I was thrilled to get my new wheelchair – until the abuse started
Getting a new powered wheelchair feels like picking up a new car.
When I collected my wheels two months ago, it felt like a Lamborghini. It was sleek, sexy and I couldn’t wait to take it for a spin after the horror of my old powerchair.
My old, powered wheelchair had run its course – the suspension was broken, the leg-rest was stuck on with superglue, and the battery died after an hour’s use. It was a nightmare, and I cursed using it. It was not only awful – it was dangerous.
I fundraised for a new powerchair via GoFundMe across my social media platforms because my local services are a postcode lottery. If you are an ambulatory wheelchair user like I am, you do not get the powerchair you need, therefore, I would not have got all the functions I required. My powerchair cost £13000 and I raised it in three months.
So, when my new chair arrived, I was so excited and wanted to show the world – but in my excitement, I forgot that the world isn’t always kind to wheelchair users.
In the same week, I dealt with four unpleasant, dehumanising, ableist experiences.
I have used a wheelchair on and off since I was thirteen, but I have been a full-time user for the last eight years. I have always experienced ableism – from micro-aggressions such as shop assistants talking to my partner instead of me or basic inaccessibility, however, nothing has been quite as bad as this week.
While shopping with my boyfriend, Tom, in Liverpool city centre, a month ago a group of older teenagers started singing ‘they see me rollin’ as they walked by us.
My non-disabled boyfriend immediately made eye contact with them and stared them down. They laughed amongst themselves and walked off. I was frustrated and annoyed, I felt alienated and upset but tried to not let it play on my mind.
We carried on shopping, desperate to put the ableism out of my mind, then decided to head for food.
As we made our way to our destination, a group of five lads in their late teens to early twenties were loitering. As soon as they saw me, they pulled their hoods up, covered their mouths as if not to be identified and started shouting ‘Timmy,’ multiple times.
I knew exactly what they meant because my nephew had told me about a wheelchair user in the show South Park. My heart sank, I felt sick, and wanted the ground to swallow me up.
My boyfriend took my hand and shook his head at them. I’m not going to lie, I was scared.
I was simply existing, but they didn’t stop shouting at me until I was out of sight. I squeezed Tom’s hand and didn’t let go until we got to our table. Then, when I knew we were safely away from them, I cried. The whole experience was horrible.
I had never felt so humiliated, anxious, or threatened for simply being me.
The combination of having two ableist interactions in one day made me feel othered. Tom hugged me and reassured me that everything would be okay, but my day was ruined. My boyfriend said all the right things and was being as lovely as ever but I couldn’t stop thinking of why I had been targeted for being different.
Except, my pain wasn’t over.
I have noticed an increase in ableist abuse, and it scares me
Later that week, while attending my boyfriend’s triathlon, I was on my own. As I was wheeling along a busy path near the funfair in Southport, a man who couldn’t have been more than 20 called me a ‘r****d’.
I was so taken aback, that I stared at him in disbelief, he and his friend then proceeded with the same ‘Timmy’ chants.
I continued to meet my family in total shock, and they could tell by my face that I wasn’t OK. My mother-in-law went looking for the people in question but couldn’t find them.
In shock, I sat in silence for quite some time as I hadn’t been called that word since I was a child – and certainly not by a random stranger in the street.
At the theatre a few days later, an older man almost fell on top of me when he turned around too quickly. When he apologised, he not only stroked my arm, but also my cheek. I am a 36-year-old woman and I felt incredibly patronised and uncomfortable.
He would never have stroked the cheek of another adult if they hadn’t been a wheelchair user, so why me?
When these incidents occurred I didn’t inform the police because I didn’t think that they would take them seriously. I had too little information and I worried that ableist incidents like this would be overlooked.
I have noticed an increase in ableist abuse, and it scares me. I think people believe they can get away with shouting things in the street without consequence, and that young groups of men can hide in their gangs.
It’s not big, and it’s not clever. We need much more education around disability, we need the government and law enforcement to take ableist harassment seriously, and ultimately we need disabled people to feel safe when they go out.
It makes me fearful of going out alone. I don’t want to be shouted at in the street, I don’t want to be called names or laughed at for using wheels instead of legs.
I want to experience my new powerchair, and live my life without fear. I don’t want to be scared that certain members of society will ruin my day, just because I am ‘different’.
I shouldn’t feel like I have to hide.
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