Ingenuity, Photography and illness.

 

I’ve been kindly asked to write a blog post on how I manage to access Dartmoor, as a disabled person.
I am a wheelchair user, but things are complicated a bit by the fact I can’t sit up for more than an hour a day or travel very much…with these factors in mind, ingenuity has to play a big role !
I’m lucky to live in a Devon market town that is literally half a mile from Dartmoor.
So there are many places to discover close by, about a five mile radius of where I live.
After I fell ill in 2013, and was signed off sick long term, I was determined to continue the photography that had been my career, but as so often in life there had to be some big changes. These were of course mainly viewing the moor from a car, and using much smaller equipment, light SlR or compact camera and small tripod. My illness effects my cognitive ability too so things have to be easy to use. Luckily we live in an age where everything is more accessible, and easy to use including photographic equipment.

Its worth mentioning I can’t travel very far because of my health, Plymouth’s only 16 miles from my home and I haven’t travelled there for three years now. So my travel radius is about five to ten miles from my home. However there are some great places to go nearby.
I’ve also hit upon the idea of laying in the back of the wheelchair van I have access to, it has sliding doors and I can experience the view and sounds, without expending energy. There’s a photo of my set up In this blog, you can see my camera on the tripod.
Using close cropping and a zoom lens I hope I can still convey the spirit of the moor.
Lanes and roads feature in my photos much more now, they are a popular subject
matter and something I overlooked when I could walk a mile or two In the past.
I have started labelling my photos on Twitter and Facebook, with a disabled symbol for access. ♿️
Even though I can’t walk on the moor, just being out and seeing it from a car or laying down in the wheelchair van does me so much good. I love hearing the natural sounds, a stream, birdsong, the sound of livestock.

Some people have reacted with sadness when they see my laying down in the back of a car posts, what they don’t realise is that most of my life is spent indoors, laying down.

Just being out of the house is nice, even if I do have to view the world from a wheelchair or lying down…or even sometimes…lying back in a wheelchair ;).
I do believe when life is difficult you have to look and see what you can do, even if it is limited. Difficult as it is, it’s still precious, and so is the natural world I photograph.
(All the pictures attached are taken by the roadside or from the wheelchair van.)

Thanks for reading.

 

Advertisements

What not to say to a wheelchair user.

Today was the first day I have been able to visit the shops in the town where I live for five months.  I spend most of my energy photographing the countryside and there’s none spare for visiting towns and travelling.

Severe illness make it hard for me to sit up for any length of time so visiting even a supermarket is an exciting treat nowadays. (I Know). I do all my shopping online, but sometimes it’s just nice to buy something in person, and as access is poor where I live, supermarkets are an easy choice to visit.

Today I turned the corner into the high street, and a man stood still pointed at me and made a joke. I felt an anger and mys response was to drive right up to him and say ‘Fuck off’ in a very loud voice. I was so angry. I’d waited five months to see a town that I used to be part of and that was the response I received. He carried on laughing, and then he realised I wasn’t joking. I drove on and I felt upset and angry. So, I look different because I’m in a wheelchair, truth is I’ve always looked different, but since about 16 when leaving school the comments stopped. Two years into being a wheelchair user they’ve started again.

And a part of me can’t believe it. It’s 2015 nearly 2016, why is pointing at people and making jokes to complete strangers funny or even acceptable ? To give you an idea, I receive this kind of comment about twice a week on average in the summer, much less in winter. It can be daily.

 

Today I felt like driving my wheelchair down to the weir and screaming into the White water, screaming away all my anger, my frustration, my physical exhaustion and pain. I imagine anger exiting from me in a black vapour, clouding the streets, evenloping people.

 

In truth, when you become a wheelchair user you become a non person, an object of pity or someone who’s unbelievably inspirational for just going outside the front door.

I know people who won’t go out in a chair, it’s just too much. I have empathy with that, but I’m not staying inside for the foreseeable future, bugger that ! To me it’s like accepting defeat, not from my illness, but from a society that treats us as mascots, cheering us on in one instant and then denying us access to public buildings the next.

The truth is, disability, illness, can happen to anyone. I never dreamed I’d be in a wheelchair, I used to walk for a living, teaching people photography ! For god’s sake? How can this have happened to me?

