I've always been slightly irritated by people who take no notice of a cause until it directly affects them. There's nothing like losing your kids in some sufficiently unusual way to turn the apathetic into raging crusaders. I wouldn't mind, I just get ticked off by those who berate others for their apathy.
Being a bleeding-heart do-gooder type, I've always professed empathy for those facing accessibility issues and disabilities. But I hadn't paid too much attention to what it all really meant until relatively recently, when as a result of pregnancy I developed a pretty serious accessibility issue myself. I'm fine and the baby is fine, but in a rare-ish complication I've got too much of a hormone that relaxes the pelvis for birth. My pelvis is so relaxed in fact that the ligaments can't really hold the bones in place, and even wearing a tight pelvic brace I can only walk very short distances before I'm in a whole heap of pain. Stairs, standing much, pushing stuff (supermarket trolley, vacuum etc) and carrying anything heavier than a Stephen King paperback are out, too. I've been given a temporary but sudden entry into the world of the disabled.
Now, lest it be thought I'm looking for sympathy for myself here; I'm not - this is a temporary problem which, as long as I'm careful, will fix itself up soon after giving birth, and could perhaps be said to be self-inflicted (though after resigning myself to nausea and not drinking, possible ligament issues didn't seem that big a deal). But I've been given a small insight into the lifelong issues many people face, and will be taking up accessibility as one of my pet causes.
You're constantly having to explain yourself, for one thing. I've heard of people who can walk short distances being berated for using the disability parking spots they are entitled to by bystanders who think "disabled" means "spinal injury, unable to walk at all". We recently made a short trip to Melbourne, booked before my problem became severe. I adore Melbourne's art galleries and museums, and we decided that rather than miss these, I'd use one of the wheelchairs such establishments usually have for loan.
If you've ever wanted to be given strange looks, just try walking into a museum foyer - even if that walk is a pained shuffle - then climbing into a wheelchair. Or how about leaving the wheelchair outside the door of the bathrooms whilst you go inside (I think I heard someone mutter once "pregnancy is not a disability", which I chose to ignore). And it's true - you are treated like a piece of furniture when you're in a wheelchair (unless you're getting quizzical, "what's wrong with her?" glances). No one would make eye contact with me, even when I was actually talking to them. Lifts are usually tucked out of the way, entrances off to the side, you're in everyone's way.
I felt really guilty about making use of any help I needed, even when trying to remain ambulatory. Finding it too hard to juggle taking on and off my support belt in regular toilets, I began using the accessible toilets, and got a heap of dirty looks for that as well (sometimes from women with small children who seem to think that accessible bathrooms were for their benefit - although maybe I'm guilty of snap judgements myself here). Passengers requiring special boarding assistance on the plane? Forget it, I'd hardly gotten to my feet after the announcement before the airline threw open general boarding, forcing me to wait till the stampeding line had cleared. Try hailing a taxi out the front of most airports or even shopping centres. See any seats? And if there are they're usually covered in people's shopping.
Being heavily pregnant, disability issue aside, it's still a struggle. Yes, there are a couple of free seats on the bus, but they're up the back; I shouldn't have to announce my condition or shuffle past able-bodied people, risking my safety and severe pain, to get to them whilst you pretend you don't see me, plonked in seats adorned with the sign "please vacate this seat when required by those with mobility issues".
Back in NSW, it almost seems easier to stay home than go out and deal with all this. Double decker trains means there's only a small number of seats near the door of each carriage I can use, and again they're usually full. Public transport is geared towards the needs of commuters - RPA, located less than 5km from the Sydney CBD and one of the oldest and busiest hospitals in NSW, is serviced by one infrequent and unreliable bus route. Getting in to, out of, and around supermarkets is a nightmare.
Anyway, I've had to quit work, and I'm staring down several long and uncomfortable housebound weeks. Guess I should get started on emailing some MPs. It's such an invisible issue, and for me it will go away soon. But there are a lot of people out there facing this stuff every day, and it's taken this much to open my eyes.
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