"The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which they were created" (Albert Einstein)

 

This is a true story - but names have been changed. 

Born in Hong Kong to Scottish parents in 1946, Peter was destined never to see his father, who died in combat in the final stages of World War. The next disaster to occur was that he contracted polio before he was a year old. His widowed mother returned to Scotland, to give her only child the chance of a good education. There Peter grew to be a bright and likeable youngster, although, because of his weakened legs he required to use a wheelchair. He became very adept – even with one arm considerably weaker than the other.

Trying to access Primary education was difficult - and the mother had to fight to get him an "ordinary" schooling. But if that was difficult, Secondary school was a battle royal.

 But together they fought. By now, he was intelligent and articulate, and emphatic that a “Special School” was not what he wanted, He had done well in Primary, had a keen sense of humour and plenty of friends, so eventually the effort was successful. By the end of his schooling he passed all his Highers and was accepted by the University to study Law. 

University was an older building, with no lift to the Library.  Now used to such difficulties, Peter had to wait until a fellow student was going up - and likewise coming down - so he could get a “piggy back.” Not knowing when these events would happen had a knock-on effect – no information could be given to his mother when he would be home for tea. 

However, with his Degree gained, driving test passed, he found a job in a lawyers practice. All the fighting, all the effort, had been worthwhile. He was mobile and employed. After a few years, he expected to become a Partner. He married a pretty university graduate – his course now assured. They bought a home together. However, when his time came for promotion, the firm merely said:” It would not look good" promoting someone in a wheelchair.

The penny dropped – the light-bulb was lit –full comprehension dawned.
He could work as hard as he wanted - he could give everything he had to conform to society's rules: he could offer his blood, sweat and tears. He knew that he had put in more effort to attain his position than anyone in the firm. None of that was sufficient, however, if, at the end of the day, the attitude of Society disabled him.
After twenty long years of fighting, in dejection and humiliation, he resigned the post that he had fought so hard to gain. But an important lesson had been learned: if people could further disable him, by attitude alone, he would show them what it felt like. 

Never again did he treat an able-bodied person as an equal.  He was not unpleasant to them- he was always well-mannered and humorous – but slightly condescending. People were at a loss; they did not know how to react, being treated that way by a wheelchair user. 

When someone thoughtlessly upset one of his disabled peers, he was heard to remark: “Oh, don’t worry about what HE thinks. He’s just an “able-bod”. You might as well try to teach a prawn to whistle as to try to make him understand.”

 

©Linda Jane McLean

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