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Perito Prize Winners

Perito Prize 2019 – Winner: ‘Leg User’ By Abby Crawford

LEG USER

By Abby Crawford

Sam waited for the lift, palms of her hands buzzing after the long push up the maze of ramps to enter the office building.  She was lost in thought, scratching her forehead as the lift arrived with a ping, steel doors sliding open to reveal two colleagues, both in blue wheelchairs. She recognised one of them but couldn’t remember the name, was he from finance? IT?  As she rolled herself into the metal box and pressed the button for the sixth floor she heard a yell behind her. “Please hold it!” A man’s voice, accompanied by the unfamiliar sound of running feet.  It had been a few months since Sam had seen a leg-user and longer still since she had shared a lift, or even a building, with one, and she found herself jolted by the surprise.  He seemed enormous and she chastised herself for staring.

The leg-user ran to a halt, panting, just as the lift doors closed behind him and was still breathing heavily as they ascended to the next floor.

“Thanks”, he laughed.

The colleague who Sam vaguely recognised was tapping incessantly on the side of his wheelchair and Sam resisted the temptation to tell him to stop.  The lift slowed as it approached the third floor and just before the doors opened the man tapping on his chair leant across and pressed his fingers against the leg-user’s hip.

 

“Excuse me?” he smiled.  “I hope you don’t mind me saying but I think it’s great, that you’re out and about.  My brother is a leg-user. He’s not great at leaving the house these days but people like you, you are a real inspiration”.

The man blushed and shuffled his weight through his feet, he looked embarrassed and Sam considered intervening.  She bit her lip and was grateful as the man stepped through the lift doors at the third floor. She watched as he ducked to avoid the low ceiling and disappeared, still stooping, around the corner.  He had to bend over to open the door handle into the office and Sam was hit by a surprise wave of sympathy.

She was feeling embarrassed at her pang of pity when the lift approached the sixth floor and she rolled out, along the familiar wide corridors to her office.  Sam had worked for the council for three years now. Her initial ambition had been quashed by multiple rejections for promotion and for now she had decided she was happy with her lot.  To even have a job in the current climate was good and she was grateful, she thought as she wheeled her chair around the side of the low sweeping desk, tucked herself under and reached to turn on her computer.

Later that afternoon Sam felt the familiar fog of an incoming headache and ventured outside for a wheel.  Fresh air often cleared her head and Ryan, her manager, was out yet again.  She snatched her coat from the rack and was soon outside, rolling over the smooth polished concrete streets beaming in the early afternoon sun.  She found her thoughts drifting back to the leg-user, his condition restricting him to walking everywhere, stooping and bending at every door, desk and table.  She wondered why he was in the building as she sat at the edge of the road by the traffic lights, waiting for the green flashing chair that told her it was safe to roll across.  She remembered he had exited the lift at the third floor, human resources, and decided to ask Melanie when she saw her later that evening.

The queue for the concert that night wound round the side of the building and Sam could see Melanie waving frantically as she approached.  She wheeled past the waiting chairs to where Melanie sat, beer in one hand, fanning her face with a pair of tickets in the other.  The sun was clinging on into the early evening and the glint from the queue of wheelchairs reflected into strange shapes on the polished concrete of the walkway.  They were early, but the doors would be open soon and Sam was looking forward to catching up with her cousin – despite working in the same building their only real interaction was a snatched wave across the canteen, or a quick catch up in the lift before one of them rolled off for a meeting they were inevitably late for.

Melanie worked in human resources, some sort of talent management role Sam didn’t really understand, and she grabbed the opportunity after they had kissed hello. “Did you see that leg-user today?” she asked. “Yes,” Melanie rolled her eyes, “He’s part of the new intake programme, something to do with leg-users being underrepresented in management, that sort of thing.”

“Oh, so he’s got a management job?”

“I think so,” Melanie frowned.

Sam felt her chest sink and was annoyed at herself for feeling hard done by.  There had been two years of desperation to climb the slippery management pole and despite convincing herself she was content, she couldn’t help feeling a pang of envy at this newcomer, who would probably end up being paid more than her and getting away with doing less, if Ryan was anything to go by.

Just as Melanie noticed her cousin’s expression turn melancholy the doors to the concert opened and she felt a bump on the back of her chair as the man behind them nudged her into action.  “Alright, alright,” she removed her brake and rolled slowly forward with the line.

They took their bays near the stage and Sam’s stomach was feeling warm with beer when she glimpsed a figure to her left.  She turned to see a familiar body shuffling down the aisle, ducking under the low beams and flanked by two people in red wheelchairs.  She watched him take a seat in the leg-user zone by the side of the stage, it was strange to see him lower himself into a chair without wheels, and she nudged Melanie. “It’s him,” she pointed, but just as she did the man looked across and saw her, pointing and animated, and gave her a small wave.  “Great”, Sam exhaled, turning back to face the stage.  She was unsure whether her cheeks were burning from embarrassment or the beer, but she was soon interrupted by Andi and the Banshaws rolling their famous golden chairs onto stage and the simultaneous yell of excitement from the crowd.

The man drifted out of view and out of Sam’s thoughts as the band started up, thumping with percussion and their familiar melodies.  During the second song she was temporarily distracted by the leg-user dancing, standing up and towering over everyone else, moving his hips and legs in a way she’d never seen before.  How did he manage? Didn’t it hurt? She found herself staring and Melanie tugged her arm, handing her another beer and pointing back at the stage.

At the final encore they joined the sitting ovation before wheeling off to the exit by the end of the aisle.  The building was an old Victorian concert hall, and Sam admired its swooping ramps and ornate low ceilings as they rolled, undulating with the swell of wheelchairs heading for the same door.  As they slid over the exit ramp and out into the street Sam reached for her jacket on the back of her chair. The temperature had plummeted in that unpredictable spring-like way and she had a bus journey to endure before she’d be back in her bungalow.  Still warm with beer she kissed Melanie goodbye and found her eyes reaching for a last glance of the leg-user, though the reason eluded her.

Sam decided to wheel to work the next morning, taking the wheelchair road rather than the path and as she joined the lane of commuters she noticed how uniformly tired everyone seemed, sitting slumped in their chairs, pushing monotonous wheels of metal and rubber over the colour coded concrete zones alongside the road.  At the traffic lights near her building a woman dashed between the queue of chairs, another leg-user, dodging the stream of wheels, barely fitting on the pavement between the crowd of seated commuters.  As she reached the office it struck Sam that it wasn’t constructed particularly well for leg-users, and she was surprised that this was the first time she’d noticed it.  She felt like she was seeing the building for the first time – low ceilings, wide sweeping ramps, wheel pumping stations at the end of every corridor, a canteen with its waist-height counter and bottom shelf access to the clip-on lunch trays.  She thought again of the leg-user from the concert, stooping under doorways and leaning down to open handles, and the wave of sympathy from the day before slammed back into her chest with a thud.

