing their Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Despite my best efforts, sadly, I cannot seem to get the readership on the Facebook group to remain as high as I’d like it. Perhaps that is something to do with the fact that (a) Altitude isn’t a particularly well known agency outside of its industry and (b) their social media accounts have only been active in any real sense since the start of my time with them. I’m probably being a little impatient – a typical Aidan-type thing to do, so that’s just me I guess.
If you’re interested in having a look at what The Altitude Group gets up to check out the website here or looks them/us on Facebook and Twitter.
Bye, bye for now