Being stuck in a lot, I tend to try and read as much as I can and scour all social media to try and fill some of the time (not just because I’m a nosey mare!) so when I read about Anne Wafula Strike MBE, the Paralympic athlete who had to wet herself on the train because the disabled toilet was broken, I was really shocked but at the same time, not surprised.
Even before I became disabled, I wasn’t a big fan of public transport at all, I was a real ‘jump in the car and go’ kinda gal but now, it’s become a bit of a ‘no no’ in my book. The buses are supposed to be accessible but they don’t all have dropped floors and trying to manoeuvre my chair into the right position is a bit tricky when you’re surrounded by people, their carrier bags, their kiddies and no one wants to move. I even got told off once cos I was facing the wrong way! Really? Apparently sitting forward like everyone else isn’t the way for us wheelies, we have to face the back……..
So when it comes to the trains, I must confess I’ve been too scared to even try it. Having done my usual Googling for info, when they started on about “phoning in advance” and giving “at least” 24 hrs notice for assistance, it sounded like so much hassle that I’ve virtually crossed it off my ‘to do’ list. I have taken the plunge and gone abroad on a plane with my chair and whilst that was completely terrifying, at least there was someone there at the airport who was responsible for you, knew you were there and made sure that you were looked after. The train thing sounds like you can turn up at the station but they might not have a ramp, there might not be anyone around to help you, there might not be someone at the other end to get you off and once I’d heard about the ‘can’t get to the toilet’ debacle, there is no way on earth I could be tempted to even try it.
Now, I’m well known to my nearest and dearest to have what they charmingly describe as “a bladder like a bull” so I’m lucky in the respect that I usually can ‘hold on’ until I get home but I too have had major issues in the ‘toilet’ area recently. Only last week, as I was out with friends, I was informed that there were no accessible toilets there and even with my fabulous bladder, I had to go. This then involved getting my chair to the door of the ladies, sending my friend in to check there was no one else in there, then between her and my partner, being manhandled and lifted out of my chair, on and off the loo as there were no grab rails there all with my girlfriend keeping watch to stop anyone else coming in. It was not a pleasant experience, all that fuss, embarrassment and loads of pain just so I could use the toilet. That was the end of the afternoon as all the upping and downing brought my pain right up again so back home we went and an afternoon dosed up on painkillers ensued, just because there wasn’t a bloody toilet I could use easily.
When I first saw the link about the Paralympian article on Facebook, I read the comments posted below to gauge what the general public were thinking. Thankfully, it was full of indignant outrage and people who were really angry but there were also a few people who weren’t and who wanted to know why businesses should pay to put these things in trains/shops/pubs etc. One poster in particular was really insistent that there shouldn’t be any “special measures ” for a “minority” when apparently we’re costing an inordinate amount of money compared to the use they get. I held back from commenting as she was getting a fair few people criticising her and arguing for the other side but I was intrigued more than annoyed. Why did she (and probably others) feel so vehemently that “we” were not deserving of any special treatment? She obviously didn’t have anyone in her family or friends with any disabilities or surely she would think otherwise? Mind you, it never ceases to amaze me how some people think and thinking of how differently even some of my own friends and colleagues have changed in the way they speak to or treat me why is it so surprising that total strangers and the world do too? Why would someone be so narrow minded as to begrudge people basic human rights? How would she feel if tomorrow something happened to her, her parents or someone she loved? How soon she would change her point of view if it were her mother who had to wet herself or stay outside a place because she couldn’t get in or be manhandled into a toilet?
The upshot of all this has been many other newspapers and media picking up on the story and writing similar pieces about this incident, many of them concentrating on the ‘humiliation’ that she faced. I really hope that the conclusion to this story is that people at least have more awareness of the issue surrounding it all. I know we all live in a particularly edgy time, what with the divisions caused by the Brexit vote and the Trump victory in America; people are falling out with friends and neighbours and tensions and nerves are frayed. But surely, we live in a society where this is wholly unacceptable? Is this really how we can treat people?
Something needs to change and quickly, as a society, we cannot accept this as ‘normal’, we really can’t……