Her day went slowly, punctuated by the usual requests from Ryan but also a weight in her stomach that pulsated every time she thought of the leg-user. She’d heard of people like him having to wait for housing, heard the horror stories of long lists of leg-users desperate for rare high-ceilinged bungalows, a supply that never seemed to meet demand.  She’d heard of people being turned away from jobs for not ‘fitting in’, claiming endless benefit payments for lack of employment.  She was wondering whether she might see him again as she left the office that afternoon and rolled to the bus stop across the road.

When she reached it she felt an arm brush the back of her hair, far too high to be a wheelchair user and the unfamiliar feeling sent her spinning her chair around.  “Are you following me?” He laughed. It was him.

“No, just waiting for a bus, sorry”

“I saw you at the concert last night, pointing at me”

Sam sniffed and pulled her jacket around her.

“I’m sorry.  It wasn’t what it looked like, I was there with my cousin and she works in the council, well I do too, I saw you in the lift yesterday,” she stumbled.

“In the lift at the concert?”

“No at the council.”

“Oh.”

The silence filled the empty bus stop and she was relieved when the number 24 appeared around the corner.

“Your bus?” he asked

“Yes, you?” she replied, her relief snatched away by the possibility of having to share a journey home with the man who had occupied her thoughts too much already.

“Yep”

“Great,” she mumbled, “need a hand getting on?”

“No I should be alright.”

The bus came to a stop and the ramps slid out from underneath the door.  Sam wheeled on board into a bay and was about to swallow her pettiness and introduce herself to the leg-user when she heard a commotion behind her.

“There’s no free standing bay, sorry pal” the bus driver seemed embarrassed.

“I can just squeeze in there though, look” the man was pointing at the space between the ramp to the upper deck and the luggage rack.  Another leg-user was awkwardly leaning in the only standing bay, sandwiched between the back of Sam’s chair and the emergency exit window.

“I’ve told you mate, I’m sorry.  There’s another 24 due in 15 minutes.” He went to close the door but the leg-user refused to move.  He looked across at Sam just as two other passengers rolled forward, annoyed at having to wait and becoming increasingly incensed at the man’s refusal to get off the bus.

“You heard what he said,” a woman in a pale green wheelchair lurched towards the leg-user.  His demeanour suddenly shifted and he slumped his shoulders, turned down the ramp and headed back onto the pavement outside.  As the bus rolled away Sam glimpsed his face through the window and wondered why she was like this, always investing in other people’s problems.  She turned away and counted the stops til home.

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Perito Prize Winners

Perito Prize 2019 – Runner Up: ‘The Spirit Can’t Be Confined’ By Margarita Meklina

The Spirit Can’t Be Confined

By Margarita Meklina

 

For eight years, with magical regularity, e-mails from a far away, mysterious world appeared in my mailbox. Pressing F9 and refreshing my Outlook folder, I was peering into the land of yurts and nomads. Taiga and flatlands. Kazakhstan: the vast territory once ruled by the Russian Empire. Later – a Central Asian Republic lying in the political ruins of the former USSR. When I received my last letter, it was still a country dominated by a totalitarian ruler, who stepped down only after thirty years in power.

I was a penniless writer, a Russian-born immigrant lifting packages for UPS in California, and I needed all support I could get. From Russia, from Kazakhstan, from anywhere! It suddenly came from this petite woman in glasses, with fragile bones but with a spirit of steel. Devoid of allegiance to clichés, she published my writings: an essay about Vladimir Nabokov’s son and butterflies, a novella about a young queer woman looking for love in San Francisco, a short story about the frequent abusive relationships in immigrant families. Printing my texts in her magazine in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s cultural capital, this physically distant yet warm and caring correspondent offered her critical eye. Her mental, inner vision was sharp; her eye vision was blurred. She was even prohibited by doctors to write on a computer, but she continued to give me her vital feedback.

Raising a baby and trying to keep my writing aspirations alive, I was inspired by the quest of my virtual friend. Her vision was vaster than Kazakhstan steppes. As it turned out, this woman of small stature in a wheelchair created what the entire Ministry of Culture in Kazakhstan couldn’t achieve: a new wave of writing. Her name was Olga Borisovna Marcova and she was an editor, an educator, an activist, a guru, a researcher, a mentor, a friend.

Not having access herself to regular doctors or libraries, she underlined the importance of the accessibility of information. Placed into a confining jacket of censorship together with other Kazakhstan citizens, she dreamed that young writers would find the freedom within. “I am a mixture of terrible pessimism and unending idealism,” one of her letters proclaimed. “These weeks, I have been depressed, but I have to keep up my appearance for the people in our office. I’d better tell you about the new round table I organized. It’s called ‘Literary magazines as an instrument of cultural politics.’ Representatives from Central Asian Republics and Russia will all be there!”

In the second letter Olga reported, “Our writers were just sent to Russia’s capital for a special gathering! There they’ll get access to publications in Moscow!” Then she added mischievously, “And yesterday, for the commemoration of Pushkin, one of our writers had to eat his prize, a huge Pushkin chocolate sculpture.” Suddenly, in small font, she mentioned her aging parents, “They are nearing their eighties and I hope that I will die before they pass away.”

The next month, she proudly described an event, “With the British consulate, we organized a literary seminar with a writer who writes for teenagers. Have you heard of him before? I’m researching him and he is a gem.” When I was about to send a congratulatory response, I noticed a post scriptum, “There are very few buildings in Almaty suitable for wheelchairs. My eye sight is bad, there is a problem with retina but because the ophthalmology equipment is on the third floor, I can’t go for my checkup.”

She asked me about the difficulties of raising a new baby, almost never mentioning her own problems. Suffering and setbacks were hidden among the reports of success, “I’m training a new editor. I wrote an essay about book publishing in Kazakhstan. We’re organizing a contest for the best writing by a woman writer who writes in Kazakh. We also conducted master classes for writers from far away regions, those who due to their geographical location can’t get access to cultural places.”

And in the next sentence, “The majority of public buildings, offices, medical centers and supermarkets are inaccessible for people like me. Our society doesn’t think of it as a problem. My father took me out for a walk near our house in my wheelchair, but the wheel got stuck in a crack and the wheelchair overturned, together with my father and me!”

