Born in the late forties in Hong Kong, Peter developed polio before he was a year old. His mother became a widow at about the same time, so she 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 he had to use a wheelchair.
Trying to access Primary education was difficult – and the mother had to fight to get him an “ordinary” schooling.
Secondary school was even tougher – but together they fought . He was intelligent and articulate, with a keen sense of humour and plenty of friends, and the effort was successful.The building was difficult from the accessibility point of view, but he coped. 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. 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 – he could never even tell his mother when he would be home for tea.
However, with his Degree gained, he found a job in a lawyers practice. All the fighting, all the effort, had been worthwhile. With his career on track, he married a pretty University Graduate, and bought his home.
After a few years, he expected to become a Partner.
However, when his time came, the firm merely advised him that “it would not look good” promoting someone in a wheelchair.
Twenty years of aspiration bit the dust.Then 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 expended more personal 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.
In total dejection and humiliation he resigned the post that he had fought so hard to gain.But an important lesson had been learned: if , by attitude alone, people could further disable him, he intended to fight fire with fire. Never again did he treat an able-bodied person as an equal. He believed that they were all unaware of the stupidity of their actions and had a limited view of the capabilities of the “less able”. He believed that until they understood the destructive power that they wielded, you could bring on all the legislation you wanted. It would make no difference. The economy would suffer, along with many thousands of people whose lives would have been so much better if they were shown kindness, understanding and enabled.
He was not unpleasant to able-bodied people – 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 a thoughtless comment upset one of his disabled peers, Peter was heard at his most humorous, turning the tables cleverly:
“Oh, don’t worry what HE thinks. He’s just an “able-bod”. He has never been tested. It would take longer to make him aware of his behaviour than to teach a prawn to whistle!”
©Linda Jane McLean