I have been physically disabled for nearly six years now, so I am still relatively new to it compared others I know. Becoming disabled was a huge learning curve for me, it happened gradually over time as my health declined, so I had the privilege to prepare myself as much as possible, for the day my body would no longer support its primary function. The truth is, no matter how much you prepare yourself, nothing quite covers the extent to which it alters your world.
Being disabled is something I am proud of, I do not hide it or shy away from the challenges it makes me face. I am a member of a diverse and growing community, a community that anyone from any walk of life could join at any point in time. We are a brilliant, vibrant, colourful, diverse, forgiving and trusting community. We try not to underestimate the kindness of strangers and we value all humans as equals, in their own unique way.
I believe that as a disabled person, I have a different perspective on life from that of the able-bodied. We have a different perception of the whole world and I personally believe those of us afflicted with disability view the world with more compassion and appreciate the most important aspects of our lives.
Disabled people come in all shapes and sizes, all religions, from all corners of the world and disabilities effect each of us differently. There is a misconception that just because you have the same disability as someone else, then you must be the same in all aspects of your condition. I could not disagree with that more! Although I am physically disabled, I am completely compos mentis, but unfortunately there are others who are not. Further still, there are those who are in fact compos mentis, but are unable to communicate at all or only minimally. Therefore, I am using my voice to speak on behalf of those who do not have one.
Disabilities do not discriminate. Nobody deserves to be disabled and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, but I have learned to live with it, learned its signs and signals and do all I can to fiercely power through the daily struggles I face.
My Experience With Discrimination
As a minority in the community, disabled people can often face discrimination, it comes in many forms.
- Buildings and establishments without accessible ramps, lifts or spaces are still a regular occurrence for me.
- Children often ask valid questions to adults when they see me in my wheelchair or see my urine bag. Nine times out of ten the adults; lie to the child, pull them away from me, tell them to be quiet or completely blank them or me.
- Disabled parking bays are commonly parked in by the able-bodied. They just want to quickly run into the store, didn’t have time to find a more appropriate parking space or were just picking up or dropping off a relative.
- Taxis and cabs refuse to take you and your wheelchair because it needs to be dismantled. If it gets damaged in the process then they are liable for those damages.
- Trains, buses and all forms of public transport are regularly unaccommodating. Late changes to the schedule, no ramps or access, broken lifts with no warning and no human assistance available, means more often than not you’re left stranded.
For six years, I have not been able to jump on public transport at last minute. I have to book assistance 24/48 hours beforehand and even then, the assistance regularly fails to make an appearance. My life must be meticulously planned around my physical needs and if those plans change last minute for whatever reason, I become stranded. My travel is not free and at times is not even subsidised. I often end up paying to get myself out of stranded situations and I have never being reimbursed by transport companies when those situations arise.
Above all, the worst and most vile disability discrimination still comes in the form of; verbal, physical, emotional and mental abuse, from an able-bodied person. When did it become acceptable for anyone to cause that much distress to another human being?
Hate Crime & Discrimination In The Community
I remember when my dear departed Great Grandparents were cruelly burgled in their nineties. Even as a child, I recall being completely outraged that someone could treat such elderly and vulnerable members of their community with such little respect.
More recently, a child I love deeply was assaulted by one of their family members. To harm an innocent child made my blood boil and I lost faith in humanity. Children learn from their environment, that makes them impressionable and vulnerable. It sickens me that some people hold that much contempt for someone so innocent.
Disability Hate Crime Attacks
I have been a victim of disability hate crime of several occasions, but three major incidents vividly stand out in my mind. The first incident occurred when I was out lunching with my mother.
Incident Number One
We were sitting in the window of a bistro in a quaint Surrey village, when a white van pulled up to the traffic lights outside. Three men were sat in the van, the bistro windows were floor to ceiling, so it was obvious that I was sitting in my wheelchair. I was also wearing arm braces and had various disability aids around me.
The young man in the passenger seat closest to the bistro, started pulling faces to mimic that of someone with Down Syndrome. He proceeded to mock me and my obvious physical disabilities, along with swearing and directing his derogatory language at me. The driver scolded the young man and drove away. I instantly felt ashamed, my reaction was to doubt myself, internalise all my sorrow and believe his vile words.
My mother supported my decision to ring Surrey Police and report the incident. They were thoroughly helpful over the phone and they promptly found and interviewed all three men from the vehicle. When the driver and passengers were questioned, they all admitted that this young man’s behaviour caused an argument inside their van, as it wasn’t the first time he had acted this way that day. The man in question did not deny his actions and apparently, was incredibly apologetic to the Police. So much so, that he was not charged with anything and I never got the formal or written apology that I had requested after his arrest. It made me lose faith in the force designed and operating to protect people like me who are vulnerable.
Incident Number Two
On this occasion I was alone and out in my wheelchair. It is so rare that I venture out alone and since this incident, I have been too scared to leave the house alone. I was on the phone to my friend Emily at the time and it was starting to get dark. I felt safer chatting with a friend during my long journey home.
I was rolling down the pavement and whilst chatting to Emily, I looked across to the other side of the road where there was no pavement. I knew I had to cross in order to get home and my only option was to wait and cross further down. As I turned back, I noticed someone tall in the distance and thought I recognised him. As his figure came closer I realised it was two people and I knew them both. If I had been able to cross the road at this point I would have done so. Due to my prior knowledge about the couple who were approaching me, I was afraid of some confrontation from the small female. She has a known aggressive, erratic and violent past, so I steered my chair as close to the curb as possible (without putting myself in danger) and warned Emily down the phone who I could see coming.
