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It feels like Christmas has come early! I finally got my car back from the garage after a battle about a failed MOT test. The garage made mistakes, I’m fine with that; I’ve made loads of mistakes in my lifetime. However they really annoyed me when they misdiagnosed the problem and then blamed another garage’s work, incorrectly. What’s that saying?

         A bad workman blames his tools, or in this case another workman!

They then refused to release my car until I had paid for the unnecessary work, they had carried out. Big mistake! You just don’t do that to a disabled person who relies on their car! They were holding my independence to ransom. It’s hard to explain to non-disabled people, how devastating this is. Many of us have a very intimate relationship with our equipment. We can never take anything for granted because if you lose or break these vital objects, you are hurled back into a state of dependence. To put it bluntly, it is like being stripped naked and shackled to a rusty pipe in a dark damp warehouse. . You’ve seen the crime dramas!

After making a complaint about the poor service I had received, the manager had a meeting with me to discuss the issues I had raised. It was all going fine and dandy until he earnestly looked at me and said,

“But you must understand, it’s our policy not to release a car without payment. We have to treat all our clients the same.”

Well, something taught and brittle snapped inside and I really hoped it was just my battered psyche and not anything requiring immediate medical attention. I’m not sure how I maintained an aura of calm as I smiled my way through the rest of the meeting. All I could think about was getting my car and money back!

Chewing the meeting over in my agitated mind, I was reminded of a great equality training video that I used back in the early 90s when I was just starting out as a Disability Equality Trainer. Let me set the scene for you…

An inspector is coming to assess a Social Service Department and the receptionist is overly anxious to make a good impression as she knows that cuts will be made. A wheelchair user arrives at the council office. He parks in the disabled parking bay and transfers into his wheelchair. Unfortunately he is unable to access the building because the automatic door is locked and there is no call button. Have you guessed where the story is going yet?

He encounters many more physical barriers in his quest to arrive at his destination. He is about to ask for directions when a member of the public grabs him and pushes him through some closed double doors, assuming he needs Social Services. Before he can speak, the overly anxious receptionist asks him to wait his turn while she deals with the woman, who is assumed to be his carer. When the receptionist eventually turns to him, she continues to make assumptions by informing him that the Motability office is down the hall. However she soon holds her tongue when he explains that he is the inspector and he wants to start in the accounts department.

Embarrassed and flustered, the dialogue between anxious receptionist and annoyed wheelchair user goes something like this:

“We treat everyone the same, here. We’re very hot on equal opportunities, it’s coming out of our ears!.

“I know, that’s the problem!!” He retorts.

“What do you mean? She asks, puzzled. He turns, on his way out and says,

“Just try using the doors, in a wheelchair!”

I trained a generation of local policy makers long before we had the Disability Discrimination Act. But most of them, have gone now. Hopefully they are enjoying a comfortable retirement and not sitting in a poorly funded care home, stripped of their dignity because the staff are untrained, over worked and underpaid!

When will people in positions of power realise that treating everyone in the same rigid, mechanical way without any kind of understanding or flexibility is not equality! At best, it’s just laziness.

Real, meaningful equality is about treating everyone as an individual and recognising that some people will need adjustments to policies and procedures, in order to thrive and maintain their dignity.

I’m not talking about removing the goal posts and making life a bed of roses, I’d hate not having a challenge or never experiencing failure when I make mistakes. Equality is…. About adjusting the goal posts to take into account the fact that not everyone can use their feet to kick the damn ball!!

So, with my garage fiasco, they could have offered to check the problem themselves or drive the car to the other garage to get the exhaust checked. Not leave me in the lurch with a car I could not legally drive. Thankfully the wrongly accused garage went the extra mile and took my car to a specialist to diagnose the problem and yes, of course, I got my money back!

Mother and son posing with car

Thankfully, we were able to get our son back to university!