Wheels in uproar. Last week my eyes where in disbelief at what I was reading and I wasn’t alone!
Did you hear about the ‘A Day In My Wheels Challenge’ TV presenter Lorraine Keane and 25-strong group made up of celebrities, businesspeople and politicians took part in the 24 hour challenge – Keane wanted to experience a day first-hand, the challenges wheelchair users faced.
“I’m just counting my blessings that I’m just doing it for 24 hours. It’s not going to be an easy day”.Words by Lorraine Keane
The campaign “a day in my wheels“ was started by a disabled individual, Sean O’Kelly, in an attempt to get able-￼people to understand what it’s like living with a disability where you need to use a wheelchair.
Spinal Injury Ireland then took this phrase and used it as the tagline to challenge celebrities and politicians in Ireland to get them to understand what challenges Wheelchair users face. Now, you could be thinking right about now, “oh okay that’s a nice thing to do“, on the surface possibly. But there is nothing superficial about being in a wheelchair.
For me. it strips away acceptance as a person living with a physical disability, reducing it to an isolated simulation experience. You can’t simulate being born or the transitioning into a wheelchair. We have to move away from what just looks like pity porn to acceptance.
Simulated experiences of disabilities are all to often looked at as eye-opening or powerful experiences, this cannot be achieved in just a few hours by sitting in wheelchair, wearing blackout glasses or wearing earplugs. Supposedly people gain a deeper understanding of what life with a disability truly entails. I for one, call absolute b*lls*it.
Does simulating disabilities accomplish nothing more than more unwanted and unwarranted pity or sympathy! No amounts of ‘playing’ at pretend will enlighten a person to something that has shaped my life over the past 18 years.
What It may do is make a person more aware of another person’s experiences, but what it won’t do is dig deep into the root of discriminatory issues that people with disabilities face on a daily basis. It’s more than likely going to evoke empathy or pity than seeing us as human or equals.
The way I see it if simulated activities really worked, would it not strike people into action? Would we not see a noticeable shift in ending the stigma and accessibility barriers that I/we face every day!?
You could argue that there is confusion because of the many disability awareness activities/days and not being used correctly. That enough or the right people are involved. To that, It’s probably safe to say they’re not working. Simulation is not the ideal way to transform societies way in it’s view of disability. The issue may lie with the term “awareness” (I have mentioned this in a previous article) it’s makes minority groups sound like a problem or something that needs dealing with.
However, awareness can be achieved in the right manner when it’s run by the people that it relates to.
That very ‘brief’ activity can never replace a lifetime of experiences.
My disability is a progressive muscle wasting condition, I have gone from being able to walk to having no choice but to transition into a wheelchair, my wheelchair now acts as my legs. I am still able to stand with help but the last time I experience walking was in my 30s.
Let’s reverse the rolls a little – it would be ironic of me while having a conversation with someone who walks, started saying, “I just don’t how you cope. Walking looks so hard I couldn’t do.” Of course it’s hard – for me. But for an non-disabled person it’s instinctive. So it goes without saying using a wheelchair is going to be hard for a non-disabled person. Being disabled isn’t so much challenging solely because of my physical circumstances, it’s the ‘stereotype’ that simulation that participants take from it in believing; it’s hard because of physical barriers.
This temporary glimpse into disability that these experiments provide are just that. ‘Temporary’. It’s simply impossible to fully immerse yourself in another person’s body.
By all means be as “aware” of me as you need to be. If you truly feel the need to wear my shoe ornaments by zipping up and down the street in my wheelchair. Freely discuss, dissect and analyse the experience from every which angle that suits. But move away from this pity porn, embrace the differences we are still human just wanting to exist in the world that walks around us!
Until next time. Tell me what you think?
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