Thembi Ngcai, an advocate for the disability agenda shared her ordeal with a common stranger on her twitter account. She didn’t let the 140 character peg limit her as she threaded the story to make it easier to follow. We felt that retweeting to our not so many followers wasn’t enough, besides most of our views are from google+ ad Facebook, so we decided to share the story on our website with her permission. The issues she covered are not limited to her geographical location, it’s a worldwide issue that needs immediate attention. This is what she had to say:
I ran into a poor man on a manual wheelchair while I was in town, driving my fancy, motorised wheelchair. He asked where he could get one too, I told him it was R20 000 and compared to the others, it’s actually cheaper (motorised wheelchairs can cost up to R60 000). He asked how he could get his considering his financial reality. I had no answer because I know he’s in pain driving a manual one but it’s all he’s got. We talked about getting him to the Department of Social Development/Ministry of Disability to help him raise funds to get my kind of chair. His story is sad. Everywhere he’s gone, people have treated him like rubbish because he’s on a wheelchair and me, in my expensive wheelchair, with financial and resource privilege have a lot in common with this man. Most places we go as people with disabilities, we are treated like sub-humans be it transport, inaccessible banks, clinics, courts etc. society’s attitude towards us is the same, we are not equals to the able-bodied.
Society sees our wheelchair, walking stick, guide dog, deformed limbs before they see us as people. Our disabilities precede us, always. We work hard as people with disabilities, we contribute financially, resourcefully, intellectually, to this world but all we get is sympathy. The way I and all my friends with disabilities have been on the periphery of a society that will never see us as part of it. I have personally had able-bodied cab drivers/Uber drivers say helping me into the car is them doing me a favour and I should be grateful. I have been told by the same drivers that I should use the disability vehicles (MyCiti) that caters for “people like you.” I have had cab services like Rikki’s taxis charge me R70 service fee for a wheelchair accessible car. The R70 is separate from the meter payment. I have had real estate owners decline my application to rent homes, as soon as I disclose I have a physical disability. I have had landlords say they are under no obligation to make the house accessible to me by putting a ramp to access the place. I have had the same landlords say that I must not ask other tenants to assist me because my disability is none of the tenants’ responsibility. Landlords have told me that maybe it’s best I move into “places that accommodate people like me”. Where are these places? Where are these places where people with disabilities must all live together in spaces, separate from other people. I’m tired of being asked to alienate myself – use disability accessible transport, disability accessible restaurant, disability accessible homes, disability accessible jobs.
When will I be able to take an Uber without the driving laughing at my disability? When will I be able to rather stay at home than go out because I know people will emotionally make me feel bad about asking for assistance or tell me my wheelchair is too big to fit into the venue? When will I be able to live guilt-free from asking fellow housemates to help me after I’ve been crawling around in a home for hours? When will I ever be able to go on a date without being worried that the guy will be freaked out about me being on a wheelchair? When will he stop being embarrassed when I fall at the restaurants and I can’t get up? I’m so emotional right now because the man I met, broke my heart. Guys, I am TIRED AND FED UP having a disability. I am treated like I have no value. This is not the life I would’ve picked for myself. Emotionally prepping myself from the moment I wake up, that today, ‘Don’t let anything anyone says, hurt you.’ I AM TIRED OF IT.
People living with disabilities are often side-lined or ignored and are usually noticed more for their differences than the shared commonalities like falling in love, sibling fights or wondering what to do with our lives.
On another note, check out what Thembi had to say on this edition of “In the Wings” at the National Arts Festival 2015 which deals with a young woman who is living with cerebral palsy and the issues she confronts.