Selected writings by Mary Arnold. Part I

The first piece was written about 1985, when Mary was active on the Women's Health Network, and was published in their newsletter.


One day you might lose your passport to everyday society. You will have no visa to travel in certain places. and you will be deprived of your ordinary citizenship and even your sex.

Why? Because disability is no respector of age, class, colour, creed, sex or politics.

Do you think this sounds a bit far fetched ? Then think about it for a bit

You will find that buildings are difficult because of their design. you will find housing hard to come by unless you are prepared to be segregated into little ghettos of "sheltered housing " far from your usual haunts, or maybe you will lose any right to decide how you organise your life because it doesn't suit the way the staff work. Worse still you can receive a life sentence of solitary confinement in your own home.

And if you do dare show your face in public, particularly in a wheelchair, you become public property, to be pitied, or to become an object which exists solely to be someone's good deed for the day

So I need an attendant most times! This doesn't mean that because I am only four foot tall when seated, I become a child, whose guardian must always be consulted first, to receive an occasional pat on the head or a balloon - (honest it's happened) - to hear comments pass me by - "Isn't it a shame", "Isn't she brave", "I could never face that"

Because you are physically different it does not follow that you are mentally different, or any less intelligent, it doesn't mean you are deaf either, but if you do happen to be deaf as well - tough luck - you will then certainly be regarded as an imbecile.

You are also liable to find yourself neutered, you don't mind sharing a toilet with males, you don't mind a bath with only a curtain to screen you from each other. Your bodily functions are no longer your own exclusive concern and sex becomes an object of idle curiosity - "you don't mind me asking but do you? and how do you manage it?" that's if you don't have your wrists slapped first for having thoughts and desires of children and normal family life.

I want to be fashionable and dress well, not just be thrown into sacks because "you must expect to make allowances for your disability".

I want to have a good night out from time to time, like you, with friends of my own choosing. I don't want to be segregated into a separate community of people whose only common interest might be their disability". Or in a cinema or theatre, to be put in separate seats with a responsible adult by my side (who I have to pay for by the way). That's if I've even managed to get in in the first place. O.K. I can be carried, but how would you like to be a parcel sent by British Rail arriving "damaged through mishandling". By now you'll be thinking "how terrible", "how can I help?" But I hope you'll only be thinking "how can I help?"

I can't give you all the answers in a few lines but here's a few points to start with

  • Talk to me in a normal tone of voice.

  • Ask me if you are unsure.

  • Do not be offended if I turn your offer aside.

  • Listen to what I have to say and do not think that you know better, then campaign with other able bodied people to improve the environment for us all. Remember that what is good for wheelchairs is good for prams and pushchairs also and that's a sizeable proportion of the population at any given time.

  • Above all be patient, it might take time but I'll get there in the end.

Painfully yours,

Mary Arnold.

She often repeated the above piece in order to demonstrate what it felt like to be disabled by society (the social model). Mary wrote a companion piece, some years later for the Coventry Unemployed Workers Projects newsletter "exposť"

No Passport

I once wrote that having a disability is like losing your passport. You become a second class citizen who cannot go into certain places.

This is particularly so in the world of work. If you are born disabled you need all manner of visa's to enable you to fraternise with your able bodied peers and by the time you have gone through a separate education system not necessarily as extensive as it would have been if you were able bodied you are really unprepared for getting your first job. You may well lack the essential confidence having had limited experience of mixing with anyone other than people like yourself who have a disability which has often labelled you as inadequate or not up to par. It does not help either that your special needs whatever they are are not adequately catered for by Y.T.S. If your disability is not so noticeable on the outside it may even be hard to get benefits because you cannot find a Y.T.S. place.