And then she again wrote to me about her everyday life, “We had an evening of poetry organized together with the American embassy… How important was it for you to participate in elections? When I see the news from the West, I think that such activity in my country wouldn’t be possible. By court order, they just closed the office of Democratic party. Also they shut several media outlets. And now the access to LiveJournal and other social media sites is blocked completely…”

Olga had been confined to a wheelchair since birth. Yet, in my then-precarious situation as a main breadwinner raising a baby, it seemed like she was the one who was more stable. Traversing the Web on her virtual wheels. Reaching out to every corner of the globe with the literary masterworks of her pupils. “She turned a wheelchair into a throne, she was an empress,” as another friend of hers said.

Transplanted from Russia to the U.S., I was trying on different languages like new clothes and, not always fitting into the new attire, was consoled by encouraging letters from far away. A young mother struggling to secure the first professional job and to write in two languages, I heard from Olga, “Please kiss your daughter from me and let your husband take care of you. The baby surely will be like her mother, an avid traveler and a storyteller. Wasn’t she conceived in Kazakhstan when you visited us?”

Olga’s public triumph was at the front of her letters, “Literary magazines here limit the number of acceptable topics. The government demands loyalty. There is no other organization besides ours that supports writers who steer away from the government ideology. We make sure that our authors reach an internal freedom that will allow them to say what they want.”

Her personal problems were hidden behind, “There was a literary seminar on the four floor, organized by our sponsor from the Netherlands. I couldn’t get there. Once they moved it to the first floor, I was able to participate… Recently, when I called a tour agency, they were so surprised that a person in a wheelchair wanted to travel by air. They even reprimanded me for assuming something like this! But I want to see Paris!”

Now, eleven years after our e-mail exchange ceased to exist, I pluck the saddest parts of her letters:

“You can’t imagine how I look, just like a scaled dragon… at home, one of my aging parents lost their balance and overturned a pot with boiling water on me.”

“A terrible thing happened today. A woman hit me in the eye with her large bag inadvertently when my father took me out in a wheelchair. Now I have to go to eye doctors again, but all the diagnostics equipment is on the third floor and there isn’t a lift.”

“My father is eighty-one and he fractured his hip. For two months he has been confined to his bed. My mom is my only helper for now.”

Then, “Mama broke her arm, I’m drowning in everyday problems. Papa still didn’t recover after his stroke. I’ll die without their assistance.”

The letters stopped arriving eleven years ago. My daughter had just turned fourteen and, as Olga predicted, she is a steady writer and a stoic traveler. Did I just tell you that Olga’s last letter came in 2008? That I didn’t hear from her since that time? That because of Kazakhstan’s poor healthcare and Olga’s weak immune system she died of flu at forty-four? Did I mention that she was able to visit Paris with parents her and that she managed to write a number of books?

You just read excerpts from her letters, which means that something of her is still alive. In some geographic locations, these pleas for help are still urgent. In many countries, in many regions, there is still no accessibility. Can’t life extend after death? Out there, there are writers she raised. Some of them became quite well-known. There are ideas she planted. There is her spirit that still traverses the roads of information; her wheelchair crosses the borders. Last month I was riding my bike and suddenly a woman at the bus stop raised her arm to waive the approaching bus and hit my shoulder quite badly. I shook. Was this a reminder from another realm, telling me that as a fully-able adult and a fully-fledged writer, I have to do more?

More than anyone else, Olga understood that “accessibility” means the right to be free, both in physical movements and in movements of thought. As much as a people with limited capability need physical freedom, spiritual and political freedom is also a must.

My daughter, the one for whom Olga always blew virtual kisses, recently went on a trip with her school, visiting a wheelchair facility. They made teenagers ride in wheelchairs, so that they knew what a person in a wheelchair experienced. Wouldn’t Olga find it amusing? She was quick to adapt new ideas. She’d say, “I would like the health officials in our country to ride in wheelchairs, to understand what it means to have accessibility.” Now I’m reaching for my archive to let out her spirit, which has been confined to our private e-mails, and her spirit is reaching out to you.

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Our World. Without Boundaries Podcast: Episode 2

EPISODE 2: TACTILE & BLISTER SURFACES 

 Welcome to the Perito Podcast ‘Our World. Without Boundaries’, today we’re talking to Jill Allen-King about tactile and blister paving and the world of accessibility for blind and partially sighted people. 

 

Perito: Hi Jill thanks for joining us, so it would be good to start off with a brief introduction about yourself and maybe a brief discussion about the terminology that we mentioned earlier.

JAK: I was born with full sight but on my first birthday I have measles and had to have my left eye removed and I was partially sighted until the age of 24 when I went totally blind with Glaucoma, so I am totally blind, I’m not visually impaired or all these other terminologies that are used I am a totally blind person and so man people say sight loss and terminologies like that which doesn’t cover people that are born blind and have never had vision to lose, so we always say blind or partially sighted people.

 

Perito: (01m.08s) Thank you for that Jill so it will be interesting for our listeners to hear more about how you became involved in the development of tactile surfaces?

 

JAK: The Federation of the Blind in 1970 and also I’d started to work with the Department of Transport they’d formed a group of people with different kinds of disabilities, I was the only blind person on it and at that time they would dropping kerbs and at a lot of the pavements for people using wheelchairs and what we found was that blind people were crossing roads not realising that they’d crossed mostly side roads, this wasn’t too much on main roads at that time and one blind man up in Hull was nearly killed as he walked along his pavement not realising the kerb had been dropped and he was nearly killed and I use to visit a friend about half an hour’s walk from here where I live in Westcliffe and just before I got to her gate there was a run in to a garage, and I always describe it as like a slab of chocolate, like a tactile paving area, and it was completely flush to the road and as soon as my feet, because totally blind you rely on feeling and your guide dog is guiding you and stops at various things, kerbs and things, but I could tell by walking on this that I was going to be at my friend’s gate, and I’d say to Topsy, that was my first guide dog, find Peg’s gate and that was so easy for me to find.  So one day at the Department of Transport, Sir Peter Baldwin who was the then permanent Under Secretary Estate for Transport and his Assistant, Ann Fry, they got together a group of people and I can remember it really well, it was about 1976, and a group of people using wheelchairs sat on one side of me, about 8 people with varying kinds of wheelchairs, and on the right hand side was a group of blind people representing the RNIB, St. Dunstan’s Guide Dogs, there was about 8 of them as well.  So they both put their cases why they needed the kerbs dropped for their wheelchairs and the blind people were saying why they needed, as it was in those days a 4” kerb, so they knew when they were at the edge of the pavement.

