“I want people to stop seeing the wheelchair and instead see the person sitting in it — only then can we be treated as equals,” says comedian and musician Jesper Odelberg.
Jesper Odelberg had his big breakthrough in the Swedish stand-up comedy show "Släng dig i Brunnen" in 1997. Photo: Bengt Öberg/Bohusläningen
Jesper has impaired mobility due to a cerebral palsy (CP)* disorder and uses a wheelchair. Since his career took off in the mid-1990s attitudes toward people with disabilities have improved, he says. Jesper does not see himself as a spokesperson for the disabled, but draws on his own life experience for his jokes.
“People still find it liberating to hear me joke about myself and my disability. But they’re not laughing at me, they’re laughing at their own prejudices, I hope.”
For Jesper, accessibility means everyone being able to do whatever they want based on their own capabilities. Consequently, he thinks it’s important that disabled people make their voices heard in the public arena.
“My dream is to see someone in a wheelchair working as a TV presenter or program host,” he says.
A lot of work remains before people with disabilities can move around freely, Jesper Odelberg thinks. Here with friend.
In Sweden, the physical environment — public space — has become more accessible for wheelchair users, Jesper thinks. In his home town of Gothenburg, for instance, the pavement kerbs along the main downtown street, Avenyn, have been beveled. Cobblestones are still to be found in many streets, however. They may be picturesque, says Jesper, but they’re terribly impractical.
Accessibility is not improving at any great speed, he notes, despite government requirements in this respect. Jesper himself was involved in formulating these requirements.
“People still seem to think it’s the disabled who can wait.”
Which is short-sighted for many reasons, in his view.
“What’s good for those of us with wheelchairs is good for parents with prams, too.”
But Jesper is also pleasantly surprised sometimes. On one occasion, he was invited to a celebrity party to which the guests were driven by bus.
“Micael Bindefeld, the event manager, hired two large buses with lifts so that I could go with the others and not have to travel on my own. That really pleased me — he’d given it thought.”
*Cerebral palsy: a disability resulting from damage to the brain before, during, or shortly after birth and outwardly manifested by muscular incoordination and speech disturbances. Source: Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary
Erika Wermeling is a journalist who enjoys writing about people with disabilities. Formerly a school reporter, she now works on a freelance basis.
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