Living with a disability is hard enough, so how does living alone change things?
In 2015, I moved out of home for the first time, I was 25, and had just gotten my first paid, big girl job. I was a late bloomer in that regard for sure. I was on the verge of finishing up my last semester at uni and had applied for the job very much not thinking I would get it. It was the position I wrote about in my last blog and while it was pretty much a complete nightmare, I learned a lot about myself and the challenges of living alone and being disabled.
I moved to a very small town with a population of just under 3,000 people, about 5 hours from all my friends and family, which is a massive thing when the only other time I had lived away from home was for first year of uni and I came home during vacation, and I was only an hour from home anyway.
I started the job in the middle of the school year, so I had to rush to find housing in 2 weeks, and let me tell you, finding housing in a small town like that was bloody hard. I was very lucky to be given the tip that someone was renting privately, and that I should go and check the house out while I was also looking at the rental properties available through the estate agent. The house also needed to be relatively accessible, a few stairs was okay but not a two storey split level, it needed a bathtub instead of just a shower, and the kitchen needed to be relatively easy for me to use in terms of access to the stove top and height of benches. I can walk, but I use crutches, so when I’m at the kitchen bench or near the stove, I need to be able to lean against something to support myself while I cook. Luckily this private rental fit the bill, the landlords were a fantastically sweet married couple, and within 2 weeks, I was moving in.
Now, within that 2 weeks, I had to write list after list of things I thought I might need: bath board to get in and out of the bath, hand rail on the bathroom wall (installed by the landlord), and a trolley (like this, but not exactly because I’m not made of money) with which to move things from room to room. That last thing I would never have thought of without the input of my mother, and it was a godsend. Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to carry cups of tea or my dinner to the table and a whole host of other things that people without disabilities take for granted. While living with my parents they would carry my dinner to the table for me, and if I wanted a cup of tea while they weren’t home I would use a travel mug, but I rarely bothered because more often than not the travel mug was dirty, missing the lid or broken. However since I was going to be living alone for 6 months, the idea of 6 months without a cup of tea or coffee was grim.
It’s the small things that catch you off guard like not being able to call someone up and ask them to bring you a cappuccino and hang out. That last one isn’t really a problem, it’s just something I definitely missed.
Transport was another big one; as I previously mentioned I had moved to a tiny town of 3,000 people and there was one cab for the entire town. Luckily the driver was a wonderful man who was more than happy to accommodate driving me to and from work every weekday, and take me shopping on a Saturday if I needed it, the cost of transport to and from work was $12 per day, which is an absolute bargain. Without that wonderfully helpful taxi driver, I would have found it nigh on impossible to get to work.
People with disabilities often find themselves dependent on others for basic things such as transport, shopping, and housework. This can be made harder by the fact that gaining employment as a person with a disability is much harder than for those who don’t have disabilities, that’s the unfortunate reality we live in. Disabled people are more likely to be unemployed and isolated from society. It can be a real up hill battle to make inroads into a community if challenges as basic as transport cannot be accommodated.
One thing that really stood out to me was the fact that when I told a colleague about having to pay for the taxi each day she offered to organise a roster of people from work to drive me to and from each day, at first I resisted this but finally I relented. I resisted because I wanted to be seen as an equal at work, I didn’t want to be known as the woman who needed favours from coworkers every day. At any rate it didn’t matter because the woman never followed through on the offer.
That story brings me to another point, the lip service that is paid to those with disabilities, the countless empty offers of assistance that are rarely followed up with action, the compliments about “how you’re doing so well at everything” as though getting up and going to work every day was worthy of praise and admiration. This mentality really gets under my skin. The concept of being admired or viewed as inspirational *shudders* just because I live alone and have a job is so frustrating. It feels insincere, condescending and frankly, ridiculous.
I have lived with a disability for almost 27 years, but when I sit back and think of all the barriers that may be in my way to do a simple activity like meet my friends for lunch, it’s easy to get frustrated. Transport as I’ve already said, but things like the fact if it’s raining I probably won’t go out because all the pavements in my town are slippery and lethal as hell when wet. Luckily I have 2 friends who are strong enough to take me by an arm each and help me walk without falling over, but that’s frankly embarrassing. They don’t mind helping and often offer but I’m fiercely independent when I think something should be easy. This post isn’t about a pity party, but fuck it, having a disability is hard and even though I try to be fiercely independent and do things my own way, and never accept help if it is something I can do, I won’t lie and say that everything is the same as it would be if I wasn’t physically disabled.
Living alone as a person with a disability was hard and I’m damn proud to have done it, and I am sure I will do it again one day, hopefully for much longer than 6 months!