A few months ago we showed up at a meeting, though we didn’t get to attend. There were probably a couple hundred people at the most in a large venue. I won’t go into detail to avoid passing blame or putting any particular group in a bad light or generalising. It wasn’t a meeting I was particularly excited about but went in respect of the people I care about, so I am not writing to complain about missing it.
On arriving we got told by the usher that no ‘prams’ were allowed in the venue, to which I explained – as clearly it wasn’t obvious to this usher – that it wasn’t a pram, but a wheelchair, and that my son cannot walk and therefore cannot leave it outside. I was told we’d need to sit at the back on the far left – away from the rest of our group. I left it there and agreed to sit at the back. On our way there, we stopped to chat to a friend, and were interrupted by another usher: “I’m sorry but no prams…” he trailed off at my can’t-you-see-it’s-a-wheelchair look, “Oh, it’s not a pram,” he continued and hurried off.
I went to sit right at the back, on our own away from everyone else when the third usher approached. By this time I was irritated. He gave me the same story. I told him that my son cannot walk and cannot sit on a chair, and therefore needs to be in his wheelchair.
“I’m sorry but my team leader said no prams,” he continued. “You need to go sit in the baby room with all the other mom’s with prams.”
I told him we’d actually rather leave, Damian was cringing by this point and I was done subjecting him to people disregarding his right to be included regardless of his disability. He has endured more discrimination in his fourteen years than any person should have to in a lifetime. I could have fought this, but it would have embarrassed him more. So, as we hadn’t gone in our own car and had to wait for our friends, we wandered the passages. Some people we knew came out and asked why we weren’t inside and I explained. They went to resolve it and insisted we go in, but perhaps a little stubbornly, I was no longer in the frame of heart to participate.
I understand that prams may be a safety hazard in an emergency. But Damian’s wheelchair is what legs are to the rest of us. If an adult had arrived in a wheelchair, would he/she have been made to go and sit in the toddler room too? From our position at the back of the venue I don’t see how we were a greater emergency exit risk than trying to get twenty mom’s and prams out of a small toddler room.
I wonder about the sheeplike mentality of “my team leader said no prams” and not being able to see beyond the wheels and judge the situation accordingly. I wonder about the lack of sensitivity in telling a disabled child he can’t be where everyone else is. It is 2013, we are living in an era where equality is an inherent human right documented in The Bill of Rights of our Constitution, yet daily this sort of discrimination is still rife, and perhaps this is a shout out for me again to answer the call I keep hearing – to be a voice for those who don’t have a voice of their own. And this is my small start – an appeal to every able-bodied person to be aware of the little things which may be big things to a differently-abled person. After all, how would we feel if someone told us: “Please leave your legs at the door”?