“It’s good to see people like you out and about…” #EndTheAwkward goes to the pub

We’ve been filming in a London pub this month for Scope’s End the Awkward campaign, and it got us thinking – pubs and nightclubs are the perfect breeding ground for awkwardness.Four people using filming equipment in a pub

Take a crowded bar and a little alcohol, and we end up doing and saying things we’d never dream of before sundown. If you’re disabled, that can often mean a whole new level of awkward.

We asked you for your stories…

More people were watching us than the gig – Kelly

I always get asked ‘why are you in a wheelchair?’ by strangers in bars. A lot of people assume I’ve had an accident – because I’m confident and outgoing, they can’t believe I’ve always used a wheelchair.

Kelly outside the pub talking to three other people
Kelly filming for our End the Awkward campaign earlier this month

At the Global Festival, my husband and I were backstage dancing, and more people were watching us dance than were watching the actual gig. They kept tapping me and trying to give me high fives.

People come over on a night out and tell me how much respect they have for me. Just because I’m having a night out! It drops a downer on us when we’re having a good night by saying ‘I’m really happy to see you’re going out.’

What’s wrong with you, then? – Ronnie

I have had many people walk up to me at a gig or in a pub and say, ‘What’s wrong with you then?’ Of course, when I reply I have cerebral palsy they sheepishly reply ‘Oh’, and then shuffle away awkwardly…

On a similar occasion in a pub, my friend Tom and I were chatting to a chap across the table from us. Suddenly, he said: ‘Well, it’s good to see people like YOU out and about!’ His girlfriend put her head in her hands and was hoping the ground would swallow her up.

Hope your friend’s okay… – Tom 

Man interviewing young woman on camera
Filming ‘awkward’ interviews in a London pub

Whilst in the university bar I was chatting to a woman; I was leaning against the bar. Things were going well until she asked me to dance on the lower dancefloor, which was down a flight of steps.

When I told her I couldn’t she looked bemused, so I pointed to my wheelchair and offered to dance near the bar. At this point she made an excuse about needing to find her friend who was really drunk, and left.

Some hours later, when I left the club, I saw her at the exit. When she saw me she looked horrified. I just said, ‘I hope your friend is okay…’

Have you had a skiing accident? – Edith

A friend and I visited a bistro in Sloane Square (I’d never been, we’d gone to people watch). She was pushing me in my wheelchair, and I was holding my crutches.

On entering, a rotund man with elbow patches saw me and bellowed ‘Ah! Have you had a skiing accident?’

‘Afraid not,’ I said, ‘I have MS.’ He only faltered for a few seconds before he replied, ‘…That must slow you down, eh?’ and turned back to his wine.

Have you had a similar experience? Send us your awkward stories, and we’ll publish our favourites on our blog and social media.

Find out more about Scope’s End the Awkward campaign.

Disabled people should come together as ‘bold and loud’ consumers

Robin Hindle Fisher is Chair of the Extra Costs Commission, a year-long independent inquiry into the extra costs that disabled people face. As the report is published today, Robin says, “working on the Extra Costs Commission has been emotionally moving – it has helped me realise that I spent the first 54 years of my 55 year life effectively denying that I am disabled.”

Over the past year I have chaired the Extra Costs Commission, an independent body set up to look for market-based ways to relieve some of the extra costs that disabled people face as consequences of living with their disabilities.

The nature of these costs varies enormously across different conditions and from individual to individual. Examples include the costs of specialist equipment, such as wheelchairs, additional clothing, higher transport costs and higher energy bills, due to increased needs for heating caused by immobility.

Young disabled man shoppingThe disability charity Scope estimates that disabled people have to spend an average of around £550 per month on these extra costs, just to be able to live the same lives as others.  This compares with average welfare payments of £360 per month – leaving a substantial gap that disabled people have to finance. It is this gap that we have sought to reduce.

I have  enjoyed my involvement with the Commission enormously and I believe we have set out a number of recommendations that will have significant impact. One of the key recommendations is that disabled people, of whom I am one, should be prepared to be “bold and loud” about their disabilities. The Commission believes that this will help to make the spending power of the disabled sector, the so-called ‘purple pound’, an higher profile consumer phenomenon – and eventually drive down costs.

Disabled woman paying for shoppingI have found this “bold and loud” aspect of the Commission’s work emotionally moving. I have realised that I spent the first 54 years of my life (I’m now 55), effectively denying that I am disabled. What was it that drove me, a moderately ‘successful’ person (in terms of academic attainment, career advancement and material reward), to feel that I could not be seen as being ‘disabled’?

For a long time I assumed the answer was specific to me – maybe the result of my up bringing, that ingrained a strong ‘you are as good as anyone’ ethic in me. It affected me in a whole array of ways – how I dressed, how I strove for badges of conventional success, how I chose to interact with other disabled people – I didn’t.  It certainly affected how I explained my disability to my children wMum and disabled daughter looking at a tablet togatherhen they were young. Fearing that they would be teased, or worse, about their father’s physical deformities (they never were), I described myself as ‘special’, not in an elitist sense, but meaning just ‘different’.

Working on the Commission has helped me understand that I am not unusual. Many disabled people avoid the term, I guess fearing that they will be labelled by society as inferior to the able bodied majority. This denial is completely understandable – when I was growing up in the ‘60s and ‘70s disability was stigmatised and society assumed that you were helpless, and quite possibly hopeless, if you were born or found yourself with physical, let alone mental, health issues.

Although the stigmatisation is massively less pervasive now than it was 30 or 40 years ago, it is still having hidden effects. One of them is the reluctance that many of us still feel to accept the badge of disability. But I now think this reticence is serving us badly. It certainly reduces our collective consumer influence – and thus contributes to the extra costs we face. Hence our call to disabled people to be “bold and loud”.Disabled woman in a wheelchair shopping

Perhaps even more importantly, I believe our reluctance to be identified as ‘disabled’ is perpetuating the very stigma that we seek to avoid. I think we should take our lead from the gay and lesbian community and be prepared to ‘come out’ that we are disabled. I feel that until we do that, disability will remain ‘inferior’ in some people’s minds, ‘special’ in others’, rather than what it should be – just another version of ‘normal’.

Read the Extra Costs Commission report, published today.