So Sir Peter said we’ve got to come to a compromise haven’t we Jill, and I said yes, so I described this textured surface and it was flush to the kerb.  So as a result of all that the Road Research Laboratory came down here, a man called Neal Duncan and Ann Fry came and I walked them all around this area to explain to them that there were pedestrian crossings but I had no idea where they were, like along my seafront there were different kinds of Zebra crossings, there was a Zebra crossing and there was a Pelican crossing but I had no idea where they were because as I walk along a footpath there was nothing to indicate to me that there was a crossing.  You could occasionally hear the bleeper go but of course you don’t get bleepers on Zebra crossings.  So they came and I explained why we needed a texture, why we needed the texture to go across the pavement so that I would know when I was coming up to a crossing and so they went back to the Road Research Laboratory at Crowthorne in Berkshire and they brought out 12 different kinds of textures and again I can remember it really well, a lot of us about 20 of us went down to Crowthorne, people with all kinds of different disabilities, there were some in wheelchairs, there were some walking with sticks, there were deaf/blind people, there were blind people with diabetes whose lose the sensitivity in their feet, and we each one was taken around these 12 different textures separately so we couldn’t talk to each other to, you know, we just round and we were asked to vote on the one that we thought was the best surface, and it was a miracle that all of us picked the blister paving that you’ve now got at the pedestrian crossings, all of us, the wheelchair users, the people using sticks they thought that that was the best one.

Now for me it was more pronounced then I wanted it to be right.  The bobbles were a bit higher than I wanted them to be, I didn’t want them to be as high as that really but as I found out from my friends and colleagues that had diabetes, I’m not a diabetic, but those people that were, they lose a sensitivity in their fingers and in their feet and they could not feel the one that wasn’t as pronounced as the one we chose, so that’s why it had to be as pronounced as it was.  Now what happened then after we all agreed this should be the one, the compromise, remember it is a compromise between the needs of wheelchair users and blind people and so it was put around the country and about, I think it was about 24 different sites around the country, including outside the House of Commons because believe it or not it had to be tested by the Sergeant at Arms whose in charge of that crossing for the horses when the Queen goes for opening of Parliament and they use the horses, it had to be okay for the horses as well, which I thought was quite funny really but it got the okay.  And I wanted the first one to be outside the House of Common so when we were campaigning around the country for tactile paving to be introduced we could say to our Members of Parliament, that’s what we’re talking about and that’s why the first one was laid outside the House of Commons, well it was launched on July 18th 1983, but it had already been laid around the country for the trials and yes there were people complaining about it and there still are people that complain about it, people that wear these high heel shoes and things like that, and some people with really bad arthritis in their feet but it was a compromise and we had to consider the needs of not only people in wheelchairs but people pushing wheelchairs, people pushing prams and buggies and that needed the ramped edge, and for those of us that are blind so we knew when we were up to a crossing so that’s how it all began.

 

Perito: (8m.40s) That’s very interesting thank you very much.

 

Perito: (8m.45s) So moving onto Question 2 then I would be interested to know more just for a minute or so about before the introduction of tactile services what was everyday life like for someone blind or partially sighted?

 

JAK: Well it was difficult because you didn’t know when you were up to a crossing although those crossings were there you didn’t know that they were there, only by trial and error really and when you’re trained with a guide dog, and I was trained in 1971 so I had about 10 years without the tactile and it was just very difficult to know where you were up to and especially finding steps and I use to travel up to London frequently to go to meetings and at stations there was steps, because there weren’t always lifts at the stations in those days, well still no lift at my station, they were going to have one, and so we introduced the Corduroy kind and at that time, I’m talking about back in the late 70’s/80’s I chaired the Joint Committee on Mobility for the Blind and Partially Sighted, we met at the Royal National Institute for the Blind in Great Broughton Street and we coordinated all the national organisations of and for blind people and partially sighted people and deaf/blind people, so that we knew what the problems were and it was our idea to have the Corduroy kind placed at tops and bottoms of steps so that we would know when we were coming up to a light of steps whether you were going up or down and that was very useful and very helpful but prior to that time you just had to depend on your guide dog to find the steps or a person using a long cane, and it wasn’t until 1964 that the long cane as brought over from America to teach blind people mobility, so right up to that time you would have seen blind people walking around the streets just using an ordinary white walking stick.  So as I say it wasn’t until 1964 that the long cane training came over from America and although I was offered the long cane training at that time I’d only just been blind a couple of years and I was asked if I would go to Birmingham on a 3 month course to be taught that, well I’d got a baby and I didn’t want to obviously leave her, I couldn’t leave her for 3 months to go for training, so may very first campaign was to have a mobility officer based at Southend Council who trained me and in those days there was about 600 blind and partially sighted people living in the Southend district and there as only I think two guide dog owners at that time living in the town, and so life was very difficult getting around and so with this training, and this long cane training, which I had, and it was a good but it didn’t give enough confidence to go out and it wasn’t on my own until I had my first guide dog that made me independent once again.  But even with a guide dog you still weren’t sure that you were up to the steps or you were up to a crossing, it was very difficult.

 

Perito: (12m42s) Thank you for that Jill. Can you tell us about how you deal with people who arrive at the front door?

 

JAK:  Well that was one of the problems when I first went totally blind because my husband would go off to work, I was left at home on my own and I just did not want to open my front door because I didn’t know who was going to be there and so I, I started to work with the National Federation of the Blind and we had discussions at meetings about problems and one of the problems was this issue for a lot of people worried about the door.  So I thought of this idea for having a password and we contacted the electricity company to start off with and this was up in the Midlands, because that’s where we were having our meetings at the time, and so they said yes they would do it, and from, this is 1974, and from then on the public utilities, the Gas and the Electric companies use a password scheme.  So what happens is you arrange with the company your password and I’m not going to tell you what my mine is (laughter) because I don’t want everybody to know, but you choose a word that you know is quite a familiar word to you, and you won’t forget it anyway and then when the person knocks at the door, rings the bell you go to the door with your chain on and you say, “who are you” and they say “oh it’s the Gas Board” and then I say “what is my password” and I will not let anybody in my door unless I’m 100% certain who it is and so that has been going on throughout the country, the password scheme and for the past, I suppose 10 years, I’ve been working with the Department of Work and Pensions on the benefits, with talking about Disability Living Allowance and now the new Personal Independence Payment.  Really about the benefits but I brought up at every meeting that we should have a password, because I know from contacts that I make with blind people around the country, that one lady who lived down in Somerset she got conned at the door by somebody saying that they were from DWP and they weren’t and she gave all her personal information to them and so we know people are very vulnerable in this day and age, whether your blind, partially sighted or just an older person and so I’m trying, well they’ve agreed to do it and they did have a trial in Wales about 3 years ago and they said yes it works but the problem with the Department of Work and Pensions is that they will keep changing their staff and so you get one lot of Civil Servants agreeing to do something and a Minister, and of course in the last 5 years we’ve had I think 4 different Ministers for the disabled, and I mean their all very good and they come and chair our meetings, we’ve got a special target, a little group called Alternative Format looking at the different formats for the benefits, large print, braille, audio because not everybody can cope with things online and so this is one of my current campaigns is to make sure that everything is available in all formats not only online, and we lose out so much of information that is being given to you not only by the Government, by Councils as well and that is a daily occurrence now that you receive an email which says “oh it’s all online” and consultation papers, surveys, lots of things that you just can’t cope with and you can’t respond to.

