Customer service

I woke up this morning and decided that it was time to come out of hibernation; a state that I have been in for the last few weeks, brought about by Christmas indulgence. Turkey, chocolate and those good old fashioned roast chestnuts have combined to work their spell. I can feel my jeans taking the strain. Inactivity has caught up with me.

I have reached this conclusion after spending the last half an hour trying to convince myself that the jeans I have on were just tight from the wash. I have to concede defeat and admit that, yes, I have definitely expanded!

Christmas is probably the only time of year when I have a prolonged period of complete inactivity – mostly because, in connecting with family and friends, it is inevitable that I spend more time than normal indoors.

It seems to come as a shock to the general population that, as a wheelchair user, I might sometimes be anything other than inactive.

Last year I was in a hospital waiting room and the person next to me asked how I stayed so thin in a wheelchair? I didn’t know whether to be shocked or flattered by this question, I hate the fact that people assume I am inactive. It takes me twice as long to do a basic food shop because I frequently have to stop what I am doing and trek half way round the store to find someone to reach something from a shelf. At the end of this mini marathon, I am invariably seen hanging shopping bags strategically on the back of my chair. In my case three bags are the limit; any more than this and the chair will tip backwards. The result of this is, trust me, not very graceful and in my case was a painful reminder of just why the NHS wheelchair service advises not to put heavy things on the back of your wheelchair.

Over the years I have devised my own methods for carrying those difficult-to carry items that are the impractical to attach to a wheelchair. I can carry bags round my neck, leaving my hands free to propel myself.

My consultant has conjectured that these antics help explain recurring pain, stiffness, and postural problems I am experiencing of late. I have pointed out that I have tried to evolve another pair of hands – but somehow, I don’t think I have the spare time to devote to the process. At college, when I still walked with crutches, I carried folders in my mouth. Sometimes people would walk past me, stick out their hands and yell “Drop!”.

I had to give up this method some years ago to preserve expensive dental work.

I have, of late, experimented with carrying two bunches of carnations between my chin and my chest – which was fine until passers-by stopped and asked if I was ok? Having to respond resulted in losing the tenuous grip I had on my shopping.

In December, I considered designing a sign to wear about my person saying, “Please don’t talk to me, I’m coping”; thereby allaying the fears of the well-meaning, helpful masses who are fully charged with a measure or two of Christmas spirit.

Those good-old “independence skills” I had drilled into me, more than half a lifetime ago, just will not release their tentacle like grip on my psyche. I find myself almost magnetically drawn to “have a go”.

Twenty years of inclusion legislation has supposedly produced an atmosphere that fosters awareness of disability and barriers to participation.

Some weeks ago, I entered an article I had written in a competition. We only filled out the necessary basic information on the forms in my dyslexia support session. Support time was running low and the entry deadline was on the horizon. I was required to make the entry fee payment by BACS, something I had never done before.

I sat in the reception area of the Dyslexia centre and, as I looked at the form, my stubbornness reared its ugly head. Well, it was that or the constant talk of austerity and cuts to services which rekindled my maverick streak.

Cerebral palsy, visual processing problems and visual tracking difficulties were not going to get the better of me. Support worker?; who needs one of those? How hard could this be anyway?

I scanned the form and found a note, “If you have any queries call us on ….”.

When I did so, I was greeted by a very brusque voice. I explained that I wanted the details of where to send the BACS transfer to and the voice continued in a rather exasperated tone, “The email address is on the form” (it was in light grey italics, on white and I had missed it). She then asked if I still wanted the email address and continued by saying, “Send the email “care of the secretary. Everyone can spell secretary can’t they?”

I didn’t have time to argue with her by saying, “Well, in the room I am calling from, the odds are probably stacked against it”.

Am I alone in being depressed that the general public, even ostensibly professional and well-educated ones, even with almost two decades of inclusion built into social policy and even with the modern emphasis on disability awareness, appear to resolutely refuse to truly understand the issues faced by those with disabilities?

Only when this changes will such problems be properly addressed at a grass roots level.

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