John, the saintly taxi-driver

Need a taxi, but don’t fancy being objectified today?

Better call John.
When I was living on university campus, it was a treat to hail down a taxi cab without getting scowled at. I wasn’t jumping queues or anything, it’s just many of the drivers that visited the campus were born with a grimace psychologically linked to the presence of a wheelchair. Although I know it’s not their fault they can’t control their facial expressions or emotions, they don’t make for a happy journey. So on the rare occasion when my carer and I found a scowless driver, we took down their name and number.
There was one man who took priority over the rest, and that man’s name was John. John, who drove at an average 5mph. John, who discussed news items which I’m still convinced never happened. But John was dedicated. He saw the alignment of wheelchair ramps as an art that could never be perfected. He always took the short route and never complained. Wherever we were heading, we’d phone to check where John was first. Many times he was nearby, no doubt awaiting our call. Not even John is perfect, however, and was sometimes too far away. Pushed on time, we’d be forced to resort to the taxi lineup.
After causing 90% of drivers to speed off in fear, we’d be left with someone who found the promise of money appealing enough to let us board. Now the taxi-driver scowl is an unfortunate scar to bear, but it’s actually just one symptom of their overwhelming trauma. They smell the chair before they see it. Their extra-sensitive nostril hairs retract at the smell of metal framing and leather armrests. Their eardrums burst at the meep-meep of an electric chair awakening, full-batteried and hungry.
And then they exit the cab. Witness their legs cramp up as they feel a bone crack in their back and the muscles twinging in their neck, their whole body screaming ’No, not the ramps! Stop being a hero for once in your life!’ But they’ve began and so they bravely persist. They heave the first ramp out of the boot, veins already pumping in agony. Reaching the corner of the cab, they place the ramp on the floor and take a good 10 minute rest, and boy do they need it. Their faces are red, they’re gulping in air, their eyebrows have dissolved under a hail of sweat. Still they go on.
’God!’ They pick the ramp off the floor.
’Shit!’ They drag the lightweight metal across the ground.
’Fucking wheelchairs,’ they mutter, facing the dreaded ramp extension. Finally, it’s slotted onto the side of the cab. And, finally, it’s time to get the other ramp. But before they can take another step sweat trickles down their forehead and suddenly a salty torrent gushes from their mouth at an unstoppable force, drenching the pavement and the road and their cabs and the trees until the Earth is flooded and everyone drowns.
I hope we can all find our backup Johns. Dozens of them. They are out there (and if you’re one of them, keep up the good work). As for those drivers who live in constant fear of wheelchairs, please seek help.


Ableist language

Take a second and think of somebody very stupid.

Who did you picture? George Bush? Paris Hilton? Wile E Coyote?

Ever greeted someone ’with open arms’?
People like you make me sick. Whoops, I just typed the word sick. Looks like I’m ableist too. Time to run! ’Run’, oh crap…
Words and their definitions gain and lose solidity over time. A few hundred years ago, a ’witch’ was an evil thing to be feared by adults and kids alike, while now it’s a mild insult, depending on good delivery (otherwise it can be very underwhelming). Context, bitch.
In the empirically awesome Breaking Bad Jesse Pinkman says ’bitch’ around 50 times in total, each utterance oh so sweet. I’m partial to the word among friends. The great thing about the modern definition is anyone can be a bitch, in a good or bad sense. In my opinion, calling a male a bitch holds the same weight as calling a female a bitch, since the general definition is no longer tied to the female sex. ’Life’s a bitch’ does not mean ’life’s an unpleasant woman’.
It’s the same when it comes to supposed ableist language – words and phrases that are said to damage and misrepresent the disabled community, whatever that is. Look, if you start talking to me about, say, how you’ve had a run of bad luck lately and that your words keep falling on deaf ears and that you’re seeking a blind miracle, I won’t pull you up on it (’pull you up’ could offend those who lack physical strength, right?). Why not? 1) I would hardly have noticed and 2) You didn’t offend me.
Am I seriously supposed to be offended when someone ’takes a walk’ with me? Am I expected to puke forth my identity and self-esteem whenever somebody announces they ’can’t stand the heat’? The topic gets slightly less silly (oops) when it comes to words which still hold strong association with disability. Call me a spastic in a bar and I will kick you so hard your muscles will spasm (nah, I’ll just scowl at you and shake my head… less effort). But if you were to figure out a way to call me a spastic in a manner that’s creative, cool, self-aware and ironic all at the same time, I commend you. Yeah, good luck with that one – and, please, don’t try me in a quiet cafe filled with kids and their grandmothers. Ok I will admit it’s tough to slide such a tainted word into conversation, but the point is it can be twisted like any other. It’s already been twisted once into an insult over the years – its original medical definition relates (you guessed it) to muscle spasticity.
If expressing a bad, ’mad idea’ (gathering together all the world’s fire engines and destroying them in an atomic explosion) degrades the intellectually disabled, then what about the ideas that are brilliantly mad (bobsleigh to work day, anyone?), do they somehow validate the group? Is the phrase ’break a leg’ glamourising or degrading to us folks in wheelchairs, and who’s to say? Some people with disabilities identify with the label ’crip’; are they ableist toward themselves?
I think we should be trying to knock down limiting barriers, not erecting new ones. If everyone took ableist language seriously, I think we would be even more hesitant to talk to each other, disabled or not. Sure, some people are offended by each word in the long list, I guess. I feel for those people: they can’t sit through a film, cartoon, phone call conversation or virtually anything involving at least 5 minutes of dialog without feeling degraded. Some people are sensitive to words, others can’t sleep over the thought of them and many are like me and don’t see enough reason to care. This is far from being a universal community thing.
So I’m reluctant to start reviewing my language just yet. Well, there is one word that I might consider avoiding. From now on I’m replacing ’fun’ (yes, having fun is apparently ableist) with the obvious synonym ’buttsmear’. Have a good buttsmearing day. I love me some buttsmear. I can  tell you’re up for a good bit of buttsmearing today.

