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STUART TAYLOR FEATURE: Being disabled can sometimes have its awkward moments

By StuartTaylor  |  Posted: May 15, 2014

Alex Brooker pictured is Scope's disability awakwardness campaign

Alex Brooker pictured is Scope's disability campaign.

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DISABILITY charity Scope have decided to launch a new national advertising campaign in an effort to highlight the awkwardness that many people feel towards disabled people. National television adverts will start on Sunday and are fronted by comedian and presenter Alex Brooker, best-known for his role on Channel 4's The Last Leg.

They show Mr Brooker, who has a prosthetic leg and hand and arm disabilities, guiding viewers through a series of awkward situations that they may encounter with a disabled person, such as 'The Awkward "I've bent down to speak to a wheelchair user, now what?" Situation.

The adverts come after a study carried out by the charity found that two-thirds - 67 per cent - of those surveyed said that they would worry about speaking about disability in front of a disabled person. Many people worry that they may say something inappropriate or use an offensive term by mistake.

As someone who was born with cerebral palsy I have found myself in countless awkward moments that were highly cringe worthy at the time but on reflection very funny. Here are some awkward moments I have found myself in due to being disabled. 

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NEEDING SOME ASSISTANCE

I was once out with friends at a busy pub and after having a few quite drinks we decided to move on to another establishment. The table we had been sitting at was up four steps, which was no big deal as my mates were there to help me tackle them, the steps that is.

Having only had two drinks at this point I was confident that making the move wouldn't cause major problems.

Normally an extra arm (my friend's arm that is) is enough to steady me when walking down small steps. However, for some unknown reason on this occasion I decided to place my other hand on what I thought was a round decorative part of the handrail.

So as I had hold of my friend's arm I also put my full weight on the round part of the banister.

Then the dreaded realisation came that it wasn't part of the banister at all and it was actually the head of a burly bald headed bloke who was sitting at the table below ours.

I was in a tricky position now as part of my brain wanted to remove my hand from his head and pretend the incident had never happened, but the balance part of my brain was screaming 'hold on only two more steps to go'.

The balance part of my brain won the argument and I got to the bottom the steps. Now I knew I had to explain myself. 

"Sorry about that mate," I said. The bloke proceeded to stare at me, with no hint of a smile, for what felt like half an hour before he replied: "No worries my friend glad to be of assistance".

A quick nod of equal respect was exchanged as my friends decided to shake their heads as we made a quick (well quickish) exit.

SANTA BUS PEOPLE

MY mother decided to drag me Christmas shopping and had decided to take the park and ride bus service because she hates driving.

As we got on the bus we realised that we were the only people on there but were assured by the driver that people would be coming in their droves soon.

We waited for ten minutes and then a middle-aged couple boarded the bus, paid their money and took their seats in the next aisle from us.

Now the pressure was on to make small talk as there were only five people on the bus and one of them was the driver.

Not being that good in the art of pointless chit-chat with strangers I left that pleasure to my mother who is an expert at getting a complete stranger's life story out of them within ten minutes.

After talking about how handy the park and ride bus service was and how the weather had got colder and how they weren't prepared for Christmas this year, my mother decided to involve me in the conversation.

Only she will know why she uttered the words: "We are going to see Santa aren't we Stu" which would have been fine when I was four but because I was aged 32 at the time this did cause some confusion for her new bus buddies.

Then came the awkward moment when her new friend for life enquired: "Aww there's lovely. What have you asked Santa for this year then? Have you been a good boy?"

A part of me didn't know if I should reply by saying I was hoping for a new Xbox 360 but I thought that may add fuel to what could soon become an out of control situation, so instead I just looked at my mother and laughed.

We weren't laughing at the lady (well ok we were) but equally at my mother's moment of madness and feeble attempt to break the awkward silence.

This was just one of the many times when people have felt the need to talk loudly to or about me in a childlike way.

On more than one occasion people have spoken to my mother about me when I'm standing right next to her. It can be awkward when my mother totally ignores the question and just looks away and they are forced to redirect their question to me.

By this point rightly or wrongly I have lost interest in talking to the person anyway.

Awkward? Just a bit.

PATRONISING DISNEY CAST MEMBERS

LAST summer my family and I went to Disney in Florida for my father's 60th Birthday. Despite my brother-in-law jokingly telling my nieces that I was only invited because I had a degree in queue jumping, the Disney experience was something I will never forget.

Disney does pretty much what it says on the tin and it was lovely to see my nieces excited as they went around the parks collecting autographs off all the Disney characters.

What I was less excited about was the prospect of each character insisting on hugging me just because I happened to be using a wheelchair due to the parks being so crowded.

To be fair it would have taken me until Summer 2020 to walk around them all.

My father decided he would rather take on the task of pushing me around for a fortnight instead of letting me loose on a motorised wheelchair or mobility scooter, I think he was having flashbacks about teaching me to drive, when he opted for the standard wheelchair.

Being in a wheelchair was a strange place to be on many levels.

I noticed people's attitudes were totally different towards me when I was sat in the chair. People would shout at me and become far more patronising to me than any level that I was used to.

When the characters spotted 'the special guy' (their words not mine!) in the wheelchair they went into high-five hugging mode.

They would spot me from around 100 yards away and make a mad dash towards me, much to my nieces delight but not mine.

It is with some regret that under my breath I told Disney's Chip and Dale to P off when in all fairness all they wanted me to do was rub their bellies.

At times using a wheelchair was frustrating when people just walked straight across my path and had the nerve to complain when my foot accidently caught them a glancing blow on the shins.

Children would wave at me in the wheelchair as if I was a Disney attraction. Being the kind of bloke I am I would smile and wave back and they rush would off all excited safe in the knowledge that Andy from Little Britain had given them a wave.

The worst moment came when we decided to see a stage show of The Lion King and when we got into the theatre I was just plonked on the end of a row of seats still in the wheelchair. I was too tired to argue so I accepted my fate and tried to make the best of it.

Then the show started and much to my awkwardness I very nearly inadvertently became a part of the show as dancers on stilts were just a little bit too close for comfort.

At one point a very attractive female dancer missed her step and nearly ended on my lap – every cloud and all that.

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