Guest post from Emily Yates, a 23-year-old travel writer and accessibility consultant. We first published Emily’s blog in May 2014 when we first launched our End the Awkward campaign.
As we’ve been celebrating kissing this week, we thought it was a good opportunity to #ThrowbackThursday to Emily’s awkward story.
As an accessibility consultant and travel writer currently based in Rio de Janeiro, most of my awkward stories revolve around travel – especially the joys of flying. I’ve been fortunate enough to always get off the plane and see my wheelchair waiting for me, but there is one particularly poignant trip to Dubai with my twin sister that I will always remember.
We got on the plane, settled down armed with booze, chocolate and films. I was so proud of myself for going a whole seven hours without needing to go to the bathroom. Then, with a glass of wine too many, I had to concede. After calling the attendant for the in-flight wheelchair, I was told there was no such equipment onboard. I was shocked, and was offered no extra help to get to the bathroom.
So, I defiantly crawled down the length of the aisle until I got there, with an audience both smiling in pity and gawping in disgust. After emptying my bladder, getting over my wounded pride and dehydrating myself for the rest of the journey, the real smack in the face came when the plane landed and the in-flight wheelchair was brought right to my seat… Oh, and then when we arrived at Dubai airport for our return flight to the UK with a good three hours to kill, we were ushered right past all those amazing designer shops and straight to a ‘special assistance’ bay, where we had to sit and wait until our gate opened. Pretty sure my very gorgeous and fashionable sister was put off flying with me for life after that episode!
But my ‘awkward’ experiences don’t end with travel. My boyfriend and I, who have been friends since we were 16, still giggle about his confession to googling ‘how to kiss a wheelchair user’ before we got together… I have just googled it now and, not surprisingly, got results such as ‘bend down’ or ‘lean in’. My personal favourite has to be ‘say you want to tell her a secret, then go for it’ with a winky face for added bonus points. Luckily, he didn’t follow that advice…
This leads to my next point. My boyfriend probably did that research to try and prevent any awkwardness between us, and who can really blame something like that, if it’s not been experienced before? We disabled people, with the help of great campaigns such as Scope’s End the Awkward have a little duty of our own.
And that’s to speak out if we find a situation awkward, dissatisfying or downright offensive. Of course in a perfect world, there would always be a chair nearby for a tall guy to sit on when talking to someone of a shorter stature or a wheelchair user, and everyone would instinctively know how to support somebody with a visual impairment who needed extra guidance. We do not live in that perfect world.
But we do have the ability to make improvements on these things through spreading awareness. Most of all, the ability to ‘end the awkward’ by treating people with certain conditions in a way that makes them comfortable can be taught, and we all can be a part of that teaching. It is teaching like this that can ensure another wheelchair user doesn’t have to dehydrate themselves on the way to Dubai!