 

Perito: (17m.10s) Of these 7 official types of tactile paving, that’s blister, Corduroy, platform edge that’s off street, platform edge, on street, segregated shared cycle, guidance path surface information surface, which, in your opinion is the most and least effective and why?

 

JAK:  The least effective is the one that was devised to go through pedestrian areas and that was first laid in, I think it’s Gouda, in the Netherlands and in fact in the end they had to take it up because they found that blind people using like long canes were trying to negotiate along this tactile through the pedestrian area and they were tripping people up with their long canes, so they eventually took it up, they didn’t find it very helpful at all so for my own, and there is a consultation going on at the moment looking at tactile paving, and my own opinion, and this is my own opinion it is that we should keep the blister for the pedestrian crossings, all pedestrian crossings where they are controlled crossings.  They’ve laid it in many parts of the country where they’re uncontrolled and I only wanted it to be at controlled crossings so that you knew that it was as reasonably safe as it could be to cross that road at that point.  Now along the London Road here they’ve laid it at different places other than controlled crossings and I wouldn’t cross there, I think it’s too dangerous, you need to, it’s so dangerous nowadays, we can’t hear the electric cars coming and so you’ve just got to be extra careful to cross the roads and so that one’s fine.  The Corduroy one should only be at tops and bottoms of steps, now what they’ve done in Southend they’ve laid that one outside the Victoria Railway Station where they’ve got a shared space and I’ll come onto that in a minute, but that shouldn’t be there, that should only be, that Corduroy at tops and bottoms of steps.

Then we’ve got the blister which is slightly different, it’s called a lozenge pattern on the edges of railway platforms, again that was my idea. We were visiting stations because they were making stations unmanned, no staff at stations which is just ridiculous. Blind and disabled people just cannot physically use the station where you’ve got no staff, it’s too dangerous so while we’ve been campaigning to retain staff at railway stations we also, as a safeguard really, to have the tactile laid not right on the edge of the platform edge but just set back a bit so that you don’t go beyond that tactile and that is very helpful.  I mean I don’t travel very much completely on my own no, I always make sure I get assistance, and when I was younger I did and I just used the tactile paving.  I’m mean I’m not so confident now because I’m older and I’ve had a couple of falls getting on a train and getting off a train all because, and this is where when you help a bind person you should always ask them how they want to be helped, and for staff members they think that every blind person can see something, well a lot of us can’t see anything and so they’ll say “Oh step here, step there” they don’t tell you if it’s an up step or a down step and I was being helped off a train, the train had broken down, I was on the way to Eastbourne and we had to change trains and I was getting off this train at Hove, and I had my guide dog in my left hand, he got off first, I was holding the member of staff and he just said “step” but what he didn’t tell me that there was a wide gap so though I stepped off I went down the gap between the train and the platform and so you just have to be so careful when you’re given assistance that you’re given it the right way and always say let the blind person take your arm you should never push a blind person, you should never, you know, walk behind them and sort of say “this way, that way” you take their arm and then say left or right or if there’s a step say whether the step’s going up or down.  So many people that reckon they’ve been trained say “steps coming up” but they’re not they’re steps going down and so you really have to be really careful whey your guiding a blind person to make sure that you’re giving the right sort of information.  Coming back to the tactile yes they introduced a tactile for the dividing cycleways now we had a big debate in the House of Commons back in 1984 when the Cycle Tracks Act was re-designed and we were totally opposed to any kind of sharing the pavement with a cyclist, we support the need for cycle tracks and cycle paths but not sharing it with a pedestrian and unfortunately we lost, although there was a 5 hour debate this was at the time when guide dogs weren’t allowed into the House of Commons and another campaign that I’ve been fighting ever since I had my first guide dog and so I had to sit outside and I was not allowed to sit in the commons room with my guide dog and listen to that 5 hour debate, and when you’re a campaigner you need to listen to other people’s points of view and of course you couldn’t if, cos I wasn’t allowed in there with my dog, but we lost and I say, we, it had been the policy of the National Federation of the Blind, the Royal National Institute for the Blind, the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, that we did not want cyclists to share the same footway or footpath or pedestrian area as a pedestrian and we know there’s been many accidents of people being knocked down by a cyclist.  I’ve had people on my footpath, in my road, try and ride between me and my dog, and these are old people, these are not youngsters, these are older people that think that they’ve got the right to ride along the footway or the footpath, and we also were very annoyed when the removed the bell, the bell use to be a requirement on a bicycle and the Pedestrians Association it was in those days, had the bell removed, they didn’t want a bell on a bike and just like that it got removed as a requirement and now if you buy a bicycle you have to have a bell on it but there’s no requirement for you to use it, which again is ridiculous, that ought to be a requirement that a person uses a bell cos when you can’t, you can’t hear a cycle coming and people just whizz around you and bump into you.  And so when they introduced this tactile at the start of a cycleway it really wasn’t very helpful because you could join that cycleway anyway along it, not necessarily at the beginning of it or at the end of it so we found that quite difficult to use and I wouldn’t recommend that at all, we just keep to the ones that we’ve got.

And then going on to the shared space issue back in 2005 I was still chairing the European Blind Union, we coordinate all the different countries in Europe, whether their members of the Union or not and there’s about 43 different countries who are involved and I chaired this commission for 16 years which covered all road safety, mobility, transport and guide dog issues from 1996 so I’ve travelled all over Europe and we were trying to improve the environment all over Europe, not only in this country and in 2005 we found out that they’d designed this shared area in The Netherlands.  Now they’d been no consultation with any blind organisations at all, in fact I found out afterwards they hadn’t even considered the need to blind people but their strategy was to remove all pavements, all pedestrian crossings and make a wall to wall flat surface and the idea was, the concept of a shared space was, that a driver of vehicles made eye contact with the pedestrian so that they shared the same area.  Well we as you can imagine said this is absolutely ridiculous, very dangerous and we were very concerned that they hadn’t consulted blind people and by 2007 the idea came over to the UK and in fact I went to the very first meeting that they had in Kensington because they wanted to do this in Exhibition Road in London which they eventually did do, removing all the kerbs, all the crossings, all the proper pavements and although they consulted us as so often happens they ignored us, completely ignored us.  And while this was going on in the UK I was still chairing the commission in Europe and in 2008 I spoke to a Transport Conference in Paris of all the Ministers of Transport from the whole of Europe and I said you know about all the hazards that we have anyway on the pavements and the all difficulties blind people have getting around and I said about the shared space and they were amazed because they just hadn’t considered the needs of blind people and I went on my very first cruise in that year, I’d been in the September and this talk was in the October 2008 and my friend and I who was a fully sighted person, we went to Rome on, we got off the cruise ship and you know you go on a coach trip, we went into Rome and this is where they’d got a shared space and we were nearly killed, we really were nearly killed and we just, Lorraine I mean she’s fully sighted that was with me and she said “Jill I don’t know where we going” she said “they’ve got no footpaths here” I said “Oh no this must be one of these shared spaces” and it was.  And I said all this at this conference and afterwards all the different Ministers from different countries were saying “Ahh we hadn’t thought about it”.

