Having dodgy legs all my life means I fall over a lot and have recently stopped being annoyed when people rush to pick me up. Flailing in a puddle on a muddy pavement is not nice no matter how independent you’d like to appear to be. I’m training myself not to swear loudly and to show appropriate gratitude.
It’s given me a unique way of judging politicians based on whether I think they would pick me up if I fell over.
Locally, councillor Aram Rawf is a trained first aider and has picked me up professionally at least three times. There’s a real knack to not hurting your disabled person when you help them. Hauling on one arm and expecting their legs to work like yours is always wrong. Offering your hand is useless. Ask them what’s best! Getting behind with your hands under their arms and just lifting them to their feet is often good — depending on your strength and their weight. A golden rule is first do no harm. Get help if it’s beyond you.
But getting back to thoughtful politicians. My new test in Broadstairs is whether they are ready to go around with wheel dependent constituents and listen to our problems. Aram Rawf has lobbied with Access Thanet for workable lifts for years, but I recently invited all of Broadstairs town councillors to come and see our streets from a wheelie view.
The only one to take me up so far is Green councillor Mike Garner, who patiently followed me on my scooter down to Broadstairs harbour and saw me struggle with broken dropped kerbs, potholes and unexpected steps. Once there I pointed out the lovely wooden walkway on the beach that ends in deep sand or a flight of steps, and when the lift is shut is absolutely useless to wheelies.
He listened while Access Thanet wheelchair users pleaded for the lift to be open all year. This would give us the chance to get to all the main Broadstairs bays, two miles of being next to the sea on a relatively safe wide sea wall. And without risking our necks on the precipitous slopes someone built with cars in mind rather than wobbly pedestrians, wheelchairs and push chairs.
I dragged him to the harbour toilets and pointed out the pains of using the “accessible” toilet —locked so you need a special key. Try getting out of your wheels, balancing on your sticks to unlock a door and then trying to get inside with no one to hold the door etc. And many wheel chair users can’t walk at all. We need to be able to do things you able people can do, without having to ask for help.
Mike took notes and two day later in the main council meeting on the budget for next year voted for proper funding of the Thanet lifts. Unfortunately the council majority didn’t agree. The lifts are to be funded out of the money Southern Water gave the council in compensation for all the sewage spills last year. But it’s not enough.
I couldn’t see a connection. Can you?
I hope it doesn’t mean we have to wish for more sewage in the sea so our lifts can be funded properly.
I’m still waiting to hear from other councillors. Please get in touch. I’m not going anywhere.
Christine Tongue is a Broadstairs resident and member of disability campaign group Access Thanet