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TX: 10.09.08 - Disabled Etiquette

PRESENTER: WINIFRED ROBINSON
Downloaded from www.bbc.co.uk/radio4
THE ATTACHED TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.

ROBINSON
Ever since it was known that Beijing had won the right to stage the Olympics and Paralympics people have been speculating about how the city would cope with the sudden influx of feisty disabled athletes and their supporters fed on a diet of anti-discrimination laws and disability pride. Well part of that influx is our own Peter White who now brings us his very personal take on how it's all panning out.

WHITE
Thanks Winifred. Just a few hours ago, while you lazy lot were fast asleep, I was pondering this atop the Great Wall of China. Newspaper reports are rarely a reliable guide to the customs of other countries of course but alarm bells were bound to ring when in the translation of a guide written for Paralympic volunteers, staff, stated that physically disabled people can be isolated, unsocial and introspective, they can be stubborn and controlling, defensive and have a strong sense of inferiority. And just in case, as a blind person, I should feel personally left out this: "The optically disabled can often be introverted, they seldom show strong emotions." So that's telling me! So how would all this scary advice affect the way the many volunteers being recruited as helpers during the Paralympics went about their task? Well more or less as soon as I got off the plane it became clear that the volunteers had either never seen this advice or chosen to ignore it totally. There was no evidence at all they were expecting a rebuff, indeed quite the reverse. As I went to board the bus they sent, not one, not two but three volunteers grabbed various parts of my anatomy and practically carried me on to the bus. However introverted, defensive and stubborn I became they stuck stubbornly to their task. And the two words I've heard most often in the past week have been - slowly and carefully - neither usually figure much in my vocabulary.

And knowing this about myself I began to worry - was it me, is this my isolated and unsocial self coming out? So I turned to the least introverted disabled person I could find, wheelchair basketball star and now television commentator - Adi Adepitan. What were his first impressions?

ADEPITAN
The thing that I noted the most was my driver that was going to take me to the hotel, the first thing he said to me is: We have got a million volunteers ready to help you. And if I didn't believe him then I was totally wrong because when I went to the hotel the moment I tried to get through the door I was surrounded by like six people, one to grab each spoke of my chair and someone else to hold my dreadlocks, another person to tie my shoe laces. But then I do find myself now, when I'm going to venues, hiding behind trees and trying to sneak behind cars to avoid seeing anybody.

WHITE
Of course it's all too easy to bring your assumptions and expectations to other people's countries and expect them to share them. So I tried to find out what was going on. The problem is that all the volunteers I spoke to assured me that they would never offer help without asking first and gave answers that the most politicised disabled person couldn't possibly object to. I also know from three previous visits to China that the people are almost unfailingly kind and helpful and wouldn't willingly cause offence. What you do have though is a society which is much more used to seeing its disabled people at home, requiring care and assistance, they don't expect them out on the streets performing wheelies with dreadlocks. So there's a still a way to go before the two cultures can meet and that's one of the things more radical disabled people in China hope the Paralympics will change.

All that being said I still find that after a while all this over protectiveness puts the devil in me and I desperately needed to do something which couldn't be done slowly or carefully. Which is why you find me having climbed the very steep way up the Great Wall of China attempting to take the very quick way down on a type of fairground car. But hang on here come the carefully slowly brigade again.

CLIP OF VOLUNTEERS
This equipment can't ...

It's not for blind people?

Yeah.

I mean I've come for the Paralympics where disabled people are riding bicycles, doing all sorts of potentially dangerous things.

WHITE
Right, well I've run the gauntlet and in spite attempts to stop me as we prepare to go down the Great Wall. And we're off. Oh we're [indistinct word] to the right. We're going round to the right. I'll hang on. I can smell burning rubber. I've had lots of warnings about what to do and not to do. And here we are. And at last I've felt a strong emotion - naked fear!

My hair's still standing on end.

ROBINSON
Careful Peter and I hope there'll be pictures on the website soon.

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