Ladies and gentlemen, I want to introduce you to Stephen.
Stephen is a pitiful young man who is suffering. I’m sure you can tell that, just by looking at his photograph on the right. He is suffering from a terrible affliction, with which he is afflicted twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty-five physically and emotionally wounding days a year. Sometimes he is even afflicted twice a day at weekends. It’s quite, quite tragic.
I’m sure you’ve spotted Stephen’s awful, tragic and tragically awful affliction by now. That’s right. Stephen has blonde spiky hair, the likes of which haven’t been seen since the full horror of the peroxide bleached mid-1980s, when terrifying beasts such as Limahl from Kajagoogoo, Howard Jones and that bloke from A Flock of Seagulls stalked the Earth in rabid packs, preying on young and innocent Smash Hits readers. Stephen, who remains stoically courageous in the face of such an unfair lot in life, also wears a red tie as the single signature colour of an entirely black outfit, presumably because he thinks it makes him look sharp and stylish. It doesn’t.
Oh, and whilst I remember, Stephen is also a wheelchair user. He’s disabled. A disabled person. Which isn’t a tragic affliction at all, certainly not one on a par with a liking for tinny synthpop and toyshop drum machines circa 1983. But nonetheless, I thought I should mention his disability, just in case you were too dazzled by his coiffure and couture to have clocked it in the first place.
So. Yes. The wheelchair. It’s that chair thing with wheels that he’s sitting on. Not so sure about the yellow frame myself, but fortunately he’s once again successfully distracted us from such a lurid choice of shade by adopting a moody facial expression and holding a small globe in his right hand.
But why, you might well ask, is Stephen brandishing that replica of this fair planet before him? Let’s turn to the man himself for a far too detailed explanation:
“Planet Earth, right, is my playground, right? I don’t let my disability stand in my way, y’know? See the ability, not the disability. Got it? My wheels, right, are my legs, and I use my legs — in other words, my wheels — to explore the world. Comprendez?
“I am an adventurer, y’know? A crusader. I’m here to show, like, all disabled people that they don’t have to, like, sit on their arses all day eating biscuits, claiming benefits, and whinging about bloody inequality, right?
“There are no barriers except the barriers of the mind, see? Man, that’s deep. I got that off a meditation tape in Goa, when I was communing with the hippies.
“Anyway. So, like, what I’ve been doing, right, is breaking records. My business is record-breaking. And that’s got nothing to do with the fact that I can’t get a proper job because they boot me out the door as soon as they’ve seen my wheels. Oh no, absolutely not, mister. Do not, as they say, believe the hype, ‘cos I enjoyed working in the crisp factory after I got my degree in Communication Studies. Indeed I did.
“So I was the first wheelchair user to cross the Sahara single-handed, right? And, like, you won’t believe this, right? But just to make it more difficult for myself, I tied three cows to the back of my chair. They died of chronic dehydration and malnutrition on the way, of course, but I soldiered on like a — well, like a soldier, but in a wheelchair — and pulled their decaying carcasses to the other side. The pic I got in The News of the World, with the headline ‘Super Stevie Is Wheely Wonderful’ just made me cry buckets, you know? Though not like a baby, right? ‘Cos I’m hard as nails, got that?
“So after that little bit of fun and frolics, I decided that ‘despite my disability’, I would go white-water rafting — in my bloody wheelchair, right? — over the Niagara Falls. And I thought it would be a right laugh to take a hod of bricks with me too. Just to add to the drama, y’know? I think I was the first person to do that as well. Like, ever. Wonder why?
“That bold, brave and not at all stupidly dangerous stunt — no matter what my boring mates say — got me on the Oprah show in the US, on a special programme she did called Heartwarming Cripples are Humans Too. I mean, it was Oprah bleedin’ Winfrey, right? And she patted me on the head and told me I was inspiring. I said ‘Not the hair, Oprah. Not the hair’. And we laughed. Well, I laughed.
“So then I chose to become the very first wheelchair user in, like, the whole of history ever and ever and amen to fly a microlight plane across the Atlantic, with no food to sustain me during the journey ‘cept for two Snickers bars and three hundred and seventy-two Pro Plus tablets. Man, I was speedin’. I got in The Sun for that one, snapped with a bevy of page three babes. One of those saucy minxes, right, bent down and patted me on the head with her …”
I’m sorry. I had to stop Stephen there. Cut him off in his prime, you might say. I promise to apologise to him later about plastering a taut length of masking tape over his mouth. But it was either that solution, or placing him at the top of a very steep hill, letting his brakes off and giving him a push. Harsh but fair, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Stephen may ooze bravado from every pore, but the sad truth is that whilst he’s travelling the world on his many escapades — getting in the newspapers and probably causing a snivelling, moist-eyed Esther Rantzen to explode in a fit of warmth at seeing the plucky disabled man conquering every challenge he sets himself — all that our ‘have a go hero’ really wants to do is use public transport in London without it requiring almost military levels of planning. He would quite like to get into his local pub too, without having to experience the dreadful indignity of being lifted up the two steps at the entrance by a pair of moaning, grudgeful bar staff. If they can even be bothered, that is. And as he gets enjoyably bladdered, Stephen would then like to be able to empty his full to bursting bladder in that same down-at-heel drinking establishment. Regrettably, the graffiti-strewn conveniences and the malfunctioning condom vending machine are at the bottom of a narrow flight of stairs — so it’s exceptionally fortunate that while wheeling through the jungles of Ecuador to raise money for disabled kiddies, he learned the mystical art of superhuman continence from a friendly pygmy. It comes in very handy after seven pints of lager.
This Blogging Against Disablism Day, I’m looking for your help to get all the incredibly annoying disabled adventurers such as Stephen off our TV screens and out of our newspapers. For good. All it would take is truly accessible public buildings and a completely accessible public transport network, and Stephen would never again feel the desperate need to bungee jump over a waterfall, shuffle up a perilous mountain on his bottom, or wheel across the Arctic tundra wearing nothing but a t-shirt emblazoned with the phone number of his charity donation hotline.
“So my next challenge, right, is my biggest yet. It’s going to make people’s jaws drop. They’re going to say, like, that I’m crazy, yeah? Off my bleedin’ trolley, right? It can’t be done, they’ll say. Stephen, it can’t be done. But nothing’s beaten me yet, certainly not this bloody wheelchair. It’s in yellow, y’know, ‘cos it looks cool and young and hip and happenin’. But it hasn’t beaten me, and nor will the sodding London Underground. And that’s what I’m going to do, got it? The whole tube network, right. Amersham at one end, through to Upminster at the other. All the way through the central zone. True, I expect there’ll be, like, a few awkward staircases to go up and down, but how hard can it be, right? How hard can it be?”
Make him stop. For God’s sake, make him stop.