‘Do you have Cerebral Palsy?’
If you’ve had a chance to look at the About page, you’ll know that this area of the site is going to be dedicated to my own life experiences. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not yet narcissistic enough to think myself worthy of my own section, far from it; I’m your average 21 year old male: added cynicism, sarcasm and hopeless romanticism included (free of charge). However, as many of my friends can testify, my life has a habit of leading me into quite bizarre situations. I attribute this mostly to an annoying twist of fate but sometimes, undeniably, my position as a wheelchair user contributes.
Worringly, these situations occur most frequently when I use public transport. That is to say, on the occasions the ramps are working and bus drivers don’t ignore me by failing to stop. Although I’ve heard many ‘nutter on the bus’ anecdotes, my own experiences tend to make them comparable to Sunday tea with your gran. For instance, a few years ago before I left for university, my journey home was interrupted by a large man declaring to the rest the bus that he’d ‘seen me around his area’. When it transpired he lived near Hounslow whilst I live near Twickenham – I knew I was in for a long ride. Things only got worse, soon he was confirming my position as his ‘best friend’ and explaining, quite logically, how he’d seen me ‘going around his head’. Certain I had never seen the man in my entire life, I got off four stops early and braved the cold! Other incidents since include a mother of two demanding I ‘do something’ to calm a lady with Down syndrome, distressed at her preferred seat being occupied – I could almost see her mind concluding: “it must take one to know one”. It’s a shame my disability telekinesis has never functioned correctly.
Considering this illustrious history, I was wearily unsurprised at the eventful nature of my bus journey to meet a friend for coffee last week. Things started out innocuously enough, that is until I heard a lady behind me state ‘…that’s ok, I’ll talk to this nice young man’. The sense of impending dread behind my smile was confirmed by her introduction:
Lady: ‘Do you have Cerebral Palsy’
Me: ‘Yes, do you?’
Let me be clear about my response; it was a result of my growing inability to stop my dry sense of humour taking over my body. I have no problem discussing my disability, I frequently joke about it with friends; it’s the only way to handle it. To my mind context and intention are the barometers between which humour and malice can be distinguished. The fact this lady had correctly analysed my condition within 2 seconds unnerved me but also proved she knew what she was talking about. Despite this, the way she interpreted two scratches on my face as a kiss before proceeding to trace it with her fingers was far from re-assuring; I only made matters worse by explaining I couldn’t keep the girls off me. Nonetheless, from there on we had a very interesting discussion, she had worked at a home for the disabled in Russia 10 years ago. Most striking were her comments about Russian and Eastern bloc attitudes to disability; the frequent public abuse, the barred windows and lack of funding for even electric wheelchairs. This got me thinking, how far have attitudes evolved (or otherwise) toward disability within those nations previously behind the iron curtain? Any thoughts or information would be greatly appreciated.
Watch this space.