Why I think Dr Phil needs to “get real” about the impact his words have on society.

“100 out of 100 relationships that involve caregiving fail.” — Dr. Phil

Dear Dr. Phil,

You claim to use the “power of television” to tell stories about real people’s lives, but on this occasion what you said was entirely false. From one psychologist (who happens to have cerebral palsy) to another, your statement was not only unprofessional, but just unnecessary. Your sensationalised words singlehandedly undermined many disabled people’s personal lives as well as their self-esteem and self-worth.

As a single person with a disability, I do not know what my future holds, but I do know that if I’m ever lucky enough to have a partner, I will happily meet their needs just like they will meet mine. Love does not switch off because someone has extra care needs, nor is it conditional on someone staying well. If anything, I imagine caring can bring a special, intimate quality to the relationship. Caring for someone might bring extra demands to a relationship because of a lack of access to the right equipment, healthcare, housing or support services — but this is a social issue, not a personal one. It’s also important to define what we mean by caring as this can look very different for one couple to the next.

I’m not suggesting that a relationship involving care is easy for either party but I struggle with his definite view that they will fail 100 times out of a 100. A (potentially) harder relationship does not mean it’s impossible — and all relationships have challenges and require hard work. So why does caring for someone automatically equate to failure over any of the other stressors couples often face? Caregiver and partner do not have to be separate roles. You can support your partner and still maintain boundaries to ensure that you still meet the “expectations” of a relationship.

What about if your partner breaks their leg or gets the flu — should you just file for divorce immediately? I know I’m being flippant, but words are powerful and with your platform, they gain extra power. Whether you realized it or not, through your words you are feeding into the view that those with disabilities are less likely to succeed in love and life.

Our community can already be hard enough on ourselves, so for you to feed into this view is damaging. You speak as if you have evidence-based statistics behind your words, but I have yet to see them. If you had some level of real life experience you could speak from, I would consider your point, however as you don’t, I can only say your words are nonsense. As someone who is trained in the power of words and their effect on human behavior, you should know better. We should be supporting one another and empowering one another to live life in our best way instead of making ableist assumptions.

To everyone else, care as hard as you can for the people you love and do not waste another second caring about Dr. Phil’s words.

When does accessible mean accessible?

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Our world was not created for those with disabilities. In recent years, vast improvements have been made, but realistically we as a society, still have a long way to go.

The “Social Model of Disability” proposes that it is our environment that makes us disabled and when it comes to accessibility, I can’t help but agree. People with disabilities are faced with accessibility conundrums daily and these are often very unpredictable.

I believe access to our environment could and should be made easier because not only are we faced with an ageing population who will benefit from these adjustments too, but no one is guaranteed excellent health forever.

I understand for many people, it might be hard to grasp the challenges faced by those with disabilities, because they haven’t seen these first hand or haven’t had any reason to consider these type of scenarios before. However, I wonder, how can we raise awareness of accessibility, when the very lack of accessibility, prevents us from getting out there and raising awareness in the first place?

Similarly, when someone sees us struggling to contend with our environment, this could only feed into the harmful view that our difference means we are to be pitied or we are lesser.

I can only speak from the perspective of a wheelchair user, but consider this:

  • Trying to use the accessible fire exit but it has a step down to the ramp.
  • Trying to negotiate the accessible bathroom packed with boxes, high chairs and tools.
  • Trying to “fit in” as a new student but only being able to sit in the very front row of a lecture hall.
  • Trying to dodge the sandwich-boards on the pavement, cars parked on drop-down kerb or cars parked on the striped boxes of an accessible car parking space.
  • Trying to book an accessible hotel room, only to be told it can’t be guaranteed until check in. Or trying to book an accessible family room for that matter.
  • Trying to find a standard sized table in amongst high tables and booths.
  • Trying to move around the many clothing rails on a shop floor or trying to speed-dress because the accessible changing room is occupied by someone who isn’t a wheelchair user.
  • Trying to get public transport when you know the accessible space might not be available, even with pre-booked assistance. Or when that space is occupied by a pram or a bike.
  • Trying to go to a gig but you have to wait until the accessible line opens and then you can only purchase a maximum of 2 tickets.
  • Trying to hold onto your things whilst opening the door at the same time because there is no push button access or worse still, “only one step”.

Does this sound familiar to you? I’m aware the above list might sound like a list of complaints, but this article is not meant to be like that at all. Instead, I just want to paint a picture of our daily realities when accessibility is poor. Everybody has challenges in life but when these challenges can be made easier, should we not be trying to do this?

Often, these situations whilst frustrating are undeniably funny as you think “what were they thinking when they designed it this way” or “what next?” (The interesting choice of pedal bins in accessible bathrooms for instance…). But other times, sadly they make me feel useless and embarrassed.

Don’t get wrong on many, if not all of the above occasions, I have been able to rely on the kindness of a stranger to help me out. However, what if we didn’t have to? What if true accessibility was the norm? What if accessibility wasn’t something that was considered but instead it was the starting point?

Current reasonable adjustments, while helpful are often underpinned by financial constraints and they tend to adopt a “one size fits all” approach, but what if you don’t fit the typical mould?

