Being disabled and not being a billionaire evil genius is a shite state of affairs.

After a six year trial period, I’ve decided it’s not for me. The problem is context – context being, supposedly, everything. You see, I didn’t spec my environment; I don’t have a hollowed-out island full of boiler-suited minions, with smooth floors and rapid, spacious lifts. I have London, and it’s a fucking disgrace.

Let me tell you about my “wheel-chair”. The concept of a chair with wheels seems to perplex some people, but I’ll assume you’re not one of them. Do your knuckles drag on the ground when you walk? Are you involved in civic planning for one of London’s numerous (peculiarly autonomous) boroughs? Do you own an airline? No? OK.

It’s electric – I don’t even have the dignity of a cool titanium-framed carbon-wheeled manual chair, because my right arm has no function at all; I could propel a manual, but only in circles. So I hum along, steering the thing left-handed with a little joystick. It’s correctly called a powerchair. People call it an “electric chair”, and we laugh, or a scooter, and I correct them. If I had a pound for every time I’ve seen someone park one of those mobility scooters, hop off, extinguish their cigarette and stroll into a shop, I’d have enough money to buy a pair of American Apparel underpants.

As Alistair Cookie once said on Monsterpiece Theater: Me digress.

Where was I? Oh yes, fucking disgrace. Pavements full of bombholes, unending “maintenance” work, people wandering slack-jawed, their faces and minds buried in text – on my way c u in 5 lol. Bikes and dogs’ eggs, always dumped right in the middle of the pavement. And then…

In every street there’ll be one junction where the kerbs aren’t lowered. Or my favourite variation – it’s lowered on one side but not the other. How does that happen? Are the two sides of the road in different boroughs? Did the budget run out just there? So I have to venture out into the road and find the next place where I can clunk back up onto the pavement. Fifty percent chance I’ll be going against the flow of traffic.

I have to do just that to get to my own front door. A few months back I was scuttling along my street, hugging the kerb, pulling an apologetic face at the drivers of the few cars coming the other way, and the last one, a dark blue Vauxhall Astra, swerved towards me.

Let me reiterate.

The driver. Of a car. Swerved towards a guy in a. Wheel. Chair. The driver started shouting.

“Wot the fack you doin’, you’ve got the whole fackin…” I didn’t hear the rest, I just kept going.

Since then I’ve taken to waiting at the end of the one-way stretch until there are no cars. I then buzz along full tilt, past my own front door to the first available driveway. Still, that takes a while; a car can easily appear at the far end and meet me half way. A few days ago, that car was a dark blue Astra.

We must have both performed an instant risk assessment – the type that doesn’t involve research and analysis, the type that doesn’t even really involve  the brain. And what our spines told us both to do was: Keep going. I maintained a completely blank expression and stared at him; he just looked straight ahead, and we breezed past each other.

I struggle on in my naïveté, continuing to believe that people are basically decent. Catch them on the wrong day, though, and they’ll drive a car at a guy in a wheelchair.

Painful to live in fear isn’t it? Nothing is worse than having an itch you can never scratch.

Oh I agree.

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Formerly a professional modelmaker, STEVE SPARSHOTT turned to writing after brain damage sustained in a 2003 road accident removed much of his physical function. Typing with the three middle fingers of his left hand at a blistering fifteen words per minute, he has had work printed in London literary magazine Smoke, and various academic publications have featured his design-related social criticism. He has reviewed films for Screenjabber.com and Nude Magazine, and because his life just isn't difficult enough, he's writing a memoir called Get Well Soon. He is well chuffed to have an essay called Fin in the Nervous Breakdown compilation The Beautiful Anthology.

3 responses to “Access Small Areas”

  1. British spelling: Curb, as in Your Enthusiasm, is a verb. Kerb, as in Kick him to the… is a noun.

    “Shite state of affairs” is from Trainspotting; it’s Renton’s assessment of being Scottish – “Some people hate the English, I don’t. They’re just wankers. We, on the other hand, are colonized by wankers.”

