From the sick poor to the mobility impaired

For the Sick Poor, 1828

I found this bench in a park in a local park in a small town in Scotland. A date on the side of the bench says that it was erected in 1828. I am not familiar with the detailed history of this bench but it struck me as a historical artifact that was relevant to my research. Who knows whether the ‘sick poor’ appreciated the provision of this bench but I am sure it was well meant.

Sign on bridge

Just a little bit further along the river there is a footbridge, built to celebrate the millennium. On it there is this sign, which says ‘mobility impaired rest area’.  There didn’t seem to be anywhere to rest, just a flat bit and a railing.  I presume the purpose of this is to provide a flat area for people using wheelchairs or mobility scooters stop and look at the view without rolling down the bridge.  In which case it should really say ‘safe place for wheelchair users to stop’ or something like that.  There are many people with mobility impairments who, I imagine, would find it much more useful to have seat at this point, if it was really intended as a rest area.

I wonder what these differences in language, from the ‘sick poor’ to the ‘mobility impaired’ tell us about changing attitudes and policies for disabled people.  In 1828 there was a specific reference to poverty, although I don’t imagine a cast iron bench did much to alleviate that.  In the twenty-first century, there is an attempt to build in accessibility to the design of the bridge but the sign seems to be more concerned with getting the language right than really explaining why it is there.

Neither of these artefacts has much direct bearing on my research but they span a couple of centuries and remind me of the wider social context in which benefits policies operate.

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