Meeting With Cllr MacKay

Today I had the pleasure of meeting with Cllr James MacKay as referenced in this earlier post.

He came over to our house where we had a talk (or more he had to listen to me talking) about what it was like becoming disabled back in 2009 and how one by one all my assumptions about things like the ease of getting help or the amount of accessible buildings were slowly stripped away. Things like the struggles with applying for ESA, failing my initial Work Capability Assessment (WCA) and having to go to an appeal tribunal. The knock on effect that had when my DLA application was turned down simply because of my failing of the WCA so I had to go to appeal tribunal for that as well and the problems we faced being disabled but not being able to access any services without being in receipt of DLA. Next came a bit of talk about the NHS wheelchair service before moving onto our social services assessment (where we were refused direct payments, mainly because they couldn’t look at the interplay between my physical & mental health issues). As well as our recent Occupational Therapy assessment which had decided that because I can step out of my door I am not allowed a wheelchair ramp. Never mind that I can’t get myself and a wheelchair outside.

On that note my partner got my electric chair outside and grabbed the manual chair and we went for a roll which I think made an impression. Things that all who use wheelchairs, or even regularly push wheelchair users loathe became visible to another. Things like;

  • The camber on pavements that forces your chair to drift towards the road (if not slide into it when it’s severe) 
  • Those lowered kerbs that are so high you have to have a couple of goes at hopping up them (especially if they have a depression in front) which can leave you stuck in the road for longer than you feel safe
  • Crossings which have a lowered kerb on one side and none on the other which force you to drive along the road dangerously
  • Paths made of poorly maintained paving slabs so full of gaps and cracks your front castors or rear wheels get trapped
  • Shops with one step into them
  • Cars parked over lowered kerbs or obstructing paths
  • Drainage grates in front of lowered kerbs which trap the castors of the unsuspecting
  • No lowered kerbs at all!

We headed back home after a quick ‘tour’ with me pointing out just how hard it is to mobilise 50-200m once in a day when you don’t have the pain and fatigue so often prevalent with those who use wheelchairs (and are not those superb paralympians). We had a quick talk about Christine Miserandino’s Spoon Theory and pacing as we headed back to the house.

We finished with a bit more of a chat where we covered once more some of the pertinent areas from earlier whilst I dealt with a quick bout of sickness before moving onto what practical steps could be taken to help.

A lot of what I spoke about falls under the remit of the DWP and is national level stuff which really does need to be dealt with by MPs and similar, something punching ever so slightly above the weight of a fairly new local councillor… Still, there was plenty that could be done locally too. The DDA 1995 has been in place for 16 years now and in all that time Birmingham council has never found the time to make its pavements accessible to all of its citizens, yet I don’t see any roads that discriminate actively against drivers with disabilities. It’s sad how low down the list equal access for those with disabilities is and unless someone makes a push I think it’ll stay that way for some time to come. Shops on my local High Street have told me the reason they don’t have portable wheelchair ramps is because the council have told them they can’t – if that is true that is something that needs challenging. Cuts made by the council to Adults & Communities have a very real impact on disabled peoples ability to interact with the world (by stopping them leaving the house independently for example ) and those cuts can be fought against by local councillors. That’s just a few things off the top of my head, the list is much longer which is both a shame and an excellent opportunity for improvement.

I’m just glad to have had the opportunity to give a quick glimpse of life with a impairment to someone with some power to make their constituents’ lives better or worse. I should dearly love to be able to do the same again with other politicians in the future but time will tell on that front.

Regardless it’s time for me to get some rest so I shall sign off for now.

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