    The quote at the end is from Blade Runner. You probably knew that.

  2. Original comments:

    Comment by Matt
    2009-11-02 09:02:26

    Let me tell you something about my mother….

    Damn, Steve, this sucks. I can’t even begin to imagine the mentality of a driver who swerves towards someone in a wheelchair–who has only the use of one arm, no less. Since I quit driving and started riding a bike everywhere, I’ve noticed a lot of drivers seem to regard anything not on the road as tresspassing on their property, which they respond to with varying degrees of hostility. I’m fairly certain more than a few have tried to run me off of the road.

    Spot-on observation about the people on those mobility scooters, BTW. Around here we see people on them all the time, and it’s almost always because they suffer from “obesity.” Nevermind that getting up and actually walking their fat asses around would actually help the problem!

    Comment by Matt
    2009-11-02 10:18:39

    Crap. That should have been “not a CAR on the road.”

    Me=FAIL.

    Comment by Steve Sparshott
    2009-11-03 16:23:15

    No problem, I knew what you meant; I was quite bikey before my accident. Oh, I could start ranting about drivers, urban “planners”, most other cyclists being bungholes (I used to say “It’s just a large majority spoiling it for everybody else.”) It seems strange that to walk (or wheel) from A to B you have to keep stopping for cars. You can only use 20% of the open spaces (”roads”)- because the rest’s for cars. It’s just so fundamentally wrong.

    This attitude conflicts with my view of hippies, which is similar to Eric Cartman’s.

    Comment by Zara Potts
    2009-11-02 10:29:43

    Oh Steve. It never fails to amaze me how many assholes there are out there.
    I think though there is a correlation between guilt and rage. Often when someone does something that is wrong, they feel immediately bad about it which then for some reason turns into anger.
    “I did something stupid, you made me feel bad, now I’m angry at you for making me feel bad.”
    Or it’s entirely possible that the driver of the Astra was just a complete prick.

    Comment by Steve Sparshott
    2009-11-03 16:25:11

    Both, I reckon. Mind you, having to drive an ‘02ish Astra would infuriate anyone.

    Comment by Irene Zion
    2009-11-02 10:54:48

    Jesus, Steve,
    Can’t you get the city council or whatever on the phone and demand action?
    You should have a friend take pictures of the intersection with a high curb on one side and a lowered one on the other. Just write on the back: “And what do I do once I enter the road if I can’t actually cross it?”
    Surely someone will listen.
    I was hit by a car while rollerskating as a kid and the guy seemed mad at me for being in his way. He just left me there lying with my broken arm.
    People become something else when they are in cars. I think they become the car. And the car has a nasty attitude.
    What can we do about that?

    Comment by Steve Sparshott
    2009-11-03 16:31:42

    I can’t do the shouting-on-the-phone thing either because my voice doesn’t work. So you see if matey boy had stopped for an argument I couldn’t even have defended myself verbally.

    There is a rather good website called FixMyStreet.com, I’ve tried them but I don’t know if anything will come of it.

    OK, this guy broke a kid’s arm and drove off? Uh-huh. I don’t know where to start with that. Jesus.

    Comment by Amanda
    2009-11-02 14:34:20

    I curse and curse and curse and shake my fist and shake it and shake it and shake it…all because my city streets and laneways are riddled with horrible narrow bits, ditches and trenches, pot holes big enough to hide a fat badger, and streetcar tracks both used and defunct…while I ride my bicycle.

    Likewise, when I dodge those obstacles and nearly get creamed by cars, I curse and fist-shake the drivers who swerve *at* me and other cyclists as though we don’t belong on the road.

    Embarrassingly, I must confess, I never gave much thought to how shitty those same obstacles must be to navigate (the car-swerver in particular) if you don’t have the luxury of hopping off your bike and planting a foot in that jerk’s car door, or taking one hand off the handlebars to do the aforementioned fist-shaking, while steering safely with the other.

