Hidden Disability Clarity in The Big Smoke

Sallie Humphreys

I’m sure you’ve gathered now from reading my previous blogs that the majority or my ‘positive’ disability-related experiences only occur after a stream of ‘negative’ occurrences. This may sound pessimistic but it’s the truth.

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However, following a weekend visit to London with my family, I received numerous positive responses to my disability, so this blog is a pretty happy one!

I always get a little bit anxious on the train when the ticket checks are going on, mainly because it requires me to present my Disabled Railcard. I do have a system though, and this involved passing the railcard over using my left hand so that the staff member checking the tickets can see that I obviously have a condition affecting my arms. Anyone who knows me well will realise that this is very out of character; I rely on my right arm (Big Arm) for virtually everything I do, and give my left arm limited responsibility, as he’s so weak and awkward! This normally seems to do the trick though, and I’ve never been questioned. However, on Friday we were in the middle of a horrific train journey – including the train having broken down for AGES before we managed to even get out of Staffordshire. As you can imagine, my back was killing and I was having ridiculous spasms down my left side, and I just felt pretty rubbish. I felt so horrendous that I didn’t even bother with my whole routine of using Little Arm to pass over my railcard, I didn’t think I should have to physically prove my disability whilst feeling so terrible. I was mega surprised when the guy doing the ticket checking just accepted it, no questions or weird looks – but, I guess I shouldn’t be that shocked, considering that everyone with a Disabled Railcard has had to send various pieces of paperwork off for consideration before a railcard is granted necessary.

The next day, my family decided they wanted to visit Kew Gardens. It was an amazingly sunny day so I was happy to be outside topping up my tan. I saw online that they do disabled tickets with the free carer ticket so, naturally I knew I should be entitled to this – I also had my disability benefits letter with me, so I was prepared for questions. However, after checking the letter I had in my bag, I realised it showed my entitlement to ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) rather than PIP (Personal Independence Payment). I got pretty stressed out, thinking that without solid, black and white proof my disability wouldn’t be acknowledged – especially because I do not require use of a wheelchair. However, I asked for the disabled ticket along with the free of charge carer ticket for my sister, and the assistant just processed it, no questions asked AT ALL. I was stunned, and got a little bit of a buzz for having my condition acknowledged just like that – my scars were hidden and I wasn’t even wearing my splints!

That same night we were going to the theatre to see a musical for my mum’s belated birthday present – I’d booked tickets months ago, and the box office generously provided half price, accessible tickets for my mum, dad, sister and myself (I swear it’s normally the accessible rate just for one guest?!) so that was already one massive positive. After our trip to Kew Gardens (combined with the rubbish train journey the day before) my back was pretty damn terrible. I’d had a lie down and taken a load of painkillers, but nothing was easing it – my upper back pain had spread into my chest, which made breathing and moving insanely painful, and my lower back felt like it had been kicked inwards, causing stomach pain too. I’d specifically taken a new black and white dress to wear, but my pain was so severe I couldn’t even wear it, so my mum helped me change into a loose-fitting dress. I felt so unwell that I could hardly eat, and sat at the restaurant picking miserably at a salad, when all I really wanted to do was go to bed or see my chiropractor urgently! Anyway, I took some more painkillers, did a few gentle back exercises and forced myself to go – I couldn’t have missed my mum’s birthday treat, and I’d specifically booked disabled tickets, so it would look a bit suspicious if the disabled person in question just hadn’t turned up!

The theatre experience was such a positive one in terms of disability awareness, that it really helped me to enjoy the evening. Luckily, my painkillers had started to kick in, and a glass of wine really helped to relax my dodgy joints and muscles. I was just scoffing some Maltesers (the salad was crap, after all) when a mega friendly employee from the theatre came over to find me, as he knew I’d booked accessible tickets. He informed me of the help they provide and that I was able to use the disabled toilets to save me from queuing for the other toilets. He was literally so friendly and again, no questions were asked – he just respected that I had booked accessible tickets, so obviously I have a disability, even if it isn’t that visibly obvious. What an ace service.

Obviously, I was still in pain and found the weekend really exhausting – but just to have members of the public be so accepting and understanding helps more than you can imagine. I appreciate it must be difficult for them though – how do they know that someone is genuinely disabled, or whether they’re the minority that pretend to have a disability so that they can scam the system? My sister and I came up with an idea that everyone in receipt of DLA or PIP should be registered on an online system and provided with a code which could be used when booking disabled or accessible tickets. This would ensure that no-one has to be expected to disclose details of their condition, because a code would be used to confirm their eligibility for disabled tickets. It’s also much more straightforward and ensures that the right people are receiving such tickets. Is there such a thing?!

 

I’m off to London again tomorrow for hospital treatment, let’s hope it’s all just as positive!

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