I put my head down (like that would make me invisible!). As we passed one another, the man continued his conversation and the female called me a “Fucking Crippled Cunt”. She spat at me and kicked the wheel of my wheelchair, the male laughed and they walked into a nearby block of flats. I was upset, Emily told me to turn my speed up and race home as quickly as possible. She stayed on the phone to me the whole time and really calmed me down.
Again, I called the Police who filled me with confidence, I felt assured that they could deal with the incident as Surrey Police have a zero tolerance on hate crime. The Police Officer who visited me at home said, he would visit this couple asap and turn up without warning so they couldn’t corroborate their stories – arrest them and interview them separately. After several emails over several weeks, I found out that the Police had waited three whole weeks before these people were arrested, giving them plenty of time to get their story straight! Both people denied my allegations and they were given a formal warning not the have any contact with me, if they saw me out and about they were to ignore me and walk the other way. I felt scared and utterly let down by the system, yet again.
Incident Number Three
Last summer, I had my biggest surgery to date. It had taken four years to get me to this point, I was now so desperate to have this surgery that I was almost looking forward to it. It was knowing that it was going to give me a better quality of life that excited me most.
I was admitted the day before the big operation as I am a complex patient who needed to be closely monitored. The nurses had to take me off certain medication in a controlled environment and we were so pumped up about the surgery, that we were talking about it quite openly.
It became clear, that the female from the previous incident had been stalking me, my family and closest friends online. She knew where I was, she knew I was having surgery and knew just how vulnerable I was. I came offline once I became aware of this and shut down my social media, all accept one. This woman had been keeping such a close eye on me, that she had found my private social media account. She persistently made various fake profiles in order to contact me.
Suddenly, threats started to appear in my inbox. They started with “I’m going to kill you, Anthony, your family – cripples like you should be killed” et cetera. They then escalated to, “I’m coming to the hospital, I know where you are, I am coming to kill you, you crippled cunt.” It was roughly midnight by this point and I was in a huge panic. I informed the nursing staff and they called the Police and adult social services. I was put under watch by the Police and social services whilst on the ward and in theatre. Hospital security had guards at my ward entrance (as it was an open ward), all visitors had to sign in and out and I was always within site of a member of security staff.
These disgusting messages and threats carried on the whole time I was in hospital, after I returned home from hospital and then for a few weeks on and off afterwards. I had to call 999 on three separate occasions due to the escalation of threats and fear for my life. The woman in question was arrested and I did some digging online. I found her social media ID which matched her personal social profile online. Despite the overwhelming evidence against said woman, the Police informed me that unless she physically carried out these acts she was threatening me with, there wasn’t anything they could do.
I literally gave up. I wanted the ground to swallow me whole. I was being made to feel like I was making a fuss over nothing. Keep in mind, that this same woman had previously (physically, verbally, emotionally and mentally) attacked a few of my family members. Not only was I recovering from major abdominal surgery, fighting infection and living with my regular illnesses and disabilities, but I was now constantly in fear for my life and the lives of my family. The only support the Police offered was to put my house under 24-hour surveillance, but only if she turned up at my door.
I was broken, I just fell apart. From that moment on I have lived a life of;
- Irrational Thoughts
- In Fight or Flight
- Heightened Security
This woman is relentless; narcissistic, psychopathic, psychotic, manipulative, violent, mentally ill and a straight up liar. Criminally, I have no options left to help me, the law has not protected me, even when I was at my most vulnerable.
Narcissist – noun
a person who has an excessive interest in or admiration of themselves.
“narcissists who think the world revolves around them”
Psychopath – noun
a person suffering from chronic mental disorder with abnormal or violent social behaviour.
an unstable and aggressive person.
“playground psychopaths will gather around a fight to encourage the combatants”
Surviving Disability Hate Crime
Despite these horrific ordeals, I have learned an awful lot about myself and others during this process. I will now be working closely with Adult Social Services, Stop Hate UK, The Disability Law Service, Equality Advisory Support Service and the mental health charity MIND.
I have been asked to be a motivational speaker, to represent this proud and excelling community of disabled adults. To raise awareness of human rights, but specifically those of the disabled community. I will also address, the sheer amount of; discrimination, abuse and hate, that disabled people endure every day across the UK. To explain how the law is failing to protect the most vulnerable people in society and impress upon the amount of work these charities and organisations are forced to take on, due to lack of appropriate consequences for offenders of discrimination and disability hate crime under criminal law.
The message that I would like to make abundantly clear is, under Article Fourteen of The Human Rights Act, every human being has a right to protection from discrimination. It is not only a crime, but a physical stripping of your basic human rights. It is an absolute disgrace that in 2019, someone can strip you of your human rights and there is no criminal action taken upon the perpetrator. Abusing, discriminating and inciting hate over a vulnerable person is the lowest of the low and criminal action should be upheld.
Hate Crime is not a joke, whether it’s based on; disability, race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, it should be taken seriously and its victims should be offered much more support than is currently available.
I was raised to be a kind person, a decent citizen, not to break the law, to help those in need and those less fortunate that myself. But above all, I was taught to treat every human being as I wish to be treated and to show them respect, whether I felt they deserved it or not. I am a human being, all disabled people are human beings and we are all equal in the eyes of the law, yet that same law does not adequately protect us.– Willow Lennard