I was walking at my normal slow pace with my walking stick along the pavement and a mobility scooter user (nice person) was coming the other way. I had more than enough space to change direction and move out of the nice person’s way, and started to do so, but then a nasty person who was in the process of overtaking me thrust their arm out and pushed me off the pavement into the road to make way for the nice person. The nice person apologised but the nasty person seemed to think they had done the right thing, and kept their arm there until the nice person had passed. Then the nasty person walked away, not looking back at me. I had no energy to respond to any of this and just had to stand there and then slowly make my way back on to the pavement. I was lucky that I only ended up in the bike lane and there were no bikes coming.
I felt anger and confusion and embarrassment. There is no such thing as a disability hierarchy and yet here is another able-bodied person feeling good about themselves for deciding which one of us was less capable at that point. I thought that maybe the nasty person didn’t see my stick, and thought I was being rude, and then felt defensive about their decision and decided to stick with it not apologise, but why should I be rationalising their movements? The nice person was more than capable of asking one or both of us to kindly make room for them, and they didn’t because they could see that I was in the process of turning. The nasty person could have come to the conclusion that there might be a reason why I’m walking so slowly (or could have clocked the darn walking stick), and recognised that I needed more time to move out of the way. This is a concurrent experience in my life – I need to stop letting people off for these things as that usually means that the blame shifts onto myself.
In my wider experience, the ability to walk seems to be a sign of a higher position in the fake disability hierarchy. But what if I find walking difficult? What if I’m in a lot of pain? What if I simply can’t afford a wheelchair? What if I have a changeable position and I’m okay right now but know that I’m going to crash in a minute? Another thing that comes into this is age – I am below 25 years old and this also seems to signal HEALTH to anyone and everyone who doesn’t understand that young people can be sick too.
I’m sick (pun intended) of people assuming that they know more about my condition than I do. I’m tired (pun also intended – I have M.E.) of not being allowed the space to move through the world at my own pace, in whatever way is easiest for me. As long as I am not hurting anybody else, I would like a society that refrains from hurting me.
Criminologist and Co-Director of Centre for Gender Studies at University of Sussex