IN THE WHEELCHAIR
IS IT POSSIBLE TO BE DISABLED AND SUCCESSFUL?
Growing up, I never thought that I would amount to much I mean the shock on the friends face when my parents would mention the fact that I go to mainstream school was enough, the response was always “oh my goodness that’s so good how did you pull that one off “? Of course I would be stood (or sat if we’re being literal) next to my parents in this conversation and not be acknowledged but that’s a topic for another day.
But those types of incidents alone made me feel like if someone praises me for going to school what happens when I actually do something substantial and worthwhile that isn’t just live my life. I was worried that my hard work would go unnoticed because my circumstances would undermine it.
So as a result I’ve never dealt very well with attention and sharing my passion because I didn’t want someone to remind me of my “limits”. I remember the day that Kieran came into school and gave my year a presentation on the orbit programme, one of the things he said was there will be ten of you in this room that will be entrepreneurs by the end of this year, but never in a million years did I think that I would be one of those ten.
Time passes the presentation ends he said if anyone’s interested to pick up a form and note down our contact details, so I did then there was an email that told me to submit my application by midnight that night, so I did then we’d hear back on Friday with the verdict of if we got in or not. Low and behold Friday afternoon at around 3pm I heard back and I had done it I got in. now when I tell you I screamed the house down when I read that e-mail I mean I SCREAMED the house down.
However my mother being the slight sceptic that she is thought this was all too good to be true and that there had to be a catch because these types of opportunities don’t just fall out of the sky, but this time she was wrong it had and my god was I going to throw one - hundred per - cent of my energy at it to see where I could go if I really just grabbed the bull by the horns so to speak.
I’ll spare you the details but needless to say I’ve been grabbing the bull by the horns for the past couple of months. I am beyond pleased to report it’s paid off big time. I’ve came up with my first business idea, won £1,000 at a pitching contest in front of 100 people and a panel of judges. As I am writing this piece it is t – minus eight days before I go to London to compete in the national finals for £10,000.
I want to love you and leave you with this message my people never let your “limits” define you. Always take the risk because you never know where it may lead you. Now to answer the question we began with is it possible to be disabled and successful and I’m proud to say my answer is yes, yes I think its possible.
We may have to adapt our paths to get there but we’ll get there.
Before I jump into this piece let this be a warning that what I am about to discuss with you is heavy-hearted. So, if you’re not in the mood for that type of writing or you’ve had a rough day and need a light-hearted pick me up this isn’t the piece for you. If you’re still here it means that you and I are about to have a very important and needed conversation that I hope will be somewhat educational.
I recently went on a trip to France with my family and on the drive back we had a small stopover in Torquay to break up the long trip back home. We were driving to the hotel when dad heard a loud pop underneath the car w had a flat tyre, and because the car is a Motability vehicle and I sit in the boot it means that there’s no room to carry a spare tire, as a result, every time something happens to the car we have to phone a company to come and help us. It was about 8pm at this point and we’re all feeling a bit run down and tired. My mum phones a taxi company and explains our situation the man on the phone asks if I can transfer out of my chair I can’t because it’s an electric wheelchair and on top of that I would feel very uncomfortable and anxious transferring anyway because it’s not something I ever do. After a hell of a lot of back and forth, the man on the phone eventually concludes that there are no accessible taxis’ at all so there’s nothing he can do to help us. At this point, the tow truck arrives to take the car my mum and sister get a lift to the hotel, as we couldn’t all fit in.
There I stand stranded with my dad in a small unfamiliar town that I don’t know trying to figure out how on earth to get home, a dark sky and cold breeze set in and it was at that moment I realised it was going to be a long, long night. Suddenly dad remembers there’s a bar down the street that he went to earlier and he thought the bartender might know the numbers of some other taxi companies we could phone to help us. Thirty minutes and ten taxi companies later still no one could find us a taxi someone said there was a bus but we didn’t know where the stop was to get off. Still, an hour and a half away from the hotel with no sense of direction, our only option was to wander in the pitch black and, icy cold weather cobbled streets and just hope someone, anyone could help us get home.
The feelings of desperation and vulnerability quickly grasped my dad as he ran into a random chippy at midnight and screamed: “IS ANYONE GETTING THE BUS TO PAIGNTON”.
Luckily, a girl looks at him says “yes” and then guides us to the bus station and tells us what stop to get off at. However, we still had an issue because the bus only took us halfway to the hotel. We attempt to map out how we’re going to do the other leg of the journey when the girl at the back of the bus who could hear our logistical struggles said: “ the only way for you to get back to the hotels to walk down this main road”. She notions to the picture on her brightly lit phone screen. “Go straight down when you get off and you can’t miss it”. She said reassuringly warmly almost as if her parting words were a vocal hug. Dad replies with “Ok, thank you very much” as genuine and kind as a voice could manage to muster with the prevalent underlying tone of stress.
