As lockdown began to lift we saw measures being implemented to ensure physical distancing rules could be adhered to with more ease – such measures have all too frequently involved the commandeering of disabled parking spaces and accessible entrances. One way systems have rendered access either impossible or incredibly difficult for those of us with mobility issues and fatigue (having to walk around an entire building in order to access somewhere mere feet from where I started isn’t something I can do without consequence, not that it crossed anyone’s mind.) Foot operated hand-sanitiser stations and entry-systems (including one system I saw which had replaced the buttons to call a lift, I mean – come ON), while admittedly useful given the nature of the beast, are nevertheless one more form of exclusion. In blocking off disabled parking spaces to provide space for queuing outside shops and walking down streets, or to make way for tables and chairs outside bars and restaurants, society is not simply forgetting about the chronically ill and disabled community, but actively giving us a loud and proud “fuck you”. And you know what? Fuck you, too.
The sheer ignorance, selfishness, and lack of awareness demonstrated towards disabled people in the past few months has not only blown my mind, it has also shattered my heart.
When I think about all of the years I spent putting my body through absolute hell in order to attempt to be a “valuable”, “worthy”, “contributing” member of society. When I think about the effort I made to fit in, the sacrifices I made regarding my health and wellbeing just to do everything “right”, everything that was expected of me, only for this to be how the society that I tried so hard to be a part of repays me? With exclusion, lack of thought, lack of care? I will never be able to effectively articulate the hurt that I, and many others, are feeling at this moment in our history. “Betrayal” only scratches the surface.
I always knew that there was little regard for the disabled experience – you only have to sit around a table and listen to people’s views on disabled parking once to learn that – but this is on another level. This is what happens when people stop even attempting to maintain the pretence of inclusion. Because apparently that’s all it ever was – a pretence.
Now I’m not naïve, I am fully aware that we are going through an “unprecedented” time, and that changes and sacrifices need to made by all – but here’s the mind boggling thing: disabled people are not unprecedented, and yet here we are; bearing the brunt of the sacrifices across every area (access, healthcare, social care…) Disabled people have existed for as long as humans have existed; why is our right to be here not better protected? Why aren’t we being considered? Why is our current treatment reminiscent of the days when we were locked away, hidden from view, third-class citizens? If you think that’s an exaggeration then you might be part of the problem.
Disabled people are being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, and simultaneously being told that we are not welcome in the world anymore. It seems that during “unprecedented” times, we are chucked on the bottom of the pile – a precedent that has, in fact, been set throughout history.
So why am I surprised?
Well, I’m not really – but I had a naïve hope that we, as a society, might be rather better than this by now. It didn’t cross my mind that the world would become less accessible than it already was, that disabled parking would, and could, be so easily taken – I had no idea that my fellow citizens, and my government, with whom I so innocently believed I was “in this together”, cared so little for me and many like me.
True colours have been shown, and they cannot be unshown.
A fire has been lit, and it cannot be unlit.