When you're living with a disability, you try to focus on the positives in life. When life gives you lemons, make a gin and tonic and use the lemon as garnish. This doesn't make me a superhero, so please withhold your pandering applause as you honor my strength.
To stay true to this ethic of making the best of a bad situation, I took a good, long look at my life and found some aspects that have been noticeably improved by being bound to a wheelchair.
Since my feet stopped growing, the only reason I'd have to discard a pair of shoes would be if I'd had them for so long people started to think I was a time traveler from the past or from a hipster-y future. That's entirely possible given that my confinement to a wheelchair means shoes are just a formality. I don't use them for walking. They're basically just foot ornaments.
Given that my shoes rarely touch the pavement, instead just gliding a few inches above the ground, it takes an extremely long time for them to reach the "Hey, did you step on a landmine?" stage. So, I end up keeping them forever as my collection grows and grows to uncontrollable proportions. I know I'm not doing the stereotype of girls liking shoes any favors here, but damn it, girls like shoes, and I won't let my roller feet stop me from decorating my actual feet.
The size of my collection makes even less sense when you consider how good they still look. You'll have to carbon date my shoes because there's no way you'll guess which are the older pair by look alone. In a way, the silver lining has its own darkness: Since my shoes never show signs of wear and tear, I can't break in my assortment of Converse well enough to get that classic haggard Converse look. The one all the cool people have that makes them look like they've been stolen off the feet of a sleeping homeless person.
Where I'm from, there's a department store called Primark. I shop there mainly because they're one of the only stores for women who don't have the measurements of a stick insect. Aside from that, there's one other benefit to shopping at Primark: it is standard practice to allow wheelchair users to skip to the head of the checkout lane.
On multiple occasions I have joined the back of a queue in Primark, quite prepared to wait my turn like everybody else because I'm not an asshole, only to be practically dragged kicking and screaming to the tills. Perhaps this policy originated from disabled people trying to shoplift products using the pity garnered by a wheelchair as an invisibility cloak. That or it's just a nice gesture.
Either way, it pisses off every person in the queue because they had the misfortune of having fully functioning legs.
Primark is not alone in their positive discrimination of disabled people. The same applies to natural history museums in London. As I cruise past the countless miserable families shivering beneath umbrellas, my face lacks only the pixelated sunglasses drifting down from above onto my face to cement my Thug Life status.
Here's how awesome the privilege can get: I attended a local wrestling show once (calm down boys, I'm taken), when the building's security team locked all the toilets except for the disabled bathroom, despite the fact that alcohol has a tendency to increase the need to piss. Everyone and their trashy tattooed mum was lined up for this one pot to piss in -- that's my pot, damn it!
When I joined the back of the queue of intimidating burly men, I was happy to wait my turn. However, none of my fellow line folk could stand the sight of a disabled person being made to wait to use the facilities designed especially for them. Not only was I allowed to surpass the entire queue, but the door was also held open for me when I entered the stall, which I can do just fine because my hands aren't in wheelchairs too, but it's appreciated all the same. I came to watch some guys pretend to beat the piss out of each other, and ended up being treated like Cleopatra.
Yeah, it may not seem like that big of a deal, but the next time you head to the bathroom to evacuate a six pack, tack 10 minutes onto the waiting time, and you'll understand.
Being disabled means I don't have friends, I have "carers," since anyone who hangs out with a disabled person purely out of friendship needs a silly euphemism that artificially inflates their status to something much more heroic. There is an advantage to it beyond a title that can rapidly expand an ego: freebies and discounts.
It's difficult to hit the pedals of a car when your legs are dead. So the concessions on public transport are perfectly understandable. But if my "carer" wants to ride the train with me, they get a discount, too. This is particularly useful given the train stations' inability to provide ramps to access the service I had already paid for, instead requiring someone to annoy the staff like a petulant child until we get what we need.
If you like going to the cinema then you might want to befriend someone with a disability. In the UK those with disabilities can get their carer into the film for free, given that they can't access the film without help. It's a friends-with-benefits relationship as defined by a thrifty mother.
