(Dis)able-bodied – Jazmine Bennett

Every morning I rise from my bed. However, I do not do it the same way as you. It is likely that your morning routine consists of climbing out of bed, walking to the bathroom to brush your teeth, walking down the stairs to eat breakfast, and walking out of the door to walk to school. But let me ask you this: what would you do, every morning, if you couldn’t walk? You see, this is my reality. Every morning I wake, and I am instantly restricted. From the waist down, it is as if I do not exist. My body is useless compared to yours.

Today, we’re going on our school leavers trip. For most Year 11 girls, this means the freedom to roam the outside world, away from the restrictions of the classroom. Me? I am constantly confined to this chair shaped prison that grants me the ‘freedom’ to access ramps and lifts and special toilets. ‘You’re so lucky.’ my classmates say, ‘You get to the board the rides first’. If only I could trade my fast pass for a quick walk to the local off-license, or a bike ride through the local trail. If you offered any of these classmates a fast pass in return for the use of their legs, they surely would not accept. No sane person would choose to live this way. Not in this society.

We are about to board the train. It is delayed because the staff have forgotten to fetch the ramp I need to board. I hear the passengers cursing, frustrated that they may late for work. They don’t consider my frustration as they glare in my direction at the designated wheelchair area that I am isolated in. I spend the entire journey away from my ‘friends’ who are sat among the other able-bodied passengers. When reach our stop, I am forced to repeat the embarrassment that was boarding. On this train, in this society, I am not your everyday person. I am a condition that science is yet to cure. I am a sympathy invoking advert for my disability. But I must force myself not to dwell on this incident, for if I dwelled on each inconvenience, I’d surely drive myself to depression, as many in my position do.

As we arrive at the theme park, I see the rocket shaped ride we are all so eager to queue for. As I stare, I think about that famous line: ‘That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’. How bold of Neil Armstrong to assume that all of mankind can step and leap. To many, it seems that human society is united in what philosophers call the ‘human condition’. How can this be true, when my condition is so different to the ‘norm’? How can this be true, when my existence is so alienated from that of the able bodies?

As we are leaving to go home, I watch my classmates as they dash to catch the train, I hear the isolated clap of their feet on each step, wishing my feet would move in that alien way. Me? I follow the sign that says, ‘Step free route to Platform B’. It is a mere inconvenience. It is an extra five minutes added to my journey. ‘It’s trivial’ you might say, and it is. However, when your entire day, from the minute you wake to the moment you rest your head, is a kaleidoscope of trivial inconvenient situations, caused by the world that has been designed for people who are not like you, you are constantly forced to face reality and ask yourself: Is this a fair society?

Jazmine Bennett was a Senior Orwell Youth Prize Runner Up in 2019, responding to the theme ‘A Fair Society?’