The Queen celebrates her Platinum Jubilee this year, 70 years on the throne is an astonishing thing, I only wish the media would stop focusing so much on her declining mobility. At 96, the Queen is having to pull back on many public engagements, and this week we saw a glimpse into the future reign of King Charles as he delivered The Queen’s Speech in The Lords Chamber. With the Queen being so much a focus in her jubilee year, it would be a shame not to see more of her. But, judging by the deluge of commentary across all media outlets about her physical decline, we may only catch the odd sighting of the Queen, who is said to be “Too proud” to be seen using a wheelchair in public.
I’ve listened, mouth agape, while so-called experts spurt out harmful and thoughtless remarks about why the Queen shouldn’t be seen in a wheelchair. According to these commentators, using a wheelchair renders someone ‘weak’. Christopher Biggins told GB News that “The Queen does not want to show her weakness in public… she’s very proud.” While Gyles Brandreth made the following insult on ‘This Morning’, “[The Queen’s] sister Princess Margaret was often, towards the end of her life, photographed in a wheelchair, and it felt a little bit undignified.”*
Being a part-time wheelchair user myself, I know first hand how difficult it is to suddenly find yourself disabled having previously lived a physically active life. There is no question that it is not an easy thing to overcome, made only more difficult by the perceived prejudice of the public towards people with disabilities. The types of comments I’ve heard about the Queen reinforce the damaging misconceptions surrounding disability. To be disabled is to be UNable. To be disabled is to be worthLESS. To be disabled is something to be ashamed of.
After hearing that this topic was controversially covered on ‘Loose Women’ on 10 May, I rushed to download the episode. What I witnessed was an appalling display of ignorance at its finest. Under the banner headline, “Concerns over the Queen’s mobility” the panel began their clumsy conversation. The ever-loud Janet Street-Porter had the most to say, “Whether we like it or not, an image of [the Queen] in a wheelchair signifies decline in power… I think it’s really tough because obviously mentally she’s on the ball, she’s still got an amazingly big workload, but you have to weigh that up about [sic] how do you wanna be perceived?”
Steering the conversation to the ‘youngest panel member’, Frankie Bridge, things started to look up, sort of, “I think [seeing the Queen in a wheelchair] would do a lot for, you know, other people who are in wheelchairs or, you know, have disabilities.” But then she went and ruined it with, “Maybe, if she had to have someone pushing her around, she’d feel a bit like a burden… it must make you feel a bit vulnerable as well I think if someone sees you, they must think you can’t get around that fast.” Ouch.
Trying to focus on the positives that using a mobility aid brings, the conversation continued under the somewhat ironic headline, “End stigma of using walking aids?” Head panellist, Ruth Langsford, spoke candidly about the need for old people to accept using aids to avoid being holed up. With a beaming smile, she ended the chat with, “I think sometimes it’s just a case of swallowing your pride.”
On a personal level, I find these conversations deeply offensive. Too much time is given to people who know nothing of what it is like to have a disability but are intent on giving their banal opinion. How are wheelchair users supposed to feel after hearing this endless tripe? Wheelchairs and other aids enable people to live fulfilling lives, they allow people to do things they would otherwise be unable to do. There is no shame in needing to use an aid. No pride is lost, only strength is shown in continuing to live our lives in the face of it all.
* To be clear, I blame the Queen for none of this. God save the Queen and all that.
** Image taken from ‘The Queen & Mr Brown, A day for dinosaurs’ by James Francis Wilkins