I came across an article recently written by Virali Modi on Slate.com outlining some of her experiences about being in a wheelchair. I know that I’ve explained why I’m in a wheelchair, how I think slightly differently as a result, and how it affects my daily living but what I don’t feel I’ve explained well enough is how my being in a wheelchair makes me feel different… in good ways and bad.
As with anything, the wheelchair has its ups and its downs. In my previous post, Just How Much Does the Wheelchair Affect my Daily Living?, I told you that the wheelchair is something I don’t consciously think about that often and that I often ‘see’ myself as standing until there is something that makes it obvious to me (like a bookshelf being too high). While all of that is true, I have become more aware of other little things that I realise behave slightly differently as a result of the chair since I published that article. Since I designed the blog to be a medium for me to express my opinions and experiences on life with a disability, I feel I should provide an update to the original article. So here goes…
1. I’m always seated
Although I’ve been disabled for my entire life, the wheelchair has only been part of my life for the past five or so years. Even when I wasn’t in a wheelchair, though, the nature of how I ‘walked’ was largely based on ‘hanging’ from my arms. In other words, I never truly stood. While I never stood properly (in the sense of weight-bearing through my feet and legs) I was still verticle.
Now some years down the line of being in a wheelchair, I still find myself using words like ‘walking’ or ‘standing’ when referring to what I’m doing. It’s just part of my vocabulary and I don’t notice myself using it until the person I’m talking to has a decidedly puzzled look on their face. Once the initial confusion subsides, however, they don’t seem to mind it too much.
More and more these days, there is a growing need for political correctness – be it with respect to race, sexuality, gender, or disability. The shift from the archetypal, misogynistic, narrow-minded approach is a movement I wholeheartedly support. To support a changing paradigm, though, does not exclude you from being able to disagree with elements that develop as a result of the emerging paradigm. The use of the term ‘differently-abled,’ which is gaining popularity in the Cape Town Disabled Community if not internationally as one of the alternatives to ‘disabled,’ is something I disagree with. Before you delete the website and stop reading the blog, at least give me the next couple of minutes to outline why it is I find myself repeatedly disagreeing with the shift from ‘disabled’ to ‘differently-abled.’
While I might not agree with the term, there is a lot to be said for the ‘differently-abled’ argument. One of the strongest arguments I’ve heard in its defence, in fact, was that it acknowledges the different strengths and weaknesses in individuals, thereby highlighting what disabled individuals can do rather than what they can. The reason behind the term – as a way of highlighting what one can do as opposed to what they can’t – is something that I like about it. The problem, for me, comes primarily in the fact that while it acknowledges the strengths versus weaknesses argument, ‘differently-abled’ does not do enough to acknowledge the significant physical, emotional, and psychological limitations that a disability places on an individual just by the nature of its existence. These added limitations can be, and often are, severely limiting and disabling to the individual they effect. While I personally prefer ‘disabled’ as it does not shy away from the negatives that are natural attributes of the phenomenon, I really do appreciate the way in which ‘differently-abled’ emphasises the positive attributes of an individual. While ‘differently-abled’ might highlight the positive attributes of a person, I do not feel that the term is sufficient enough to communicate the dramatic impact of disability. For me, ‘differently-abled’ just sugar-coats disability a little too much for my taste.
If you’ve been following the blog’s Facebook page and/or the Twitter accounts, you most likely have seen my question about how we, both individually and as a society, react to illegal parking in disabled bays. Looking back and the post-history for the blog, I’ve discussed the mentality issues surround the ‘illegal parking issue’ but I don’t think I’ve adequately investigated different society’s reactions to the problem. I’m genuinely interested in how different people deal with a vehicle parked in a disabled bay illegally. At the same time, I’d like to understand what methods your society takes to combat the issue both practically and ideologically.
Leaving aside what we’ve discussed, I think it’s time I tell you how South Africa reacts to the issue as I’ve experienced it. While there are some individuals and organisations (like QASA or UCT’s Traffic Department) who do amazing work to combat the issue, something I’ve seen often at the places I visit are ridiculously low fines and/or the institutions not taking the issue seriously. Take a look at what I see as the three biggest ‘reaction problems’ I’ve experienced in South Africa:
Really low fines
OK, maybe it’s just the places I go to often but I’ve come across places who either issue fines that I think are ridiculously low by comparison to other countries. I can’t speak about anywhere else in South Africa since I’ve only lived in Cape Town but I still think it is worth pointing this out.