I believe, poor accessibility feeds isolation and dehumanisation. True accessibility offers inclusion, dignity and respect. There’s no denying that getting accessibility “right” can make someone’s life extraordinarily better.

Picture a world filled with ramps, changing places toilets, audio guides, sign language visuals and ear defenders. It looks good, doesn’t it?

Getting a taxi as a wheelchair user can be taxing.

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When you need a taxi but the company can’t provide an accessible taxi, what is the solution?

Where I live in the U.K., there are two primary taxi companies. Both no longer seem to provide taxis after 10 p.m. and no one is able to pre-book an accessible taxi more than an hour in advance. While this is frustrating and inconvenient, I believe these companies are only partially at fault.

These taxi companies previously offered a comprehensive service to wheelchair users, but they did so by charging extra, a fare and a half to be precise. At that time, this was challenged by the equality commission and another local wheelchair user. They lost and were required to reduce the fare. It’s now a fare and a third.

I believe the case won because it should have, and the intention was to stop disabled people having to pay extra just because they are disabled. However, there was an unintentional side effect and consequence to this decision. Taxi drivers no longer believe it makes financial sense to offer accessible services, and so we now have inept services. Often you call only to hear the words “we don’t have any wheelchair accessible taxis out tonight.”

I remember when I first was told I was going to be charged extra for my journey, I felt confused, as I couldn’t understand how this was fair. However, I also felt I couldn’t challenge it for fear of not being able to get the service I needed. During my next taxi journeys, I spoke to the taxi drivers and asked for their thoughts. They offered many reasons as to why felt they had to charge extra:

1) They have to pay for the car adaptions themselves, the government does not subsidize them.

2) It can take extra time to support a wheelchair user into or out of the car

3) They felt the mobility component of Disabled Living Allowance / Personal Independence Payment supported the wheelchair user to pay for their taxi journeys, so they did not feel it was unjust to charge extra.

I couldn’t argue with much of their reasoning, as I did not feel the drivers deserve to be out of pocket. But it also did not sit comfortably that people with disabilities have to pay for needing more support, when this is not something we have chosen. However, where can this money come from? What might the solution be?

On a similar note, when you can’t pre-book a wheelchair accessible taxi and so have no option but to take a standard taxi, but then are reliant on others to push you in your manual wheelchair; what do you do when that taxi refuses to take you and says their car boot is too small for the chair, they are not insured to take any wheelchairs, or they have hurt their back? The reality is, it might well take longer to wait for me to enter and exit the car and the driver may lose time or another fare as a result. But again I wonder, do other wheelchair users find themselves in similar positions? What have they done? What is fair?

I don’t think it’s fair a taxi driver has to pay extra to provide an accessible vehicle or lose a possible needed fare while supporting a wheelchair user, but I equally don’t think it’s fair to limit an essential method of transport for wheelchair users, or expect a wheelchair user to fund the difference.

Addressing the Problems With Wheelchair Repair Service

Your car breaks, you get a rental car straightaway. Your wheelchair breaks, you wait for four weeks. Should wheelchair repairs be more timely? I think this answer has to be yes.

I want to start by saying it saddens me to have to write this because I never wish to criticize anyone, nor do I like to complain, especially against a service I rely on. However, the assistance I received from my wheelchair repair service was beyond poor and has left me feeling deeply disappointed that this is allowed to happen.

I have cerebral palsy and so am a full time wheelchair user. I am also a psychologist who has to get to work every day, just like everyone else. A Ph.D. student that strives to make university (despite those early lectures) just like everyone else. I want to contribute to and be a part of society, just like everyone else.

I use a powered wheelchair which allows me to get around independently. When it breaks, I am limited to the use of my manual chair which due to left-sided weakness, I can’t keep in a straight line (you can laugh, it is funny). What’s not funny though is that 48 hours later, I still have not been assessed and I still have no chair. The reason? “We aren’t paid for after hours service.” But when I do have an appointment after taking the day off work? “The engineer can’t visit because he can’t get parked.” Again I’m not angry, just sad.

I appreciate that my story is most likely a system problem rather than an issue at an individual level. I feel a strong responsibility to speak up about this so steps can be made to improve. As a person who worked for the NHS, I understand these services have to prioritize cases and often cover a very large area, but I feel some tweaks to the system are essential. Even if it started with something as simple as updating clients if there is to be a delay on their repair.

Another area to address could be increased awareness of disability for those who work on the repairs. For instance, previously when a engineer called I was asked, “how was the day center today?” Don’t get me wrong, a day center most certainly is a vital and often brilliant method of socialization for some people, but the key word there is “some.” This should not be an assumption. Again, I stress I know no harm was meant; he was just trying to be friendly. But a little more understanding of the diversity of his client base would be useful. Every human should be treated as you find them, disability or not. No one is lesser just because they live life differently to what you view “life” to be.

Despite these instances, my wheelchair repair service do eventually help me as needed — I just wish it wasn’t such a fight. I know they are just trying to do a job, but I’m just trying to go about my daily life. Surely some changes to the system would make life easier for all involved. Does everyone not deserve and benefit from an efficient, satisfactory service?