Saturday, 1 May 2010

BADD - Flying the Red Flag of Understanding

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2010

When trying to come up with an idea for what to write about to celebrate and explore BADD (Blogging Against Disablism Day), I was a little stuck. I am lucky not to have experienced too many open acts of disablism. Those few I have had to deal with are not especially interesting and would take a writing skill greater than my own to make readable. So rather than look to the reactions of others, I have to look to myself.

What is it about my disability that makes me feel uncomfortable? There are things of which I find very difficult to admit. Things that make me feel less of a person. Things that are out of my control and really not very important in the grand scheme of things. So what if I'm going to have to rest part way through writing this to save my fingers, shoulders and neck from even greater pain? I am at least writing this.

The thing that I find hardest, though, are the reactions of other people. Several years ago I was well enough to “walk” my dog (Bullitt, a staffordshire-bull terrier cross) to the park. I can walk, but not very far without increasing pain and fatigue exponentially, so I use a mobility scooter for any distance greater than the length of a rather small garden (and this is on a good day). So my dear Bullitt (who is no longer with us) would pull ahead of me, whilst I'd trundle along behind on my scooter.

On the particular day I'm writing about, the summer sun was bright and strong. A really beautiful day. And Bullitt was very much looking forward to her walk and the resulting madness at the park just down the road. She particularly favoured frisbees, though being a bit of a psycho, she would jump and catch them to the point her gums bled. Anyway, I got on the scooter, stowing my walking stick in the bag on the back of the seat, standing up proud like a flag mast. Bullitt was already pulling more than usual, but I had to take the first section of the journey slowly as the drive-way was full of washing; mainly stuff belonging to my sister whose machine was broken.

Through the slightly damp clothes, through the gate and down the road - we were making good time. Most people were, no doubt, preparing their lunch and watching the news. Students (we lived by a university) were off for summer holiday. Everything seemed very quiet. In fact, I'm sure we made record time and you could feel Bullitt's joy as we rounded the corner to the park. I let her off the lead straight away and tossed the frisbee as far as I could.

I treasure those moments. Bullitt had to be put down a couple of years ago and it was very hard. I'd never known a dog who really truly loved me like she did. Her name, for all of you who are wondering, was originally Bullet – she was a rescue dog and the staff thought Bullet suited her speed (and, no doubt, her somewhat violent nature). My sister changed her name, though, to Bullitt...after the king of cool. So please, when you imagine her, think of the roar of a mustang and bouncing chases through American streets rather than full metal jackets etc.

After we'd finished (Bullitt would always get to a point where she was too tired to continue, but didn't want to go home, so she'd lie down on her frisbee in protest) I hooked the dog onto her lead, noting the spots of bright red blood staining her white mouth. Silly dog...we experimented with several toys and eventually found a rope-based frisbee that didn't end with cuts. Not that she ever seemed to feel them...but it certainly didn't look very pleasant. Anyway, we left the park, Bullitt no longer pulling as she wanted to have a sniff along the way back.

It was these times I found hardest. For one thing I had to be careful not to run her over as she'd stop quite abruptly in front of me. But mainly it meant that I was under the scrutiny of any pedestrians for a longer period of time. And there were several people about. Most ignored me. Most. But one didn't. And who was it? You expect some hideous youth complete with football shirt and IQ with a negative symbol in front of it. But it was a sweet little old lady.

She almost glared at me. Every single sensitive place was prodded within my brain and heart. She was obviously thinking what's a bloke in his early twenties doing on a mobility scooter? How weird he looks. What does he think is wrong with him? He should just get over it. Freak. Weirdo. Waste of space.

Now...I have been called most of those things before. I've had very similar questions asked of me. But I must specify that the little old lady said nothing. She just glared. Usually I shrink back into myself. I stare into nothingness and try to accept that people can think and act as they like and it's up to me not to rise to it. But there was something different about today. Maybe it was the summer sun. Maybe it was that Bullitt had enjoyed herself so much and I'd do anything to protect her right to a wonderful day at the park. Maybe I was just a bit grumpy. So instead of shrinking, I glared back.

Her eyes dropped and she didn't look at me again. Ha! Victory scored! I am here and I am proud. Yes, I have to use a scooter, but I am careful and conscientious. I am a good driver. And I have every right to use it. It's no business of anyone but mine why I might need to use it. And if she had a problem, she should have come and discussed it openly rather that throwing silly looks.

Even Bullitt seemed happier than usual as we returned home. She trotted through the gates and I turned around to close them after us.

I think I got as far as actually unhooking the gates before I noticed it. I don't know how it took me so long. The red was brighter, after all, than the crimson blood which stained Bullitt's black and white face. The lace almost glinted in the strong summer sun. And the light breeze made it flutter about like a flag.

I presume my sister's bra had hooked onto my walking stick as I left the house and as Bullitt was pulling so hard, I didn't notice the brief resistance. On the quiet and speedy walk to the park no one had seen us. But on the way back an innocent old lady was confronted by a blood-soaked bull terrier and a 6-foot unshaven man on a heavy duty four wheel scooter trailing a large bright red bra from the top of his walking stick like some kind of trophy. A man who then glared at her, daring her to say something about it.

I wish you all a happy Blogging Against Disablism Day and hope that this helps to teach you, as it did me, never to presume you know what someone's problem is. You never know when you might be inadvertently waving someone's underwear behind you.