Just when you thought I'd exhausted every avenue of moaning about discrimination along comes Boro Taxis of Teesside to prove you wrong.
The Middlesbrough based company has taken the morally repugnant treatment of disabled people into a new stratosphere by refusing to transport any of us anywhere whatsoever. Apparently, we're not economically viable. If they have to send us a mini-bus to accommodate our wheelchairs then they have to charge us the full price for the hire of a mini-bus, even if it is only for one person. They feel guilty about this, bless them, and so they have decided not to bother at all. Now you may be thinking that what they could do is send the mini-bus if they have to, and just treat us like human beings and charge us a normal taxi fare. They say they cannot afford to do this, and so that's our lot. If you happen to find yourself half-cut at some unholy hour of a Middlesbrough morning and you are dependent on a wheelchair to get around (and I have, astonishingly, found myself in exactly that position despite living some three hours away by car but that's a long story) you are royally fucked.
The notion that we are not economically viable is nothing new to most disabled people. You'll recall the time we were told by some craggy old Tory that those of us who have achieved the miracle that is finding a job should be paid less than able bodied workers. The rationale behind this is that we can't possibly be contributing as much as our able bodied colleagues. That would be fair comment if I were a window cleaner, but the idea that I can't satisfactorily complete administrative tasks because my legs don't work and my kidneys are declining faster than Lee Ryan's popularity is just about as offensive as it gets. More offensive than Lee Ryan, perhaps. It's also highly ironic coming as it does from a craggy old Tory, whose contribution to society is yet to be determined. As far as I can see craggy old Tories serve only to waste oxygen and blurt out prejudices straight out of the 14th century.
So although being economically burdensome is not exactly a new phenomenon, Boro Taxis' stance is still quite shocking. Just because we know that some people hate us and consider us a drain on the country's resources doesn't make this latest twist any more palatable. Using a taxi to get from A to B doesn't seem like too much to ask. It's something that the rest of you can take for granted. If you want to go out somewhere with a group of friends to a place where the drinks may be flowing and driving not recommended, you can chip in with your mates and get a relatively cheap service. You can't do that if you have the brass balls to firstly use a wheelchair and secondly try to travel with other people who use wheelchairs. The largest number of disabled people I have been in a taxi with is three including myself, and that was a standard car rather than a black cab. Certainly not a mini-bus. The people involved were able to transfer from their wheelchairs to a car seat, which is clearly not the case for all disabled people.
Why would anybody send you a mini-bus to help you with disability access anyway? It's not bloody helpful. This has happened to me on several occasions. Perhaps they thought they were being accommodating in sending a larger vehicle, but they hadn't factored in the prospect of me having to climb up on to the awkwardly placed seat like a deranged monkey. We've seen before how easy it is to make me look like Mini-Me climbing up Beyonce's leg. It's not a good look. Perhaps Boro Taxis' mini-buses have lifts and if they do it is to their credit, but it's not a lot of use if the company aren't willing to do the job. Three is your limit in a taxi if you are disabled, and that depends on the driver being one of the rarer kind, in other words someone who is prepared to help you put the chairs in the car, and not shake his head and mutter moodily about scuffing his seats. More likely you will be restricted to two at a push, and it is not uncommon for a driver to refuse to take more than one, causing you to have to pay for a separate taxi each to go to the same fecking place at the same fecking time. Predictably, this is also an experience with which I am incredibly familiar.
All of this is bad enough, but the real villains are the late night drivers who see you waiting at some ice cold taxi rank and just drive by. In my earlier, more naive days I sometimes thought that maybe they didn't know I was trying to get a taxi home. You would think sitting at the front of a queue at a rank would be a good enough indicator, but I still gave them the benefit of what little doubt there was at one time. So I took to sticking an arm out as you might do at a bus stop. Just to make sure, to send out a clear message of 'oi mate, I'm smashed off my head and very possibly incapable of getting myself home so how about it?'. I still have to do this sometimes. Some of them just look at me without slowing down as they drive by, one or two I can remember actually shrugging as if to say 'what can I do mate, you're the one who turned up in a fecking wheelchair'.
Of course now that St.Helens town is pretty ghostly on a weekend evening and everyone goes home at different times, there are always cabs waiting on the rank. Gone are the days when people would actually punch each other over a ride home and good riddance to them. But this extra availability of taxis hasn't always helped me. There are still a large number of drivers who, if you approach a stationary cab at a rank late at night, will shake their head at you and say;
'Sorry mate, I can't do wheelchairs'.
I don't even know where to begin with the phrase 'I can't do wheelchairs'. It's offensive in the extreme. First of all you are not doing me, my taxi-driving friend, and secondly I am not a wheelchair. Like that bloke out of that crap sci-fi show all those years ago was not a number. Like John Fecking Merrick was a human being! And do you know why they can't 'do wheelchairs'? Because of their backs. Of course, they have got bad backs. Or at least they have got someone with vague medical qualifications to certify that they have bad backs. But such an excuse is highly unlikely to wash with a drunk man whose spine resembles an M25 pile-up. Fucking man up! All you have to do is open the boot of the car and get the fucking ramps out! Fair enough if you are driving one of those archaic black cabs with a mile high step, a narrow door way and no ramps. But I get this shit from drivers of the newer style cabs, which even have a fecking disabled access symbol in the window.
You're probably as breathless as me by now so we will finish by pointing out that most nights I find a way to get home. Thankfully there are enough taxi drivers around who are doing their jobs without discriminating against the disabled, and who prove to be very helpful and good at their jobs. It's certainly a case of the few tarnishing the reputation of the many.
Just don't be depending on Boro Taxis to take you and your fecking wheelchair anywhere any time soon.