No. 1.

Preston University Campus, Harrington Building Disability Symposium

Tuesday 12th March 2024

I was dead impressed. The way the lights looked and the seats arched around all the way to the back reminded me of the American drama series, where they usually cut to a professor in a tweed jacket in a big lecture theatre but it also felt quite imposing.

“Really smart room, Ismail” I said and he gave me the thumbs up while attaching my lapel mic.

If only getting to the building had been as smooth and what was I actually doing in this modern educational facility?

I called this blog, ‘They Race Me In The Streets,’ because it’s a frantic experience in my brain trying to manoeuvre my wheelchair through streets. I am my own sat nav. I scan kerbs for correctness and dismiss paths that say you cannot go there. It takes quite a lot of focus, so it’s like a race to me and rarely a leisure paced option.

On a miserable Tuesday in March, I’d driven my wheelchair to the campus which luckily was only a ten-minute walk away from the train station. As many wheelchair users like myself can attest, taxis can be problematic even the ones meant to be made for wheelchairs.

Picture this, I’d arrived feeling pleased with myself that, despite a train delay, I was going to be early, only to be greeted by 3 or 4 black cab taxi drivers waving their arms to me and say “we only take manual chairs mate,” and another irritated wave “ramps, cannot do.” Now I know from previous taxi encounters, my chair isn’t the heaviest or the biggest, in short it’s been in those same taxis before but not this time it seems.

I did offer a brief retort of, “But this is what your cars are here for?!” But in the end, seeing as they outnumbered me in their protests, I exasperatedly said, “Well just never mind then” and followed directions in the drizzling rain to the campus.

I think personally this is a massive issue for disability. Things we seemingly have in place are not adhered to. Such as taxis turning into a “If we feel like it, we will” scenario and it’s just pot luck whether you get transport.

I don’t think it’s in the disability discrimination act as pick and choose on the day and help only if you want. Unless you have the energy to constantly lodge complaints back and forth for months with authorities then it’s the strange reality we have.

The taxi disaster began to dissolve with each new street and every student I saw walking towards the campus area. I began to get a bit giddy.

This time though, the mission that I’d chosen to accept was as the guest poet reading at the Preston campus Disability Symposium. Me! Mr Shaun Fallows from Wigan with cerebral palsy was going to be telling my stories this morning. The Internet is a massive double-edged sword but a girl named Halima who was a student on the social care course came across my website and a few poems on YouTube and sent me an invite to come along and speak.

That annoying voice in my head was trying to put me off, it kept saying, “You’ve let yourself get proper rusty so you’re gonna trip over your words or all of that part was crap miles too clumsy but it soon settled down. I smiled, looking up and noticing a room full of people making notes on what I was saying, I was giddy again and felt like for a moment I might burst into a little song, something by The Kinks or The Jam, then maybe rub my hands together like a Bond villain and cackle, “Its working! Its working.”

I was satisfied with how my stories came across. It was as I’d hoped. People gave me enthusiastic and constructive feedback and there seemed to be a lot of potential for new networking connections. On a practical level I can’t fault much really, there was a projector on hand and there was a BSL interpreter. The only things I thought of were tiny, niggly things but it's usually like that. I’d presumed there’d be a microphone and a stand but there wasn’t which to be fair I forgot to ask about. That was easily rectified with the lapel mic and actually turned out to feel easier for me than a mic stand anyway. The doors to the toilets were quite heavy to pull and would have been better with a switch at the side to make them automatic and finally, I’d have just liked a little more time in between people's presentations to chat and mingle but perhaps this was also not helped by the taxi issue. The tutor Ismail Karolia was a lovely guy. He was very accommodating and understanding about this and altered the running order so it wouldn’t be a problem it was something that bugged me more than anyone else in the end because I think it's important to be professional and show that you’re the real deal.

I’ve had a lot of situations in my life when nothing is expected of you and in a sense you’re not taken seriously. That's hard and disappointing. So opportunities when you can show otherwise seem to take on greater significance. Overall it was brilliant hearing everyone's presentations from Greg Mitten & Becca Wheble In Conversation, Georgie Horrocks Thriving In Education, Victoria Danson Crohns & Colitis Lancashire support group & Dance Performance by Divine Days Rise Up. Alongside these talks and performances afterwards, I remember going around a few stalls and chatting with people from Pukar Preston, Autism Northwest and Crohn's and Colitis Lancashire being just some of the ones that spring to mind It was very uplifting to see all types of disabilities on the front foot, connecting, not sitting back, but choosing to just be raw, honest and positive about their journeys. It made me feel a big sense of pride because, despite inevitable frustrations and isolation, all these other people too have been getting through, like me, and putting themselves out there the whole time.


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