Marlene Klepees: the amazing inspiration. Not.

Hey, yesterday I visited the moon. Cool, huh? I knew you’d be impressed.
What’s that? You’d like proof? Well, I took some photos. What? Where are they? I dropped them in a lake. They were nice photos, though. You could see the crevices, some dust among all the other stuff. Give me your life’s earnings and I’ll send you up on my homemade rocket tomorrow. Bring sandwiches.
Hey, Marlene Klepees used to have cerebral palsy but it disappeared overnight…
I don’t want to spend too much time discussing Marlene, the woman who preaches God cured her of cerebral palsy. I don’t know if there’s any point. I’d like to deconvert her followers, but it seems they’d believe anything if you told them God did it. I grew another toe yesterday, Glory be.
The issue is that I know Marlene is but one of many bullshitters who talk of the unbearable cruelties of {some disability/illness} and of God’s power to cure all with the click of those giant invisible fingers. I’d like to tear Marlene’s story apart sentence by sentence but 1) it just doesn’t deserve my effort and attention and 2) I’m happy that her story sucks. And I don’t mean that it’s full of hardship and emotion, I mean it sucks. All 3 versions of it.
That’s what this post is. A counterbalance to all the deluded praise that comes up when you search her name. Yo Marlene, you suck. Yeah.
Alright, we’ll analyse a tiny bit of her story because it made me laugh:

During her teenage years, Marlene suffered numerous spasms caused by muscular surgery. These attacks were sometimes so violent they left her attendants with broken bones. After one severe spasm, Marlene was left almost totally paralyzed. Her vision, along with the rest of her condition, grew progressively worse. LINK

So during my lifetime I’ve slapped an array of people, from physiotherapists to family members to school friends to carers, but a slap across the face or an elbow to the crotch is as bad as you’re going to get*. Unlike Marlene I don’t find myself locking people in UFC-worthy armlocks.
’Hey, thatwheelchairguy.’
’You know you have a screaming stranger in a crossface, right?’
’Oh, not again.’
I think God lent Marlene a portion of His unlimited super-strength, but she got so ungrateful and whiny over having cerebral palsy He took it away as punishment. That’s one thing about this disability though, one day you’re fighting off a gang of merciless spasms and then by morning you’re (almost) completely paralysed. Happens at least once a week. When spasms attack, watch your back.
It’s sad that people like Marlene have audiences to draw upon. My worst nightmare is being locked in a room with one of her fans. They’re the ones who gobble up the assumption that disability is an evil to be vanquished, unless God doesn’t want to heal you (as He doesn’t want to heal anyone except Marlene from cerebral palsy), in which case your disability was part of His plan, He’s giving you a bigger test of faith in exchange for a bigger reward in the afterlife, maybe. And don’t worry, believers, I know Marlene and friends don’t represent all people of faith, thank God.
Above all, I’d like to know who Marlene the person is, if Marlene is her real name. In my opinion, she’s either a shameless scammer who knows exactly what she’s doing and does it for donations (mentioning the same church over and over), or she’s been telling the same story so often that, over time, she’s deluded herself. So which one? For the the sake of her health, I hope it’s the former. For the sake of humanity, I’ll pretend it’s the latter.

*Please don’t fear me. I haven’t hurt anybody in, like, days.