More disheartening still is the Government's attitude to us which does not give us any representation on the various advisory committees set up under new legislation. The duty to inform employers of any restrictions on suitable employment caused by a school leavers disability means that youngsters will be applying for jobs and will in some cases be given jobs which are dangerous, for example handling toxic chemicals by someone who is asthmatic. Similarly the ignorance of employers and training agencies about disability can also lead to a failure to recognise the potential that disabled people do have to perform real work given the necessary equipment and adaptations necessary which the employer does not have to pay for. Sometimes it just means giving you an interview rather than rejecting you outright because you have stated on the application form that you are disabled. This happens, as a study by the spastics society has proven, and what is more this discrimination is still perfectly legal.

As you get older things do not get any better. Age in itself is seen as a disability and often an employee who has given many years of service is rejected out of hand when illness or accident intervenes to make them disabled for the first time. I know this as that is what happened to me. I struggled on for too long in a job that was unsuited for me when I became disabled and rather than find work I could continue to do I was retired in my forties. I was only considered capable of manual work and when I could not do that it was hard lines, even though I had been studying and gained qualifications I was not transferred. I also missed the opportunity of a final qualification, this is because I did not know I could have asked for dispensations for my disability to give me extra time to complete my exams.

If you do survive in work till retirement age what then? Has the cumulative effect of an unhealthy working environment made an active retirement impossible? Disabilities which had been compensated for to some extent by earning an income suddenly become more important. Maybe you could have applied for mobility allowance but thought you didn't need the money as you could afford to run a car at work. Well its too late now, your over sixty five and the government says you've got no business wanting to be out and about at that age, the examples are endless and finally you may not even be able to die in peace and leave your relatives an insurance policy as your life was considered to risky to insure. Sometimes I really do think we are foreigners in our own country.

Back in 1984, before she had a car, she wrote the following piece about transport for the "Trunk Calls" newsletter

Transport Blues

Ever wanted to lead an active social life?

Well the usual crowd meet on Monday at 8 p.m and things don't start livening up till 9.

I am on my own see, and sometimes I need to take my wheelchair, but at other times I can manage on my crutches if there isn't far to walk.

How to get there?

1. Phone Dial-a-ride, at least a month ahead if possible, (but will they still be meeting on Mondays in a months time.)

That worry aside I'm in luck this time, a cancellation. They can pick me up at 8 and the last journey home is 9pm.

"****!" That only gives me about half an hour to say hello between settling down and getting ready to go. I can't get a taxi home because I can't climb into them.

The only hope I have is for a voluntary driver. Pity there's not more of them. I know of some disabled groups who arrange drivers to their own meetings and even these are over-stretched. I only wish there were more who could take us to ordinary social events, after all we can pay their petrol. So where are all you fit and healthy car drivers. the odd night or two of giving your abundant time could make all the difference to us housebound folk.

Next is the text of a leaflet Mary handed out when she single handedly picketed a meeting at a notoriously inaccessible venue.


I WOULD have been able to address you from the platform as one of the invited speakers, and so told you how the social security review is unfair to disabled people but you will have to make do with a leaflet instead since St Mary's Hall is inaccessible.

The Government like others before them is attacking disabled peoples benefits on the basis that we are the least likely to make any noise about it. Especially if we can't get into public meetings like this one. So when you are in this meeting and others like it, consider what the review is going to do to us and do not leave us out of mind just because we are out of sight, because as you can see there is usually a good reason for us not being there

Mary was also capable of writing in a more academic vein, here is the text of a lecture she gave to postgraduates at the University of Warwick


Site Navigator

 Mary Arnold's original page describing her adventures with an unusual electric wheelchair.
The whole of the political and voluntary community in Coventry turned out for her funeral, these are some of their tributes 
 What the papers said, Mary was seldom out of the news
Mary's last campaign, to get on an NHS trust board, including her C.V. and her thoughts on the health service
An inspirational poem chosen by Mary's other son, Marcus and read out at her funeral
A selection of photographs

Copyright © 1997
This Page was created Tuesday, October 28, 1997
Revised Wednesday, December 3, 1997
Most recent revision, Sunday, October 25, 1998