I don’t go everywhere in Cape Town so this might not be a complete picture of how it truly is but this is supposed to be my experiences so… yeah. A lot of the places I’ve come across, have a ‘clamp and release’ policy and the release fee is roughly between R150-R500 (the equivalent of $7-$35 or £5-£27 at the current exchange rate). I’ve heard of café bills that are larger. Surely, if the goal is preventing someone from doing this again, the fines should hurt significantly? Or am I unreasonable?
In February 2016, I started an Undergraduate Degree at the University of Cape Town in English and History. Initially, I wanted to do Law but decided to embark on my passion for Literature instead – something I’m extremely glad I did now that I think about it. While a lot of my old high school buddies spend their types in laboratories or in Finance Lectures, I choose to spend my time debating word-choice in centuries-old novels. I’m happy with what I do. It, too, is one of the few avenues in my life that can be entirely disentangled from disability. Don’t get me wrong, disability is a part of who I am but I don’t want to be dominated by it all the time.
As much as my field allows me to separate me from my physical limitations, sometimes the campus itself and the ideologies of those around me find a way, as John Keats put it, “toll me back to my sole self.” Granted, a physical disability is bound to bring with it some challenges that mean the experience is different but I don’t see how the real-world complications should be allowed to creep into my academic life. To think, though, that 150+ year old university built on a mountain must suddenly redesign itself for a relatively small portion of the population who have certain physical difficulties is naïve – particularly when you consider all the other problems South Africa must address.
Regardless of the various difficulties I have in navigating the campus, there are several groups who strive to make the academic experience as separate as possible from the disability limitations students face. For instance, since the campus bus system is not wheelchair accessible the UCT Disability Service arrange alternative, accessible transport so that I do not have to be beholden to friends and/or family to get me to my classes and my classes are taught in wheelchair-accessible venues.
As I pointed out in an earlier post, these bays do matter and it shouldn’t be used without a legitimate reason regardless of how long it is being occupied for.
As you no doubt have noticed from earlier posts, I have a particular issue with people parking in Disabled Bays illegally. While the response to the issue is usually great, there are times when the response is… less than ideal. Helped in no small part by my obsessiveness, things can get pretty heated when these issues aren’t resolved. Naturally, this causes a lot of anxiety, (un)necessary agro, etc. Luckily, a friend suggested I contact the QuadPara Association’s Whatsapp Hotline.
The hotline was released in 2014 as a way to combat ‘the problem’ and, on the whole, has been working effectively – at least when I’ve used it. While dealing with these issues is never fun, the hotline at least becomes a vehicle (pun intended) to reduce the energy, anxiety, and stress that the other methods of reporting lead to. What’s more, the hotline provides a safer medium in which to challenge this problem of illegal parking.
Please don’t crucify me for this, other ‘Parking Warriors,’ but the parking is not the issue. Frankly, if you have a real, justifiable reason for parking in a Disabled Bay I’m not too fussed. My problem comes in with the sentiment that often goes hand-in-hand with it: ‘I’m only stopping a minute’ or ‘It doesn’t matter.’
Sorry for not posting in a while but it’s been a hectic couple of weeks. VARSITY’s Sports Editor asked me to write an article on Archery and Disability for the next issue. Since it might interest you, below is a copy of the article I sent to the editor today. Hope you enjoy.
The fact of being in a wheelchair, often, makes a lot of popular, ‘traditional’ largely inaccessible to wheelchair-users without significant changes to the infrastructure of the sport. While a wheelchair limits the sports you can get involved in, archery is one of those sports where the wheelchair is largely of no consequence to your performance. The very nature of the sport renders one’s wheelchair – often a focal point for divisiveness – virtually irrelevant.
As anyone even vaguely tied to the Disabled Community, or who just has an interest, would be aware: ableism is a very real, commonly-occurring phenomenon. I just googled the definition of the word ‘Ableism’ and got a whole lot of links to dictionary definitions about how it is ‘discrimination against disabled people.’ Personally, I don’t like this definition and I have one fundamental reason: it’s too specific.
