Opinion: How a cab driver brought me back down to earth

Most of us working in the third sector, particularly in the campaigns field, all too often assume that we are fully engaged with and understand the issues we are campaigning on. I suppose it's part of that elusive 'added value' - we emote with the issues. But do we? Are we kidding ourselves?

I recently attended a lofty meeting, which had been discussing campaigning. It was fascinating, and certainly added to my thinking about achieving change in civil society through lobbying and campaigning. Feeling very pleased with myself for having contributed what I thought were some pretty profound observations, I stood on the pavement outside while a colleague hailed a cab. After a while, one stopped and drew up to her, and I walked across to it. I told the driver where I wanted to go. He looked me up and down and said he wasn't going to take me and drove off. I wonder if my disability had anything to do with his decision to illegally refuse me a service? Sadly, I suspect it may have played a part.

This encounter is a daily experience for many disabled people up and down the land, and accessibility is a core component of my campaigning agenda. So why should I be so shocked, surprised, hurt - even offended? In truth, I realised that I had perversely become dislocated from the daily experiences of disabled people. Despite being disabled myself, I had forgotten what life for most disabled people is like - daily humiliations, poverty, inaccessibility and disappointments. Our day-to-day activities and career aspirations should not become a cause of or an excuse for forgetting the experiences of beneficiaries.

It's critical that if we in the sector are to champion social justice and equality, we frequently remind ourselves of the experiences of people who have neither. The fact that I have a disability demonstrates how insidious and corrosive this dislocation can be. We all need a shock now and then to keep us fully alert to why we are doing what we are doing. The cab driver will soon be getting a shock too - courtesy of the Public Carriage Office.

 - John Knight is assistant director, policy and campaigns, at Leonard Cheshire Disability: jk.thirdsector@googlemail.com.

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