    So, if I am that ignorant, despite liking to believe I’m fairly empathetic and well-informed, I guess that says something about the general state of affairs…hmmm…

    Comment by Steve Sparshott
    2009-11-04 03:32:59

    I used to hoon around on a massively over-specced mountain bike, and I was a fairly competent rider in terms of both awareness of other road users and being able to leap around like an idiot avoiding obstacles. And yes, sometimes it occurred to me – lucky I was paying enough attention/fast enough/equipped with sufficiently fat tyres and compliant suspension to get out of that. Sometimes, when struggling with the top of a milk bottle, I’d wonder How’s your granny expected to open this?

    Ultimately, though, we rarely have a reason to think outside our own situation, but it seems that even people whose jobs entail doing just that usually fall a bit short.

    Sorry, I can’t form coherent sentences before 1 PM.

    Comment by Simon Smithson
    2009-11-02 15:08:15

    ‘It’s a shite state of affairs, Tommy, and all the fresh air in the world isnae gonna make any fuckin’ difference!’

    My new phrase for making it through life is ‘There’s no need to be a dick about it.’ Too many people seem to forget that, too much of the time.

    Comment by Steve Sparshott
    2009-11-04 03:45:40

    IT’SA GREAT SPEECH, AND EASIER TO REM CAPS LOCK DAMN IT

    It’s a great speech, and easier to memorise than “Choose life…” I think it was Ewan McGregor’s indignant despair that made “shite state of affairs” stick in my mind.

    Apparently some people just need to be dicks, at least on occasion.

    Comment by Jessica Anya Blau
    2009-11-02 15:51:53

    Wow. It’s like you’re living one of those reality dare-devil shows each time you leave your flat! You should get a camera, mount it on the chair one day, and let it run as you do your dangerous roll into the world every day. Would be interesting for people to “experience” it from your point of view. Bummer about the fekkin kerbs!

    Comment by Steve Sparshott
    2009-11-04 03:49:44

    I’ve thought of that! Actually I think the main revelation would be just how bumpy an ostensibly smooth pedestrian surface really is. And if I didn’t edit the footage, you’d see how very, very slow and tedious wheelchair travel is.

    Comment by Ducky
    2009-11-02 21:02:41

    People suck.

    Comment by Steve Sparshott
    2009-11-04 03:50:32

    Yes. That blows.

    Comment by D.R. Haney
    2009-11-03 14:50:48

    I’m not sure it’s a matter of catching people on the wrong day so much as catching them when they think they’re anonymous. Much “good” is only done, I’m afraid, for the sake of witnesses — including God.

    Sorry to be a bummer. I think I’m having a Nietzsche flashback.

    Comment by Steve Sparshott
    2009-11-04 03:53:16

    Especially if those witnesses are hot chicks. “Of course I ran into the burning building, it’s what anybody would have done if they thought they’d probably score with the coffee shop girls!”

    Comment by D.R. Haney
    2009-11-04 22:17:08

    Yeah. The girls working at the coffee shop in the Playboy mansion.

    Comment by Steve Sparshott
    2009-11-03 16:36:00

    Quick apology – it’s 2 AM, I’ve spent most of the day in hospital after dumping a litre of tea on myself – a very British injury! – and I need sleep. Thanks for your comments and I’ll reply to the rest tomorrow when I’m less dead.

    Comment by Zara Potts
    2009-11-03 18:45:06

    Oh my god. And the English drink their tea very hot… I hope you are okay…

    Comment by Steve Sparshott
    2009-11-04 03:55:24

    Yep, a fresh pot. Ow. Actually the burn doesn’t hurt at all, but the tape holding the dressing in place is ripping the hairs out of my thigh like a bastard.

  3. […] In 2003 he suffered a brain injury during a road accident, and now has very limited mobility, and some problems with functions we all take for granted like speaking (I know it is more complex than that. I am just stating the basics). Here is Steve in his own words: […]

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