Tuesday, August 05, 2008

It's Not Easy Being Green And Disabled

On the disability-themed messageboard where I spend far too much of my time, we're discussing car use. A member of the board has put forward the theory that some disabled people claim they need a car for disability-related reasons, when actually they're using this as an excuse (because transport in their area is accessible, or similar) and actually just want their car for convenience sake.

This is irritating me. There are a whole number of reasons why disabled people need cars - at least as many are there are types of impairment and ways people are affected as a result. I can only talk about my situation. But I know how much easier my car makes my life, and how it's all-but-impossible to get very far without it.

For example. I am trying to get to the British Library as much as possible in the next few weeks, because my dyspraxia means I need to start my reading list now or I'll never get through enough of it to pass my course. I live quite near to the BL, and it should be easy to get to. But since I find buses so hard to use (and I have other access issues at the library itself), and I only get a few hours of PA support a week, in order to go by bus I have actually been sacrificing showers and decent meals so I can take someone with me. This is, let's face it, ridiculous.

So I'm considering what my other alternatives are, given that parking is massively restricted around there. And all I can come up with is that I go on crutches, walk *much* further than is healthy for me between the bus stop and the library, and spend the next day (or two) in bed. This would certainly save the planet better than getting dropped off in the car by The Girl, or similar. But I don't see it as an acceptable alternative, because I need my energy for other things (like those showers and meals). Non-disabled people, who in this case could take the inaccessible tube, generally have FAR more choices about how they get to places, and they don't have to lose half the week in recovery from such a simple journey. Yes, it can be inconvenient for them too that car-driving and parking are regulated in London. But it's much more of a problem for those of us whose transport options are limited.

And then people say to me "You don't need a car in London. Transport is accessible there." And you can probably see why I get pissed off by this. I really, really do wish I could do without a car. I hate driving, and I lived perfectly well without a car for many years (and did a lot of five-mile walks, which might be partly responsible for some of my impairment now). But the complications and limited choices of transport now make it too difficult *not* to have a car as an alternative.

I used to be quite vocally 'green'. I was never a big campaigner, since my campaigning energy generally gets all used up on more immediate things, but I was good about my own use of energy. I switched off and unplugged devices. I did a lot of hand-washing, and only put very large loads of laundry in the washing machine. I barely used the central heating. I recycled absolutely everything that could be recycled. And I didn't have a car. But now, I discover that these things are really very tricky to do quite so well when you're low on energy, or have specific disability-related needs. Kate Ansell does a much better job than me at explaining why, in her Ouch article 'How Green is my Disability?', in which she pointedly says: "It's amazing how many Green organisations will scratch their head, shuffle their feet, and tell you that they have never done any work specifically on disabled people and the environment ... which is a shame because, hell, if you're anything like me, you'll really need the advice." I want to be more green. I want to recycle everything I can (but I don't always have the energy to put into separating recyclables and other waste - though I try). I want to turn off appliances more (but the last time I remembered to unplug my mobile phone charger, I fell over - but I try). And I really, really want to drive less (but another temporary PA has just told me she won't be able to carry on helping me, and the car is therefore my only way to get to a place with a pint of milk today - but I will try to stagger there on the crutches if I can face it). Green and disabled. Is it even vaguely possible?

In not-entirely-unrelated news, I'm reading Allyson Beatrice's 'Will The Vampire People Please Leave The Lobby?', a fantastic memoir of Buffy fandom (made more fun by the fact that I remember much of the online and some of the offline fandom events she describes). It was a birthday present from the wonderful Lisy. It is making me seriously miss Buffy fandom and the Bronze (our old official bulletin board for all discussion Buffy-related). These days, I mainly post two places - the BBC Ouch messageboards on the topic of disability (which can get serious and wearing), and the Ship of Fools posting boards on the topic of religion (which can get serious and wearing). Both places also have great capacity for fun and laughs. But I'm remembering the Mentally Diverse Morning Crew (TM me) and our British-and-Australia-based complete randomness, back in the days when I actually was indeed very mentally diverse, and the UK Posting Board Fan Party (I only made it to one, but have some awesome friends from it) and other fan meets, and my unbelievably in-depth two-year-long discussion with one friend about whether Angel was responsible for his crimes committed as Angelus (I was studying English and therefore had nothing better to do with my time), and all sorts of other Bronze-based fun. I had a birthday party a couple of weeks ago, and a fair number of former Bronzers turned up. This led to reminiscing about such odd things as The Time They Were On The Big Breakfast With Amber Benson, and I remembered with amusement (as Allyson points out in the book) that it's still not quite socially acceptable to explain at parties that you met through a internet board that discussed a TV programme about vampires...