Well there was a gentlemen who’d worked on this scheme in The Netherlands from the UK called Ben Hamilton-Bailey and what we decided to do was to have a meeting in London, it was initiated by the Guide Dogs for the Blind and I went for the National Federation of the Blind and we had had RNIB were there, and I arrived at the meeting early cos when you travel from a long distance you make special arrangements so that you get somewhere in good time.  So I was there early, nobody else in the room and this man came in and he said, “Oh good morning” and I said “Good morning who are you?” and it was Ben Hamilton-Bailey he said “Oh I’ve heard of you” and I said “Yes I’ve heard of you” and so for a quarter of an hour I told him how I’d introduced the tactile paving originally back in the 70’s and I said this is really similar to what you’re doing now, taking away, you know, the kerbs, the crossings and making a flat surface how do you expect us to know where we are.  Guide dogs are trained, children are trained, you stop at the kerbs and you look left and right and you know where to cross and all the rest of it, I said, “how do you expect people to do it in this area?” and he said “Oh we hadn’t thought of” they really hadn’t thought of blind people and I challenged him and I know Guide Dogs challenged him to come out with a blindfold on with us but he never did and so he still campaigned, he still acted as a consultant throughout the country encouraging Local Authorities to do this shared spaces which unfortunately they’ve been doing.  Fortunately because I’d spoken in Europe they’re not doing them so much in Europe, they did take a note of what we said, mind you their pavements are in an awful state, they’re worse than our pavements are here, so that was sort of the start of the shared space.  The problem with the shared space that’s been built in Southend we have two areas one outside the Victoria Railway Station so people travelling down that don’t know the area would just walk out the station and walk straight across this shared area, where buses go and taxis go, other traffic isn’t supposed to go there but there’s lots of buses and there have been many accidents there and then the other scheme is on the seafront at Southend at City Beach where they took away the conventional kerbs which meant that the water didn’t runaway properly and they’ve had lots of problems with the traders with the waters not running away and getting flooded and they installed after we made a lot of complaints, they did install what they call courtesy crossings.

Now these are not legal crossings, they called courtesy crossings which means that you can cross whenever you like, the drivers can go and stop whenever they like, there’s no legal requirement and unfortunately they’ve put the tactile paving there which should only be at controlled crossings, so I would not cross there because there’s nothing to let me know when the right time to cross whereas when you’ve got a bleeper crossing you press your button and you only cross when the bleeper goes to tell you, as these courtesy crossings are just so dangerous, and I know because I go along there in cars and the drivers don’t like it, all they’ve got is a 20 mile speed limit, there’s nothing else to say who is in charge of that area and nobody is, again it’s a shared space concept that you’re supposed to make, the driver’s supposed to make eye contact with the pedestrian which is not very good when you can’t see, when you’re blind or you’re partially sighted.  And it also affects people with mental and learning difficulties I am Patron of a local Mental Health Charity called Trust Links and I know from their members who have got mental health issues they like to know that they’re on a safe footpath and they like to know that there’s a proper safe crossing to cross at.  So it’s not only a problem for blind and partially sighted people the shared space, it’s a problem for many, many pedestrians.  Probably all pedestrians because you can’t be safe in a shared space area and nor can the traffic really but at least the traffic can go even though they have to go at a 20 mile speed limit, or suppose to go at 20 mile speed limit, whereas a pedestrian has got no safe area to walk and we are trained with our guide dogs not to go into those shared areas because there’s nowhere for the guide dog to feel safe either on the pavement or where to cross the road.

 

Perito: (35m.15s) Jill it’s been interesting to hear you talk today, thank you very much for your time and we look forward to the next episode.

 

JAK: Thank you very much James and I just hope that people will learn and understand what tactile really does mean and for the people that may want to complain about it, the sighted people I mean, just think how lucky that they that they can actually see where they’re walking, where they’re crossing the roads and for people that may have walking difficulties again I hope they will understand that we did have to have a compromise that would help as many different kinds of disabilities with mobility issues as we can, we can’t please everybody and also it would be really helpful if more people offered to help a blind or partially sighted person, not just grab their arms and pull them across the road but just say “would you like help” or if we’re standing at a bus stop say “would you like help to know what number the bus is coming” there’s lots of ways that sighted people can help a blind person and also I think it’s the one thing that I always start off with by people cutting back their overhanging branches cos its really difficult to walking along your own footway or footpath with overhanging branches their a pain (laughter) and my poor guide dog has to guide me around all these overhanging branches plus all the other obstacles on the pavements so that would be really helpful if people could do that little thing.  It doesn’t cost anything to cut back those branches and especially when their wet and their prickly it’s not very nice to walk into them.  So thank you for listening.

 

If you enjoyed this podcast make sure to read the transcript of Jill Allen-King’s discussion on Disabled Living Allowance (DLA) and the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) here 

 

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The Jill Allen-King Podcast – Episode One: The Disabled Living Allowance For Blind And Partially Sighted People

Jill Allen-King OBE, has been to Buckingham Palace seven times, written books, a well-received autobiography available on Amazon and found time to run for local council for the Libdems in 2019. Jill has helped Perito create two new podcasts for Our World. Without Boundaries, which you can listen to here, and the transcript is below. Thanks for reading. Perito

 

Hello everyone, I’m Jill Allen-King OBE and I’m a totally blind person and up to the year of 1992 there was no financial benefits for blind people. I had gone totally blind at the age of 24 and I was working as a cook in London earning a good wage and we’d just bought a house, had a mortgage and so when I went totally blind I lost my job, I lost all that income and so for the first 20 years of my married life we were really, really poor.

And so in 1992, for the first time ever as a blind person, we were going to be awarded a financial benefit and this was called the Disability Living Allowance (DLA).  Many of our organisations had campaigned for a blindness allowance because people with physical disabilities had always got a financial allowance, Attendance Allowance it was called.

