This site now acts as an archive only. For the latest news, opinion, blogs and listings on disability arts and culture visit disabilityarts.online.

Disability Arts Online

Freedom and self esteem / 25 April 2011

Wheelchair or universal version of personal transport. Seen at the Tokyo Universal Design exhibition.

Wheelchair or universal version of personal transport. Seen at the Tokyo Universal Design exhibition.

Zoom in to this image and read text description

The thing I will miss most about Japan is my freedom. I will miss the physical freedom and I will miss the emotional and psychological freedom that comes from Japanese people's attitude to human beings.  

My initial worries about the hired powerchair dissolved as I found ways to work with it; and gradually I became a fan. The skinny wheels are no more inconvenient than those of my manual wheelchair and just required me to have a more flexible attitude. 

The chair itself was not quite as comfortable as my own, but my support cushions mitigated that, and all the advantages more than made up for it. The battery, light, neat and easy to take in and out, lasted about five hours under normal conditions, with clear indicators and plenty of warnings about power levels. I carried a spare which gave me approximately ten stress free hours of rolling; brilliant!

Being in Tokyo means being close to so many accessible things. Just a metro ride away everything changes and I don't need to pre-book my journey. The man-with-the-ramp is always available, polite, attentive and respectful; always happy to be of service, never once making me feel I was too much bother.  

Getting out of Tokyo is easy too and the Shinkansen makes for a fast and comfortable journey. I loved being spontaneous. There was no need for elaborate travel arrangements. I could even change my mind.

 

the leaving sadness is upon me.

it is only the possibility of return

that keeps me together.

Only the no-going-back

would break my heart.

 

and if Gaia refrains from

tearing Tokyo apart;

if the elemental dragons

allow me; if market forces

do not prevent me,

then I surely will.

 

returning is hope to hold on

to the thrill of this great adventure;

with its new discoveries

and the familiar growing

to wholeness and perfection.

 

It is perfectly safe to be out alone in Tokyo, even in the late/early hours; how different from the apparently genteel little city I call home.

 

Feeling safe from abuse, rudeness or wilful neglect took some getting used to. I know Japan has its share of criminals, but the average Japanese person shows great respect for others and this translates into more than just feeling safe. It also results in a feeling of acceptance and I have felt like an included part of life in a way I never do in England.

 

The first Japanese phrase I learned was "su me ma sen." In England I will need to say "excuse me" twenty times a day, in Japan I didn't need it once. This in itself is a great freedom. 

 

I met no-one who felt the need to challenge my access requirements, or my competence to function. I met no-one who showed dismay at the inconvenience of sharing space with me.  

 

Not needing to warn people of my presence; not needing to excuse my existence; not having people flatten themselves against walls or shout that they are in danger of being mown down; above all not being made to feel like a leper; these are things I will miss. I intend to try to hang on to them somehow. Their value for my self esteem is priceless.

 

Access is so much about attitude and I'm filled with dismay at the thought of leaving all this access behind.