I am the type of person who when put in a stressful situation I shut down my emotions and I get tunnel vision to the point where all I can focus on the task at hand. In this case that was getting home whereas my dad is the type of person who gets very overwhelmed very quickly when under pressure and thus likes to talk things out which is my worst nightmare because I’m more of a “shut up and let me figure this out on my own” type. My dad had stopped to rest before we continued so me being the feisty independent sod that I am decided to march on without him abandoning him at roadside frustration and focus getting the better of me. Walking down a road with cars zooming past me at sixty miles an hour I thought to my self Hannah you may be in danger and slightly terrified but you are a strong independent woman who’s doing what she has to survive and get home safe right now.” A feeling of courage and self-empowerment washed over me as I calmly and steadily got myself further down the road. My moment of self-confidence ended abruptly when dad yelled from behind me.” HANNAH WHAT ARE YOU DOING NO ONE CAN SEE YOU”. His words sounded angry and sharp but I knew that underneath it all they were words of protection.
Taking my controls out my hand he proceeds to drive the chair for a minute or two until the road is quiet. When the road had quietened down a woman in a silver car pulls over to inquire as to why a fifty-something-year-old man was driving his teenage daughter up the main road at god knows what hour. Dad explained our situation and she replied with “that’s not very safe”. Well I know that, Susan, but we don’t have a choice.
She then sends us down a path back up the road that connected to a path and that path led us to a random housing estate where we managed to find a house with lights on. An elderly man in his blue-striped pyjamas toddles out. We go through the rigmarole of the story again. With tears in my eyes and voice wobbling, I looked at the sweet poor man and stammered, “please help me” with hot fresh tears of exhaustion, desperation and vulnerability streaming down my flush pink cheeks.
That’s a right folks I hit my breaking point while standing in front of a complete stranger at his home. He was only trying to watch late-night telly bless him and here we come two stranded nomads rocking up on his doorstep. He reached out held my hand gave me a genuinely comforting smile looked at me with his kind blue eyes and said: “You’ll be ok”. He turned to dad and asked ” are you sure I can’t give you a lift, whilst signalling to a white van with his eyes. The reason we didn’t take the lift is because I’m in a wheelchair and can’t get out of it. Dad chuckles, and with his eyes smiling says, “No, it’s ok”. Then dad asks for directions then we find out we have to walk back on ourselves and start from the beginning again. “It was that bloody woman leading us the wrong way”. I said with a lack of motivation gracing my voice. Before we left the man looks at me and goes “I wish I could have one of those”. - Pointing to my chair successfully brightening the situation.
We lethargically but quite contently trekked back to the hotel with bags under our eyes and a very at least I think entertaining story under our belts.
So, Hannah what did you take away from this whole experience? I think my number one takeaway would be that society has to change for disabled people because I shouldn’t have to risk my life walking alongside cars going sixty miles per hour just to get home. Dad shouldn’t have had to phone ten different companies with no success. I shouldn’t have to fight to do things like go home that able-bodied people can do without question. I shouldn’t have to feel this compelled to write this story. We shouldn’t have to fight to be treated as equals. But we do because we know we deserve to be able to have freedom, to have independence, to have faith and know that whatever happens, we will be able to get from A to B safely and without a second thought.
There are two things I want you to take away from this piece.
One- there will always be good Samaritans that will help you when you need it most.
Two- if you came to this piece blissfully ignorant able-bodied or not I hope that your now more aware and educated on some of the struggles us disabled people can face.
IN THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA
As a little girl I used to get so excited when I saw another disabled person on the news, because they were different like me. But the older I got the more I started to thoroughly look at and understand the way that journalists covered disabled peoples’ stories.
The stories often centred on the persons’ disability and not the disabled person. These stories would focus on how severe and sad that persons’ life is in an attempt to get the viewers sympathy, don’t get me wrong I can see why. I mean THE GIRL IN THE WHEELCHAIR in big bold letters is bound to turn heads partly out of sympathy of course but also because humans are very curious creatures who are fascinated with how different people live.
What we fail to realise is that as human beings we are all adapted to survive and when you really think about it. Your “normal” isn’t like anyone else’s because we’re all different people.
Let me paint a picture for you when you come in from Work/ School you might take your shoes off first whilst someone else might pop the kettle on first.
Anyway what I’m trying to get at is no matter what your circumstances were all humans able bodied or not. So I think that the way disabled peoples stories are told needs to change and they need to start focusing on the persons’ story not their circumstance. Our stories are ones to be marvelled at and amazed by not pitied or belittled by others.
We deserve to have a platform for us to make our voices heard we are stronger together.