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Fighting For Space

The reason I started Legless In Dublin was because I was sick of being the one person doing all of the research on access. I wanted to create a ‘Go To’ guide for access in Dublin but then it grew into something a little bigger. It became a place for me to examine how I feel disabled people are treated by non-disabled people and how it sometimes feels like we are forgotten about.

Bad access means that disabled people are left out – that is a simple fact – and when you live in a city that is mostly protected by building regulations and heritage acts, much like our disability, bad access won’t go away anytime soon.

Inclusion means consideration, as opposed to making plans and remembering as an after-thought that you should have asked someone about access. When you say “Oh, I forgot!” about access, it’s hard not to take that personally because without access, I’m not going anywhere. Or worse… it can sometimes feel like I am not welcome here. Another very simple yet crushing fact.

A few of my friends have recently discovered the almighty pain-in-the-arse that is finding accessible holiday accommodation.

They’re amazed that more places aren’t wheelchair accessible, and they’re right to be. They’re asking if there’s some sort of protocol when it comes to saving accessible rooms for people who need them if there’s a sudden rush on a holiday destination. There isn’t. It’s first come, first served, even if there is drastically less wheelchair or disabled-friendly rooms available in a town or city that mostly caters to non-disabled people.

But this isn’t a once off. In the small spaces that are allocated to us, we still have to fight.

In a big concert venue like the 3Arena, there is one wheelchair bathroom per… what? 30 or 40 other bathroom stalls. And we still have to queue for that one toilet that we can use. And taking invisible disabilities into account, you don’t want to start questioning people about their bladders and what medication they’re on. You save those question for at least the third encounter outside the wheelchair bathroom.

We make compensations. We go to that bar that plays the music we like but I have to be crushed by crowds because good access isn’t just about loos and lifts, it’s about crowd space and the heights of tables, chairs and bars. When you’re down a little bit lower then everyone, the air gets tight and people don’t see you.

People. Don’t. See. You.

This is a daily thing for disabled people. Our options for socialising are significantly lower than non-disabled people’s and we know this because we know. Take my word, we have done the fucking homework and we have experienced it in every shade.

We’ve researched events weeks in advance. We’ve rung around. We’ve emailed. We arrived to a venue to find a wheelchair toilet filled with mops and baby-changing tables. We’ve heard “this is a protected building” so many times that you wonder how so many of these ‘protected buildings’ were vacant properties up until a few months ago, falling into disrepair, with ceilings falling in and trees growing out their chimneys.

I’ve been in recently renovated restaurants, bars and gallery spaces that had the opportunity to make their spaces accessible but didn’t, simply admitting that they forgot or that protected building line is thrown about again. So when we are asked to do the research, the lack of access feels like a personal rejection.

I read this piece on loneliness within the gay community earlier today and the mention of ‘minority stress’ rang so true with me.

Being a member of a marginalized group requires extra effort. When you’re the only woman at a business meeting, or the only black guy in your college dorm, you have to think on a level that members of the majority don’t. If you stand up to your boss, or fail to, are you playing into stereotypes of women in the workplace? If you don’t ace a test, will people think it’s because of your race? Even if you don’t experience overt stigma, considering these possibilities takes its toll over time.

To leave the house requires effort. I wish I could be a bit more Beyoncé about this but this is the very honest truth about disability. Life takes effort and you know why? Because we were forgotten about. And that’s why it bugs me that people use words like heroic and inspirational to describe disabled people because it brushes over what we’re up against. We’re up against you and your feather brains.

I’m being harsh. But I hope I’m being harsh in a charming way.

I recently read Reni Eddo-Lodge’s razor-sharp book Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race and her succinct way of talking about race, and how white people are afraid of addressing their own racism, made me realise that you can only remind people so much that you are disabled. I find myself in the same cycle of saying “that’s not accessible” that I wonder if people listen at all.

Have we time to go on about virtue signalling? Oh, maybe just a paragraph.

I shouldn’t have to thank people for picking accessible venues but I know the chore of research so… thank you. You googled what I always have to Google. You’ve phoned and asked ‘is this place accessible?’ You’ve lightened my load. Thank you.  The way that my brain has been programmed to think, when I’m included, it feels like acceptance after a very long battle of proving that hey! I’m a nice person and fun to hang out with. By making a song and dance out of the fact that you’ve used Google, you’re reminding me that I’m extra work. Well, I know I’m a piece of work…

I’ll thank you but it doesn’t take back any of those nights where I’ve gone home early and cried because access wasn’t a priority. I’ll thank you but it doesn’t take back the times I’ve decided to say in rather than chime in (again) and say “Oh, that place has five flights of stairs and no lift. And their brunch is bland and overpriced”.

Over time, these things build up and other than this very blog, my job shouldn’t be to remind you that I am disabled. Perhaps it’s time that you figure out why you keep forgetting.

 

About the author

Louise Bruton

Reviewing Dublin, step by step, in terms of wheelchair accessibility. Freelance journalist and pop culture enthusiast.

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