When you hear ‘discrimination’ images of demarcated seating or something similar undoubtedly appeared. While disabled people often face being discriminated against, I feel referring to Ableism as discrimination towards them is too narrow-minded. Ableism, to me, isn’t Discrimination but Misunderstanding.
I’ve often heard that Ableism can be unconscious. I agree. That said, I think that in order to truly discriminate against someone there has to be conscious of it on some level. Yes, a person’s behaviour might lead to a feeling of being discriminated against even though that wasn’t the person’s intention. Since, for me at least, discrimination has to fundamentally stem from intent one cannot have entirely positive intentions and still be seen a discriminatory. From my standpoint, then, is that discrimination can be a form of Ableism but Ableism is not a form of discrimination.
I started working with the Altitude Group since November last year. Since then, I’ve been becoming more and more aware of the policies that South Africa has (and doesn’t have) in terms of disability. Something that just dawned on me relatively recently was that, as yet, South Africa has no ‘Disability Watchdog.’ That said, I’m no expert so I’d appreciate you correcting me if I’m wrong although, sadly, I don’t think I am.
Based on what I read, in short: there is no South African equivalent of the American’s with Disabilities Act who actively enforces anti-ableism campaigns. The closest SA does have, though is the Human Rights Commission – who are too overworked to have time to deal with disability accessibility issues.
When a lift broke down (as well as the backup) in a building recently, I remember an American standing behind me saying “Well, that’s illegal” The sad part is, even if it was illegal we don’t have the resources to enforce the new policy. The sad reality is that, on the whole, South Africa doesn’t have any kind of ‘Disability Watchdog’ like those in America or in the United Kingdom.
**To my more regular readers: I know a lot of the ideas today have been mentioned before but, I think these issues bear repeating. All the same, enjoy the reading.
For those of you familiar with South Africa, you’d know our track record with regards to disability isn’t the greatest. That said, there are organisations like the Chaeli Campaign or the Altitude Group that strive to improve the lives of disabled people.
Yesterday, I found myself being taken to a school in Cape Town through work so as to help out with an introduction to ‘Disability Sensitivity Training.’ I think it went well (even if I do say so myself). I was caught relatively off-guard when work asked me to do this so a lot of the stuff I said I had to do off-the-cuff. Looking back at the hastely-sketched argument I made, some of the points I made I feel are worth repeating: my ‘3 Buzzwords on Disability in Society’ if you will.
While the nature of a person’s disability is more-or-less unique, one should be aware of the basic characteristics (for want of a better word) of the common disabilities at the very least. That said, the way disability affects a person is largely subjective. Since a person’s life is highly subjective, we should not presume that all disabled people’s needs are identical. No two people are exactly alike, why should a disability remove our individuality?
I’ve had quite an interesting experience happen to me today that I want to share with you.
As you’ll know if you’ve been ‘Keeping Up with the Diaries’, UCT and I go through an ‘on again, off again’ relationship on the Disability Front. Nothing bad happened to me today but today’s interaction reminded me that accessibility, sadly, is not something I can take for granted.
It’s the third week of the Second Semester and all tutorials are due to start this week and it’s time to start mobilizing in general: assignment deadlines are around the corner, lectures are in full-swing, and the beginning-of-semester administration is dead and gone. When I checked my timetable in Week 1 to double-check whether all my venues were indeed accessible, I found myself having to e-mail a couple of lecturers to have a couple of tutorials due to inaccessible venues. Simple right? Wrong.
Of the four courses I’m doing this Semester, two of them have resulted in tutorial problems that I can’t seem to get resolved just yet for some reason. The first course, I signed up for online like everyone else because it suited my schedule and it was in a building that I know to be accessible. The second was in a room I knew to be a problem so I requested it to be moved, as I’d done for the three semesters before. I thought that’d be the end of it for my ‘venue problems’.
Tutorial 1 for Course The First comes around on Thursday last week and I go to the building and start hunting for a room which, according to the signage and general layout of the building should be easy enough to find, after spending literally half-an-hour marching up and down the building, exploring all four floors I discovered that the specific room I was meant to be in is the one inaccessible room in a building that is otherwise largely accessible. I’m in communication with the department now to try and fix the problem and, hopefully, the fact that I missed the tutorial (of which there are only three this semester for this course). As Adrian Mole would put it: “just my luck.”