The picture above shows the results when I searched disabled in Google Images. With the exception of one, every picture shows a wheelchair user. In fairness, a few of the pictures show the wheelchair user looking happy, but in general, disability is perceived as a negative thing, and purely as people using wheelchairs.
If you read my guest post on the wonderful Lette’s blog (here) you’ll know that I recently chose to use a wheelchair for the first time. The first thing I did, as everyone does, is Google, looking at other people’s first experiences of using a chair, people’s experiences in the places I wanted to visit, and if people had any tips or advice.
I was overwhelmed with negative views. People being left behind by public transport, ignored, shouted at.
I want to make clear, I am very aware that these things happen, even in the few hours I used a wheelchair that day, I experienced these. There is a massive societal problem around how people with disabilities are perceived, and that needs to change.
However, I think it’s really important that we don’t just speak about the negative experiences. For every person who is going to shout at you for parking in a disabled space, there is hopefully another who is willing to stick up for you, or offer to help. I had people get out of the lift to let me use it, move out of the way to let me see something closer. It’s important to speak about these people too. As well as telling people what not to do, celebrate the people who are helping.
And for prospective wheelchair users, it’s a scary decision to make. Again, whilst it’s important that we call out people who are being ableist, and stamp that out, we shouldn’t be making using a wheelchair any scarier for those who are trying to make that decision.
So yes, talk about the negatives, what needs to change, but celebrate the positives, how people have helped you.
What’s the most positive/helpful thing someone has done for you?