 

But blind people had nothing, not in this country.  In other countries like Germany and Italy they had very good financial provision for blind people but we had nothing, so when the Disability Living Allowance was passed in 1991 and came into practice in 1992, fortunately, I was appointed as a Member of the Board and five blind people were nominated.

 

I sat on the Board for 6 years and I was only the blind person at that time as a member of the Board all the other members had physical disabilities, none had learning difficulties and there wasn’t even anybody who was deaf or hard of hearing, very dominated with physical difficulties and I was also at that time appointed to the Appeal Service which was the independent service that was going to help people when people were turned down for the benefit they could go before a Tribunal Panel which was made up of a Judge who was a Magistrate or a Solicitor, a Doctor or a Consultant and somebody who knew about disability was either a disabled person or worked within Social Services or the Care Service and so I was appointed to that.

 

I did that for 21 years and all the way through I was on the DLA Board I thought it was so unfair that blind people and partially sighted people were eligible for the lower rate of the mobility allowance and the lower rate on the middle rate of the care component. But it was the mobility component that I felt strongly about and still do.

In 2011 the Regulations were changed. We had done a lot of campaigning to say that blind people have got as many, if not more mobility problems, than somebody with a physical disability because many people with physical disabilities can actually drive their own cars.  And so they were receiving about £50.00 a week and we were, and still are, only getting about £12.00 a week, it’s probably a little bit more than that now but that’s roughly the cost and the comparison.

In 2011 after this campaigning the Regulations were changed so that blind people would be entitled for the higher rate of the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) , Mobility Component, which was good and that’s what we’d campaigned for but unfortunately what has happened it was only awarded to people up to the age of 65 which, okay, in one way, that was a good idea but in another way it wasn’t.

 

It’s complete discrimination because what has happened is that those people, those blind people that were awarded that higher rate of the PIP benefit can keep it even though they are over 65 now, so I have got friends and colleagues that are 68, 69 and even coming up to 70 now that have got that higher rate mobility allowance that although I, because I was already over 65 in 2011 I am not entitled to it. So you’ve got a lot of people that are receiving this higher rate of mobility allowance and an awful lot of us that can’t receive it and it’s really very unfair and I’ve gone right through to the upper tribunal and the Judge that judged my case said it is unfair and really the regulation should be changed.

I have been writing to my Member of Parliament and I’ve raised it with different Ministers at various times about how this is discrimination between blind people of different ages and even though you have got this Equal Opportunities Commission, it’s not fair we’re not being treated equally at all and in fact I need that higher rate more now, when I was younger I never used taxis, I travelled on the underground, on public transport all the time, I wouldn’t have dreamed of using a taxi unless it was to a venue where I just didn’t know where it was, whereas now I use taxis all the time because I’m older, I’ve had falls on trains, I’ve had falls on pavements, I’ve had arthritis in my knee and I’ve got Tinnitus in my ears so I don’t hear so well and I’ve just lost a lot of confidence with travelling on public transport and therefore I need to use taxis and taxis are very, very expense now, whether your local or in London.

I just feel that the Government should be considering more so the needs of those of us that are older as well as the benefits that are paid to younger people.  I’m not saying younger people don’t need those benefits yes they do but older people need them as much and in fact even more than we did before.  So that is a current campaign that many of us feel very strong about and my MP, Sir David Ames, did raise it in the Commons on the 25th July and hopefully we will have a debate as soon as it is possible on the benefits and how they affect the lives of blind and partially sighted people because really does affect you.

 

When you are blind you have so many extra costs.

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Perito Prize 2019 – Third Place: ‘The Fallen Knight’ By Heather Matthews

The Fallen Knight

By Heather Matthews

 

A neon glow of purple glares through the open window of Marnie’s empty apartment, lighting the stone floor at her feet. She sat in her chair, wrapped in a blanket, staring out at the giant billboard before her, seeping light through her window. A billboard made up of glass tubes glowing violet, surrounding a white and blue hologram of a girl without arms. Marnie watched the digital tears drip down her face, and simply stared as a smooth practiced female voice slid out into the night sky.

“Never feel alone again with DreamWire, where all your dreams come true.”

The hologram changed to the girl wearing a headset, two arms digitally materializing by her sides. The hologram appeared to be testing her fingers and hands in wonder. She then threw her arms up in the air, a genuine smile on her face. The warmth from it made Marnie’s gut twist.

“With DreamWire you can do the job you long for and go anywhere you want to go without ever leaving your home.”

The hologram changed again, flickering to the girl playing guitar, painting, running. Waving to friends and family, holding a baby. Walking down the aisle, holding a bouquet. Marnie’s fingers tightened around her cup. Her coffee had gone cold hours ago.

“Make money, socialise, and explore the world. With DreamWire anything Is possible. With DreamWire, you can be…”

The girl turned to Marnie, and smiled

“Complete.”

The hologram disappeared.

Marnie swung her arm back and hurled her cup at the billboard with a yell, her cup sailing out into the night air, liquid flying out as it span, twisting and turning, until it slipped down into the street. Marnie could hear the shattering of porcelain, the sound of rain beginning to fall. The billboard still glittering before her.

“Screw you.” She hissed, her hair wild, curls twisting and turning over one half of her face. Her electric blue eyes wide and erratic, one of her pupils tiny, whilst the other was so wide you could fall right into it.

She wheels herself over to the window with a sneer on her face and tugs on the rope, slamming it shut with an echoing bang. The glass in the frame shook but did not splinter. Marnie heard footsteps upstairs.

“Marnie? Are you staring at that billboard again? We’ve gotta get ready for the protest!” The voice echoed from upstairs and drew closer until in walked the woman named Gypsy. Her hair was dreaded with loud colours of wires and tubing, a thin stripe tattoo ran halfway across her face, and a pair of black light goggles rested over her eyes. She threw a pair of the goggles over to Marnie who grinned and caught them easily.

“Just giving myself some motivation Gypsy.” Sliding the black goggles on she tapped the frame. The black glistened to a soft neon glow, lighting half of her face in a sheen of blue. “These got full power, right?” Marnie asked, moving across the open empty room to her partner, that was filled with nothing but three tall windows, a table in the centre, a typewriter and a desk light. “We don’t want to get scanned by the Sensors.”

Gypsy slipped off her goggles and rolled her eyes, leaning lazily against the exposed brick wall. “Okay that was one time and you have to stop bringing that up, it hasn’t happened since, right?”

“Yeah and the day I stop reminding you will be the day the power runs out on these things.”

“Fair point.” Gypsy smiled, her eyes softening, the flecks of gold Marnie loved, glittering against the purple light. “Never stop reminding me.”

