Being a paraplegic is not my disability – my disability is human beings

I look at the time on the desktop in the library and I realise that it’s late and I need to leave for home. I had planned to be at the library for just a couple of hours but as usual I lost track of time.

The disability unit is on the second floor of the library and one can either use the lift or cruise down the ramps. I never miss an opportunity to speed down the ramps leading down to the ground floor.

Once outside the library, a blanket of darkness engulfs me. Everyone who’s able to walk opts for the direction towards the fountain via the steps. That’s the quickest way to the residences.

I always take the long way, navigating my way down a ramp outside the library and the International offices. It is usually crawling with students but at this hour in winter, it’s empty. I need to be careful going down because for some odd reason someone decided a speed hump was needed in the middle of the ramp.

Then I turn left to wheelie down the next ramp and just like the first one I need to be careful, but for a different reason. The bricks just at the end of the ramp are loose and halfway pulled out. Once I have safely exited the ramp, I make my way towards the student center but as I look into the darkness, I realise that the path has been dug up.

Either a pipe is being replaced or some fiber is going to be buried in the ground, I look around no one is coming in either direction. When I passed earlier, the path was still useable.

I have two options. One is to try push myself on the sloping grass and risk rolling all the way down and maybe upgrade my disability to something new.

My second option is to turn back and go all the way around pushing up what seems like one long steady uphill, but is actually seven uphills because the road flattens for a split second just to fool you in-between the hills.

This experience is an example of the many ways that society cripples me. Being a paraplegic isn’t my disability. People are my disability.

It’s people who plan cities with no thought for the needs of minorities like differently abled people, it’s people who dig up bricks and don’t bother to put them back properly – people who disempower differently abled people.

It’s people who build pavements without ramps who make life impassable. They also shout at wheelchair users for using the road. Or the ramp is too steep to be used, or in places that they make the perfect ramp, a street sign is put right in the middle of it.

Society is built in such a way that it seems as if able bodied people intentionally want to force people with different abilities to be ‘weak’ so they can take care of them or clap their hands when they do something as silly as going to the shop on their own.

In South Africa you are paid to be disabled so the government and society can say ‘at least we tried to help them, we gave them thousand something, that should cover all their expenses’.

Imagine if all schools were accessible and public transport accommodated everyone beyond the Rea Vaya, Gautrain and Ubers that only cater for certain sections of society.

Now close your eyes and imagine those very children could access education and travel to job interviews arriving in work spaces that are fully adapted to accommodate everyone. And how about we throw in equal pay, where disabled people are paid according to their qualifications and experience. Instead of being recycled from one internship to another.

And before you say, ‘But disabled people don’t want to work’. I say how about you stop trying to feed them the fish and instead build a ramp to the river and let them learn to fish.

Better yet ask them what kind of ramp and fishing rod they need in order to be able to fish. I say if disability is meant for the privileged then please let them keep it.

By Palesa “Deejay” Manaleng

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