My personal favorite concession to date was the tickets my fiance and I bought to see a WWE wrestling show at the nearby arena. Not only did I manage to get him in for free, I also got a discount simply because I was disabled. Perhaps they thought I had been injured in a backyard wrestling accident, which would have been way cooler than a virus deciding to chow down on the tissue surrounding my brain.
If I had a pound (the money kind) for every time some random turd-bag approached me to pray for my miraculous healing, completely unwarranted and unwanted I might add, I'd have bought robotic legs by now. While well-intentioned, these people are annoying and are accomplishing nothing. I think my desire to get a little payback is perfectly justified.
Picture the scene: It's a busy Saturday afternoon in the shopping mall. As I exit a store, I'm approached by a less-jaundiced but way-creepier version of Ned Flanders, complete with wire-framed glasses perched precariously on the end of his nose. He wants to cure me of a disease I've had for six years, that the top medical researchers cannot fathom, and that no doctor can cure however experienced.
The chances of success are unbelievably shite, but like a toddler wanting to eat an entire cake, he won't take no for an answer. A clammy hand is placed on my shoulder (because who gives a shit about personal space when you think you can heal with your hands) and then he starts to murmur incomprehensibly, perhaps trying to coax the disease out of my body like a hostage negotiator.
Everyone nearby turns to stare at the spectacle -- an opportunity I use to stand up from my wheelchair, yelling "It's a miracle!" I'm disabled, but I never said I can't at least stand.
Then, I sit back down and move off as if nothing had happened.
Perhaps it's cruel to taunt someone with genuine religious beliefs. It may be that I even add fuel to their fire by pretending to be momentarily cured. But the thing is, it's funny and I don't care.
Being disabled also means being privy to a lot of self-owns. Have you ever noticed how often movement is used in English language expressions? No? Well you walked right into that one. Don't feel too bad about putting your foot in it. A biochemistry professor once really put his foot in his mouth (the metaphor version). After I answered multiple questions in a row correctly, he informed me that I was "on a roll." It's always fun to let an adversary figure out on their own the damage they've inflicted upon themselves. That slow shock of horror creeping across their face as they wonder if they're about to get fired. It's beautiful.
It's a Friday night after a long week. The bar is, unsurprisingly, crammed with people of a similar mindset, leaving only standing room. No problem for me, though. I casually lounge in my motorized armchair while even those who have managed to perch themselves on the hard, wooden bar stools glare at me wishing they, too, had an illness that confined them to a chair. Well, not really, but that thought makes me giggle.
It's not just crowded bars where I have an advantage. No one has to provide the customary "emergency chair" for me at a party when the sofas are full of vomiting punks, which probably says a lot about the type of parties I attend. Instead of having to perch on the dangerous liabilities we call white plastic chairs, I simply remain in my wheelchair. That means there's no risk of being filmed falling off a broken chair, or the footage making its way to the glorious internet for international humiliation purposes.
I've gladly never been able to sympathize with anyone complaining that the chairs at an event are uncomfortable. When I attend a live wrestling event, I know I won't lose a seat should a wrestler decide to turn a steel chair into a weapon.
For those who don't manage to grab a weaponized seat, standing is the only option. This means I get to be in the front row. How else would I see over the crowd? And that means I've exchanged sweat via high-fives with multiple wrestlers running around in funky underwear. The lesson here is that disabled people get treated like gods at wrestling shows.
Disability is crap, but that doesn't mean my life is crap. Next time you see one of us mugs, please remember that we're only as fucked up as the rest of humanity. We don't really need the extra helpful gestures ... but we sure as hell aren't going to turn them down.
Emma Steer a.k.a. "Mini," has her own blog called Diary of a Disabled Person with new posts discussing life with a disability released every Sunday. She also has a Facebook page accompanying the blog, sending out notifications with every new blog post, as well as additional content during the week (if she remembers).
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