So, as great as it is to have two online posting boards that I completely love, it's just not quite the same as when everyone *just got it* at the Bronze. As much as I love all science fiction and fantasy telly, nothing else has inspired the same levels of fandom discussion and friendship, either for me or for lots of others among those old BtVS fans. Lisy mentioned yesterday that there's a new Joss Whedon show on the way soon (with Eliza, no less). Maybe that, or something similar, will bring us or other like-minded cult/sci-fi/fantasy fans together in a similar way. Or maybe it won't, and I'll keep on using the net to have deep, slightly irritated thoughts about the social model, and process theology, and the nature of the disabled community, and why churches aren't more welcoming to people who are different from the norm, and why on God's earth shouldn't women be bishops, and inaccessible transport. But today, mostly the last of these.

To end with a bit of fun: the lovely Linz, over at Living With Fibromyalgia, has tagged me for a 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Me Meme. I think I've done this quite recently, but have thought of a few more, so there's just five. Apologies for repeats...

1. I'm a huge fan of most TV-based science fiction and fantasy (which, thanks to this post, you are probably now aware).
2. I'm thoroughly addicted to Kraft 'Mac and Cheese', that American aimed-at-kids stuff that comes dried in boxes. The Girl brings it back for me when she goes to visit relatives in the US. She bought me six boxes for my birthday. I was overjoyed.
3. The Girl and I share a common Massive Pet Peeve about non-badge holders parking in blue badge spaces. It comes from when I was already mobility-impaired but didn't yet have a badge, and refused on principle to park in blue badge spaces. We have reported people to the local council, put sarcastic notes on windscreens, and recently The Girl blocked an extremely rude offender into a space in a supermarket car park while she ran off to find a member of security staff. It was a fantastic moment.
4. I like pretty mobility aids. I own three colourful walking sticks, three pairs of crutches (one foldable) and a green wheelchair called Luna (I used to have a blue powerchair called Marvin too, but there was no more space for him, so we found him a new home. I hope he will be happy there).
5. There is currently a gazebo in my garden.

By the way, Linz's blog is a fantastic source of FMS-related research and information, which I can't recommend highly enough. Bookmark it! Happy Tuesday, people.


Lisa said...

Why don't you park on either Ossulston St or Chalton St to go to the BL?

Never parked on Ossulston St (live too close to need to park there, but because of pedestrianisation at the top of it never drive along it either), but I'm assuming it's all residents bays and single yellows. As you know you can park indefinitely in a resident bay round here, and on single yellows for 3 hrs.

Chalton St has mostly single yellows or pay & display bays. Again, round here you can park in pay & display bays indefinitely, for free, with a blue badge.

What access probs do you have in the BL? I find it great because you don't even have to get the books. Request them online then go to pick them up from the desk in your chosen reading room an hour later. I've never even had to carry them from the request desks back to the study spot I've chosen, staff do it for me.

The only slight problem I have is that their stupid see-through plastic bags (which you have to use to take pencils, notebooks, computers etc, in to the reading rooms) don't hang on the back of wheelchairs.

Naomi J. said...

Hmm. I hadn't thought about those two roads. I know most of the parking around there is restricted, and the official blue badge bays are usually all taken. But I'd forgotten there were roads on the 'right' side of the borough that were still in walking/pushing distance of the BL. I'll still need pushing help, at least until my powered wheels arrive, as I'm too tired to push far at the moment. But it will save time on buses. I shall attempt parking there and let you know how it goes - cheers!

I suppose 'access needs' is misleading - it's support needs, really. Lots of little things, mainly because of how tired I am at the moment (e.g. can't push myself into - or more specifically out of - the wheelchair entrance up all those ramps, and need help in the library itself so I don't have to go up and down from one floor to the next like a yo-yo). And also because I need to stay in the library most of the day, if I'm going to get anything out of it, because I read so slowly, so I need someone there for little errands like helping me in the cafe, and also in case I suddenly get really tired etc. Silly things, but irritating ones.

But I didn't realise staff would help with fetching books. A lot of the books I've needed have been on the shelves so I didn't bother ordering them, but they didn't help me collect them. And the books I ordered, I take to a desk myself (it's usually so busy that it takes ten minutes to find somewhere to sit). I'll ask for help in future.

Lisa said...

I've never asked for help. They always just say "Do you want me to take these to your seat?"

So, I've never turned them down.

I guess I look more helpless than you :-P

Getting between floors - I assume you mean the ramp between the entrance level and the lower ground floor. You do know that there's a lift that just goes between those floors? (I know the main lifts don't stop at the entrance level).

I quite enjoy the ramps across the courtyard. The going up and down. Whee. One day I wanna bounce down those really shallow, evenly spaced steps in the Kings X corner that lead out onto Euston Rd.

Lisa said...