After I became ill I didn’t know what to do on my social networks, to tell people. I had no idea how permanent my illness would be. I read a survey where 85% of people didn’t know a single disabled person, And that stuck in my mind. If I could change just one person’s perception of disability  or illness or both then I have made a difference.

Next time you think about making a jokey comment, to a wheelchair user, imagine what you would want, to go out unimpeded by people or to have people standing in front of your chair, blocking your way and making silly comments. Imagine if the person was your child, your sibling, your friend.

I’ve  read blogs about invisible disabilities and I agree society is just as ignorant about them as it is about visible ones. But ironically, I would love to be invisible, to have no one look at me, and then look away, I’d love to be able to have an afternoon out without one comment, gesture or stare. I remember sobbing this summer as a close friend told me the comments were never going to stop, please, please  just make them stop. Make this stop. Make me well.

He was right they aren’t going to, and I go out the door each day knowing that, and knowing I’m visibly different. And yet I still go.

And guess what ? I still will. I wrote on Twitter recently I didn’t know what was worse the illness that means I can’t walk or sit up or people’s attitude towards us.

I now know it’s the illness. Most days I simply ignore people, comments, stares, theatrically throwing themselves out the way of the wheelchair. Today, I couldn’t.

 

 

Just for one day

image

I haven’t used this blog for ages, mainly because in 2013 I fell ill with an illness that was so severe I shut down my business and consigned me to wheelchair. Not much I can say about the illness creatively, there’s nothing good about it. It’s not fatal but there’s no cure, as yet. Many people recover, I’m hoping I might. The general consensus is that I will get back to working part time but it will take years in my head, five to seven, but there’s no guarantee of that either. I’m stuck in limbo land in so many ways.

I was a photographer and still am. I used to run workshops around Dartmoor where I live. I still take pictures when I can. Photography has always been my life line, when I was a teenager and going through reams of plastic corrective surgery it helped me, and it’s helping me now. It’s helping me more than these simple words can convey.

I never thought I would be a wheelchair user, like so many people. I was a disabled child, but not in this way. Whatever happens I know I will never forget this, and writing that makes me realise there is something to be gleaned from this experience.

Anyway.

I started writing this today because I imagined what I would do if we’re well for just one day. I’ve made a list below: thanks for reading this far. It’s OK, it gets cheerier from now,

1 I’d wake up, not in pain and I’d run just for the sheer joy of it into the street. I’d probably put some vacuous pop on my headphones and do coordinated street dance to frighten the neighbours.

2 I’d cook breakfast, pack it up and drive to Dartmoor and watch the mist form in the valleys and the sun come up. I’d drink coffee as the ponies wake up around me.

3 I’d drive to a river valley on the moor and walk into a stream as the mist swirled around me. I’d get my camera out I haven’t used for two years out and my tripod and take some photos.

4 I’d drink more coffee. I’d drive to Tintagel for lunch and see the sea again. I haven’t that for two years either. Too far away. I eat fish and chips and taste the salt on my lips and smell the precious sea salt in the air.

5 I might visit the rocky valley feel how it is to walk for a long time again see the labyrinth Rock carvings and see the point where rivers meet the Atlantic.

6 it’s winter so it’s getting dark. I’m still not tired so I drive to Exeter. I see the cathedral lit up from the outside, I hear voices of song echoing out into the night.

7 I must get drunk. Seriously I haven’t drunk for two years and I’m going to now, just on this one day. I may have a roll up too. Yes I know I quit, but hey I’m only well for one day. I’m getting wasted. And I’m going to dance. A lot. I got to bar and drink red wine and watch the students around me half my age all their lives in front of them. I down a bottle and the job is done. I go outside to smoke and it tastes horrible after all these years. Dancings out now, I’m 40 for heavens sake….

 

8 I get a taxi back to my moorland market town. I know I’ll be Sick again tommorrow but I don’t care. I’ve had a lovely day. I know if ever get well I’ll be grateful for so much. I sit down and I write this blog. Then I go outside in the cold Autumn air lay and look at the stars. I remember, the river, the sea, the cathedral, the voices, and the drink.

 

9 I write a note before I go to bed  to thank people for reading this. And I ask them, what would you do, with your one day……