It’s impossible to blend in on a dance floor when wheels are your primary method of transportation. Combined with a risk of tipping over backwards that directly correlates with how many drinks you’ve had, ignorant people and the general lack of accessibility, clubbing in a wheelchair is usually an eventful experience.
There are stairs everywhere…
Visiting bars in central London usually involves me standing and shuffling up and down some stairs (often to the witty chorus of friends yelling ‘it’s a miracle’ or ‘benefit scrounger’), or else being carried/dropped down them. I often have to hold a full bladder for hours. I’m a strong believer in not breaking the seal because accessible toilets are few and far between; the other option involves being escorted by friends and a possible barrel roll down some sticky stairs.
Trying to get served goes one of three ways: either I spend hours at the bar desperately trying to get the top of my head noticed, I roll up to the back hatch of the bar and act like I presume I have a right to be served there or I find that some kind stranger just lets me go first, often whilst making a drink driving joke (which is not original FYI). It doesn’t matter how easy getting served is though; carrying three beers when you use your hands for feet is not!
You get so many different reactions
Probably the most noticeable thing about going out is the reactions I get from other people. Firstly there are the people who feel compelled to inform me about any personal experiences they have with disability, like the time they were on crutches for a sprained ankle (not a disability). Most recently it was a girl who decided to tell me about all the wheelchair users she knew due to a large number of tractor accidents in her rural Canadian town. This included an anecdote about a friend who now has a standing robot and how she liked getting lifts with him for the disabled parking. As she was wearing a see-through dress and had just turned around to show me her bum tattoos I’m not sure I can say I didn’t encourage this conversation.
Then there are the people that question why I should be allowed out at all or ask who’s responsible for me. Recently, friends were told by a drunk middle-aged man that I shouldn’t be out in the rain. My first and last visit to Katzenjammers involved the manager asking my friend ‘who is responsible for her?’ then informing us that ‘people like her aren’t allowed down here.’ To say that was offensive is an understatement.
You get lots of lap dances
I think it’s probably safe to say that I fully encourage people giving me lap dances, although the male to female ratio at my last visit to Heaven meant I had way more scrotum in my face than I would really care for. On the plus side I did have 21 guys tell me I was beautiful. Sure they were all gay and they only meant it with the sub context that wheelchair users can’t be beautiful but I’ll take it where I can. There’s usually someone who decides it’s a great idea to take me for a spin round the dance floor, invariably slopping the drink I was carefully balancing in my crotch. Two girls at Brighton Pride asked to give me a lap dance (win) but I was so worried about being tipped over backwards having gone flying and cracking my elbows the previous week, I told them to be careful. Instead they got three other friends to stand behind me and went nuts, basically seeing who could offer me the raunchiest dance (bigger win).
More than once I have ended up sprawled on the dance floor, legs akimbo with a drunk person lying on top and a room full of strangers staring awkwardly at me. It’s understandable that people wouldn’t know how to handle a full-blown wheelchair bail out in a club; it’s clearly hilarious but you don’t want to be that bastard who laughs. The only thing that is really not cool is coming over to whisper in my ear that I have nice knickers on. This is a pickup line that has worked on no girl ever, creepy guy in scummy Dartford club.
The end of the night can be tricky
Probably the best thing about being a wheelchair user out clubbing is that at the end of the night, when you’re beyond the point of functioning, someone can push you home. It’s more unfortunate when the sleepsies take hold of you in the middle of a night out and you take the option of slumping over and having a wheelchair nap en route to bar number four. Not that that has ever happened of course.
This technique also has to be used when a 3am kebab is required, as wheeling and stuffing chips in your face are fairly mutually exclusive. Most kebab shops also seem to have a large step up in to them, but once I’m in, the staff are usually so surprised to see me I end up with extra garlic mayo or a free can of coke.
Unfortunately, when you get to the point that you’ve lost the ability to push yourself the chances of face planting increase dramatically. I discovered this last weekend after a little bit too much bus pinot and a catapult into a gully. In the words of my friend Mark: ‘…And then you rolled into the gutter and water was flowing around you and I thought you were going to drown.’
Just another standard Sunday night then…
Written for The Debrief by Amy Oulton.
Follow Amy on Twitter: @amyoulton