Also, have you read this page: http://www.bl.uk/services/reading/rraccess-guide.html

It mentions that staff are supposed to help with carrying books and stuff.

Staff in most cafes will carry drinks etc for you if you ask, I don't see why BL cafe staff would be any different.

Naomi J. said...

The staff in that cafe are shit. I got yelled at by them last week for mistaking someone else's latte for my PA's coffee. I was tired! I can't imagine them being keen to carry my tea to a table. But yeah, if I'm desperate, I could insist. Interesting to read that staff are supposed to help with books. In that case, I'll definitely ask.

Yeah, I figured out that there was another lift between the UG and LG floors. It's still all into lifts - out of lifts - upstairs - downstairs - pushing past people - dealing with doors and suchlike. More activity than I'm used to these days, so help is, well, helpful (I'm doing the random 'sleeping every four hours' thing at the moment). The powered wheels and finding somewhere close to park might sort that out. I do hope so, 'cause I have to get through an MA after this...

Lisa said...

dealing with doors and suchlike.

I thought all the doors in the BL had snazzy, spazzy push buttons next to them? At least every door I've come across. But then I've only ever gone in the humanities reading room, and to the toilet. Never used the cafe or anything.

yanub said...

I am completely with you on the needing a car business. Of course, being in the US, and living in a rural town but working in the city, I have a car. But if I lived in the city, I'd still be using my car. Until they come up with a bus that doesn't throw me into dislocations every half block and give me whiplash at every stop, I'll be driving. They could at least install seat belts so I don't end up falling into someone's lap. But those things won't happen, so it's me and the car.

I feel absolutely no green guilt over anything that I do to make my life with disability easier. I figure running the dishwasher is more than made up for by my never vacuuming.

Anonymous said...

I get what you mean about the car thing. New meds that I'm on make me able to walk...some days. But there's no way I could get the bus to the shops and carry shopping back on the bus, then walk from the bus stop to my flat with bags.

One of my pet hates is people who seem to conveniently forget that there's an actual REASON I need a car and I'm not just being 'lazy'. Ugh.

grace said...

I just admire anyone daring to drive round central London. I'd be terrified...

Queen Slug said...

I just try to focus on doing green things to off set vehicle use. Just because a person can't do 1 thing green doesn't mean they aren't doing a dozen other things that are green. I wish people realized that.

Also don't people realize that (at least here in the states) bus service is very limited. I'd have to 3 blocks to the nearest bus stop, then stand there to wait for the bus for a while (no benches or even an enclosure, just a signpost). While the walk is down hill to the stop, it would be uphill the whole way back & with my EDS I fall at random. Oh, this would be with a 3 year old. Gah. I do try & walk to the store sometimes when I'm having a good day & just need 1-2 things. I also don't understand why more people who can, choose not to use public transit or walk places.

Kraft M&C is the best food ever! I am mildly allergic to dairy (not lactose intolerantly, allergic) & I still eat it a few times a year.

Anonymous said...

I would like to say "Thank you" for bringing up this topic. It is something that I find challenging as well. Like 'Queen Slug' said, I try and focus on other ways to reduce my impact on the environment but it is still a challenge for me.

It is a great issue to raise in people's awareness!

I have just started reading your blog and really enjoy and can relate to a lot of what you say (although I can often only get through the start of your posts as I have very limited reading ability lately)

Anonymous said...

Kraft Mac n Cheese is heaven. I have friends who send me it in the post for Christmas - hurrah!!

Anonymous said...

Well just though I would chip in. As the author of the offending thread I *hope* it eventually became clear that the purpose of the thread was to challenge people to SELF-assess, but critically, whether their need for a vehicle was wholly related to being disabled, or whether there were other influences. Certainly not things like selfish interest or laziness, but things like living in a rural setting, for example. Personal circumstances are different enough before throwing disabilities into the mix, but I offer these as examples: If there is no bus service where you live and an able-bodied neighbour of yours could not reasonably be expected to walk to town either then the primary reason for needing a vehicle is being a rural resident. This is not a *lesser* reason, but it is different. If, however, your village has a bus but it's not wheelchair accessible, or the bus goes such a long route you are doubly exhausted and in pain when you finally arrive at your destination, or might be affected by continence issues during the bus journey, then the need for a car is *over and above* the need of one's able-bodied neighbour. I guess I got tired of my very active able upper-bodied friend refusing to get involved in a bus campaign cos she's alright Jack, and she so neeeeeeds a car because she's "in a wheelchair"... and lives on 6 wheelchair accessible bus routes!

And I am certainly not green, I use a tumble dryer almost all the time and cannot tolerate energy-saving light bulbs, nor can I lift the silly recycling box the council sent, and will not respond to my letters about how this forces disabled people to throw away recyclables.

Anyway, this is old, probably nobody will ever read it!
Take care