My son had his friends round, a group of 17-year-olds all just having a good time together. They included my 14-year-old and their friend in their group and the fun continued. All the youngsters were friendly and we had a few laughs, especially when my 14-year-old was playing around in my wheelchair.
Yes, messing around in my wheelchair. Not running from my disability but enjoying the bonuses of this. Not one of the groups thought of me as anything over than a father, not one of the groups ran from my disability, and not one of the groups did not join in the fun watching a 14-year-old trying to wheel himself around the garden. So here at home, with young people, my mobility issues were never noticed.
Was I invisible to them? No.
Was my disability invisible? Totally.
Why then in the open world are things so different? In the big wide world the opposite happens.
As a disabled person how often is this reality? Think carefully - how often does an able-bodied person fall over a wheelchair, get hit by a mobility scooter or fail to see a white stick?
To an able-bodied member of society, disadvantaged people are invisible. British society has an attitude to disabled people whereby they pretend we are not real - or perhaps society is as afraid of what it feels is unusual or does not match the stereotype of what is considered normal.
But what is normal? Why is having a disadvantage viewed as different? If the word itself is split, an advantage becomes clear.
The comfort factor, the familiarity of home, make the disadvantage invisible, whereas take away the environment that is safe and discrimination occurs. Or is it discrimination?
The feelings of “If I am invisible to you then I can’t be real, so I can’t need acceptance for what I am” are how I thought I saw things.
However, do people who are able-bodied or of sound mind really have that attitude? Am I really seeing people’s uncertainty and maybe even their embarrassment?
A lot of disabled people have their own attitude problems. I know I have. It is almost like having a “chip on my shoulder”, an “elephant in the room”.
I feel deprived, I am annoyed with myself for being in a scooter or wheelchair. Am I alienating myself from others rather than them treating me as invisible? Would I approach a person who is already showing signs of anger before I start? If I saw someone acting in a way that does not fit with the norm, or already showing signs of discomfort, would I be pretending they are invisible or merely avoid what could be a scene?
Am I right to maintain that to the public the disabled are invisible? I see these feelings are possibly wrong and I see that I am showing my own discrimination against more able-bodied individuals. Is my view blurred by jealousy of what I have lost?
I try to see things from a non-disabled view - it has opened my eyes to how disabled are seen, not in the employment market but in a normal situation while out and about.
I am no longer convinced that most of the time, disabled are invisible. We are viewed as “different”, people are afraid of anything different, so avoid it at all costs. We are not invisible, but, we are a situation that people will avoid rather than facing. The average person wandering around, say, the shops, is afraid of their lack of knowledge and embarrassed by the simple fact that they are not disabled - so rather than face it they run from it.
If I am correct the disabled person is in a position of power. We are not invisible, we are not hidden. We are force to be heard, a real group and one that is visible to every other person in society.
A disadvantaged person, out and about at a nature reserve, the shops, a restaurant, may be in a wheelchair, may be using a mobility scooter, they may just be hobbling along trying to ‘get there’ under their own steam. But they are real.
A disabled person is not afraid of themselves, more they are proud of the achievement they are showing. We may have our own demons to face, our own fears about the future and the ‘what if’, but by the mere fact of being seen out and about and trying we are proving that, despite the disadvantage we are living and facing that ‘elephant’, every single step of the way.