I was 40 last year. I wanted to go to Paris for the day to celebrate, along with my lover, friends and p.a.. And Eurostar advertised a special offer for wheelchair users.
I soon found out what was special about it. What was special was it cost more than youd have to pay.
They didnt provide wheelchair spaces in second class. I could have a discount on two first class tickets for me and my p.a., but it still cost more than travelling second class. And my lover and friends would have to pay full price or travel separately, which is not much of a birthday when youre spending half the day on the train.
Surely thats discrimination? I said. No, they said, its a special offer. A special offer especially for disabled people. Because we have special needs, you know. Were so special that we dont have access requirements, like everyone else.
And surely youre breaking the Advertising Standards Act? I said. Because surely a special offer is usually cheaper, not more expensive? No, they said. Its a special offer on first class travel. We dont have wheelchair spaces in second class, because there arent any emergency exits.
Now in some ways that was comforting, because international aviation regulations forbid disabled people from sitting in aisle seats or by emergency exits in case we stop non-disabled people from escaping in an emergency - were officially designated to be left to die whenever we fly. But it didnt get me any further forward with my travel plans.
So, undeterred by the thought of burning to death in the channel tunnel along with the so-called able-bodied, and completely unable to afford the special offer, eventually I said to Eurostar, I said: Okay, Ill leave my chair in the luggage rack, then we can all go second class.
So the guy says to me: I have to ask you this - are you wheelchair bound? I think youd be very hard pushed to find someone bound to a wheelchair outside of a sex club, I replied. Im sorry, could you repeat that? he said. I think youd be very hard pushed to find someone bound to a wheelchair outside of a sex club, I obliged.
He was so embarassed, I got my second class tickets after all. But its daft, isnt it? Do you really see our seatbelts and safety straps as bindings? Do you really see my wheelchair as confining, rather than liberating me?
Or do you think were so dangerous that we shouldnt be let out without being restrained? Is that why Im denied full human and civil rights?
Do you find me threatening? What is it about my chair that scares you? Do you have a problem with leather?
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