Tom Shakespeare

When bikers pass each other on the road, they acknowledge each other with a flash of fellowship. I also love the way that bikers thank a car driver for letting them in, by kicking out a leg in an upside down salute. Or long distance truck drivers flash their lights to greet another trucker.

We may not have leather jackets or death’s-head regalia, but us wheelies do the same of course. That look of recognition when you pass another person in a chair, a quick glance to see what sort of chair they have. A grimace of solidarity, when you’re trying to push up a steep hill or queueing for the one accessible toilet. Waiting in line, you might pass comment on what model chair someone has, just as bikers admire each other’s Harley Davidson or Triumph. Of course, I’m talking about the manual wheelchair users – you might call us the pushers or the lightweights – as opposed to the power brigade, who whizz around town in their automatic machines without a second thought. But they no doubt have a camaraderie of their own, as I will likely find for myself out one day.

You may never speak to each other, and you might not have anything in common. But for that moment, you are recognizing a shared experience and encouraging each other to keep on going. It’s heart warming, because you feel less alone. It also reflects the way that many disabled people think of themselves as a distinct minority – almost like an ethnic group. It does not matter what your medical diagnosis is, if you have a mobility impairment, you are probably going through similar struggles.

And it can be useful. Just as drivers warn each other of a police speed trap or a traffic jam ahead, so wheelies warn each other about the broken elevator, or the broken glass that might puncture a tyre. Sometimes, it’s good to be in a gang.