Austin Fredericks was diagnosed with spino-cerebellar ataxia (SCA) in 2011, having suspected that something was wrong after struggling with his balance. Austin is a qualified electrician and has faced prejudice whilst visiting people, who assume that he isn’t fit to work. He has also been arrested even had to go to court for ‘drunk driving’ when sober.
“In 2011, I was diagnosed with spino-cerebellar ataxia. Prior to that, I suspected that I had the condition and tests confirmed this. A prominent symptom I have is my loss of balance and I have to walk with the assistance of a walking stick. It’s bad enough having this condition, but there are a lot more troubling issues that accompany it in daily life.
I am a qualified electrician and when I go to see people as part of my work, they assume I can’t do the job. I am the only person who knows my own capabilities, but others think they know better. When I’m working, I hear comments made about how drunk I am.
This accusation of being drunk has had serious consequences for both me and my father, who also had SCA. He was arrested for drunk driving on two separate occasions. He was lucky because they let him go with a warning, but now they are a lot stricter against drunk driving, so when the same thing happened to me I was less fortunate.
One late afternoon on my way home, I was pulled over by the police. When I was asked to get out of my vehicle, I did, and stumbled a bit in the process. They accused me of being drunk, which led to an argument. While arguing, they started pushing me around… I wasn’t too happy about that, so they placed me under arrest. Luckily, it wasn’t a weekend, so I was only in a cell for a night. The detective came the next morning to release me, but first he took my statement and fingerprints before photographing me. He also gave me a date when I had to appear in court.
Even though I was locked up for one night, it was not a pleasant experience. I’m not sure if you have ever seen the inside a police cell, but it’s nothing like what you see on TV. It’s overcrowded and filthy. There’s an open toilet in the corner for everyone to use so privacy is limited. There are no benches or bunks, you have to lay on the floor. They do have mattresses, but there are not many of them and they are very thin. However, the conditions pale in comparison to the feeling of frustration you have from knowing you’re not supposed to be there.
During the court proceedings, ataxia was briefly mentioned but the prosecutor disputed it on the basis that I ‘looked fine’ and ‘walked OK’. Eventually, the judge decided that the case wasn’t worth pursuing so they dropped the charges against me.
These are just some of the issues you have to deal with. Having this condition is a daily struggle. SCA is hard enough, but getting treated like a criminal because of it, is sad.”