A few months ago I wrote about how much I’d been enjoying listening to writer Bill Bryson’s adventures as I went to sleep. My chronic pain over the last couple of years has been having an increasing impact on me, and on how much time I spend in bed, and audiobooks help me feel relaxed and less lonely in the early hours.
Wandering around the UK with Bill’s been a joy, but the other night he made some comments that made me feel upset and alienated by his words. He was talking about the ageing process and he described with distaste a possible future that included:
“Catheters, beds with side railings, plastic tubing with my blood in it, care homes, being lifted on and off toilets.”
I’m a woman in my thirties listening to him from a bed with side railings. I’m frequently lifted on and off toilets and due to the difficulties I’ve been having with my bladder, using a catheter is something I’ve recently been asked to consider.
Hearing these everyday aspects of my life talked about in a disparaging way was jarring. His words hung in the room and I was still thinking about them the following morning.
I wasn’t upset because what he described is part of my life. I love my bed and all the help I receive. My new commode chair has quickly become a treasured possession. What was upsetting was the feeling of exclusion.
In just a few sentences Bill made me feel that this book wasn’t meant for me, because it seemed evident that the assumed audience was non-disabled. I’m sure this wasn’t his intention but imagine how it feels to hear someone listing aspects of your life as a ‘worst case scenario’.
This isn’t the first time I’ve witnessed people being judgemental about aspects of my life. Many Films, TV programmes and articles assume that their audience is entirely non-disabled. With 1 in 5 people in the UK identifying as disabled, this is very unlikely to be the case.
Acknowledging diversity in your audience is an essential first step to making work that includes rather than excludes people.
I’m not writing this to shame Bill in any way, but because I think it’s important to highlight the unwitting messages we can send, particularly when we talk or write about life experiences that aren’t our own.
To Bill and anyone else who’s fearful of beds with side rails, you’re missing out – they actually great. And if you don’t believe me, you’re welcome to come and try mine!