Marnie smiled and reached out, taking Gypsy’s hand and raising it to her lips. “Never planned on it.” She placed a soft gentle kiss on the back of Gypsy’s hand and closed her eyes. Gypsy wiggled her fingers in Marnie’s gentle grasp and squeezed her hand. “Yeah, I love you too. Now, c’mon. Protest remember? We can’t start without you.” Leaning down, she kissed Marnie’s forehead, the kiss half landing on her hair. Outside, the rain began to roar.

 

In Downtown Azura, despite the pouring rain, cheers echoed over the crowds. Marnie appeared on stage before them, her image projected onto the building behind her, her face covered in a sheen of blue. With the raising of her hand, the crowd fell silent. Her voice echoing into the street.

“You have stripped us of our freedom in the real world, and instead created for us a digital prison you call a substitute for life. DreamWire has not given us the world. DreamWire has given us a cage. DreamWire’s software is a reminder to us, that we are only enough when we appear COMPLETE. That we do not deserve the world outside. We deserve the world outside!”

The crowd roared back at her, electric fireworks and holographic signs flickered into the air. Marnie paused and took a deep breath, staring out into the seemingly endless crowd of people and holograms alike. Not everyone had found the means to make it to the protest, but still they came. Blind, crutches, wheelchairs, hearing aids, autism, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy and others. All here to show support. All here for freedom, waiting with bated breath.

“Whilst they demand completion, all we demand is connection to the world. Our World. We demand to be in the world they separate us from. We are better than complete, we are connected.”

Gypsy smiled at Marnie from the side of the stage, holding her hand over her heart, gripping the jacket she wore tightly.

“Constantly we have been told, like children, about the dangers that the outside world has for people like us. That they have given us everything to keep us safe. Wrong. You give us everything to keep us away.

“Tonight, we march into the City, and we will show you that we will not be hidden away. That you cannot silence us with toys and trinkets. We are not a burden. We are not incomplete. We are human, and you will treat us as such.”

Her projection flickered off of the building; the crowd roared, and the protest began.

 

The rain thundered over the city as the group marched towards the square. Above them, they projected their holographic signs, all alight in different colours.

“Freedom!”

“Full life not half-life!”

“We are human”

Marnie led the protestors towards the square, feeling a burning in her arms as she pushed herself forwards, cold droplets of rain drenching her completely. The night before Marnie had insisted that no one was allowed to push her at the protest, that she would go the whole way herself. This had caused Gypsy to roll her eyes and mutter something about ‘idiotic bravado’, which had then caused an argument between them that had lasted nearly the full night.

Despite the freezing rain, Marnie felt warmth in her chest as she remembered. It had ended with each of them offering a hot chocolate to the other, holding each other’s hands, curling against each other, as they watched the city lights flicker from their bedroom. Marnie wished she had Gypsy at her side, to hold her hand.

Men in electric blue riot gear appeared before the protesters. Blocking the path into the town centre.

The protestors moved forward, trying to continue their march despite the riot shields. However, the guards pulled back and revealed a group of guards armed with guns.

Everyone stopped. Nobody breathed, nobody dared. People began to move back. The guns glinted in the neon glow. Flashing with colour. Marnie stared at the guns and whispered to herself, leading the crowd of her followers. “Why do they need guns for us?” Her heart clenched tightly in her chest, and Marnie felt like she couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t get enough air into her lungs. No matter how much she breathed in it wasn’t enough. She gripped the arms of her wheelchair.

And Marnie, screamed.

“WHY DO YOU NEED GUNS FOR US?!”

Her voice echoed over the crowd, and it grew silent, the sound of rain heavy on the concrete.

“Why…Why the hell do you need guns for us? Is what we’re trying to do really so goddamned wrong?! All we want is real world access into the city, instead of through a virtual reality that gives us phantom limbs and mind dampeners! Do you know what that’s like?! Moving a part of your body that isn’t there!? Having your brain messed with?!”

Marnie wheeled her way forward, angrily.

“Cause it sucks! I want to be able to go into the city and get myself a goddamned fresh bagel every once in a while, but I can’t because you bastards don’t have wheel-chair access anywhere! Oh, and don’t even get me started on a payment plan for bionic replacements, because the only jobs on DreamWire you can get are ridiculously low paid ones, so how in the hell are we supposed to pay for them without putting ourselves in debt our whole goddamned lives?”

She wheeled up to the guard with a gun and stopped directly in front of him.

Marnie looked up into the guard’s mask.

“Living in a virtual world isn’t living at all. We’re human too. We are not broken; we are not incomplete. We are people with hopes and dreams, and we wish for a better future.”

She reached out her hand.

“So please, let us b-”

A single shot rang out over the silence.

The sound of a body thudding to the floor.

An electronic voice echoing over the crowd from the riot vans. “Everyone switch off and return to your homes at once. I repeat return to your homes at once. If you do not comply, we have permission to open fire.”

Marnie could hear ringing in her ears.

The sound of rain.

 

The City Police didn’t actually expect them all to show up. They had thought that Marnie was a hologram, until her body fell from her wheelchair.

“MARNIE! MARNIE!”

They’d used electric pulse guns that were designed to create a concentrated bullet of electricity, which would not only short circuit the holograms system, but also shut down the system it was being projected from. However, when used on a person… It was akin to being shocked with several taser guns at once.

The guards stopped. They didn’t know what to do. They were told they weren’t really there. They’d never seen them before. For them, it was like looking into a mirror.

Gypsy pushed her way to the front and tightly held Marnie against her body, her arm wrapped around Marnie’s stomach, squeezing her tightly. Blood began to trickle gently from Marnie’s mouth. “SOMEONE HELP!” Gypsy screamed, Marnie placed her hand over Gypsy’s arm, gripping it weakly.

“Gypsy…” Marnie started softly; her eyes half lidded.

Gypsy glared at her. “Don’t you dare Marnie.” She turned back to the crowd, “MEDIC, ANYBODY PLEASE?”

“I broke my favourite cup.”

“Wh-what?”

Marnie coughed and rasped, “My cup.” Gypsy wiped the blood from her mouth with her thumb, smearing it by mistake.

Marnie breathed slowly, “I threw it at the billboard before. It fell into the street. I’m sorry.”

Tears sprung in Gypsy’s eyes; she couldn’t help it. But she still smiled, as she held the woman she loved. Her arm tight around Marnie’s waist, her hand against her fading heartbeat.

“We’ll get you another one Marn.”

Marnie looked up at Gypsy, her goggles sliding off. Her blue eyes full of tears, an ocean against ocean.  Fighting for her last breath, a smile on the edge of her lips, she reached to stroke the side of Gypsy’s face.

“You… Completed… Me.”

Marnie passed away in her arms that day.

Gypsy held her for hours. The protesters did not leave. The guards did not move.

And the rain continued to pour.