Sunday, September 24, 2017

Tall, Fit and Handsome

We were having breakfast. I had decided that I really wanted a big bowl of porridge, even though that's not on the list of things I should eat, and I was tucking into it. There were two people working the room, cleaning up tables after guests left. It was a busy spot. Both of them wore the company uniform and both were friendly and efficient. The worked together well, and joked with each other comfortably as they did so.

They were different though.

He was an able bodied white man who was tall, fit and extremely handsome.

She was an able bodied person of colour who was short, a bit pudgy and quite pretty.

Beside us was a group of middle aged parents with two teen children. Their conversation almost immediately went to the man who was working the room cleaning up tables. In essence they thought it was a pity that such a man was 'reduced' to doing such menial work. They said he looked like he should be in an office somewhere in charge of something important. Mom said, "What a disappointment he must be to his family."

None of them mentioned the woman. Not a word was said about her at all. They felt the work was beneath him but not her. She fit in their mind as being in her place. He did not.

When we were done he came over to pick up our stuff and we chatted briefly about the day. He was tall and fit and handsome and also quite charming. He carried himself proudly and clearly did not see himself as some huge failure and disappointment.  I found myself praying that he didn't hear the people at the next table.

How does it come to be that we judge people so harshly based on superficial characteristics? It happens to me all the time but I realized after this experience that I am so not alone with this, I get a constant barrage of prejudice because my difference is multidimensional which multiplies prejudice. But it's everywhere, if this handsome, tall, fit man has to deal with those who feel, without knowing him that his work is beneath him and that he failed in his quest of 'white man destiny' then I wonder if it is possible for anyone to go a day simply respecting everyone in their path?

I'm not sure it is.

What do you think?

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Ticked Boxes

All the boxes were ticked:

flat entrance
bars around the toilet
bars in the shower
doors wide enough to accommodate my chair
toilet on floor not hanging from wall

Those are my basic asks. This had been checked assiduously and everyone was confident that we were good to go. So we arrived at the hotel, tired from a full day lecture and a long drive. Rolled into the lobby to find that a wheelchair user couldn't get from the lobby to the room because there were three steps up to the elevator.

To get up to the elevator we had to leave the hotel, go back into the parking lot push uphill to the next door, the door they brought luggage through from large tour buses, and then push up the really steep ramp leading to the door. It was hard to do. I usually push myself and rarely ask Joe for help but I simply couldn't do the ramp. Joe himself had difficulty, even with my help making it up the steep slope to the door.

In the morning we went down for breakfast only to find that they had two huge luggage carts piled high with luggage and one cleaning cart blocking my way out. We moved the cleaning cart and then I carefully picked my way by the luggage cart really hurting my hand along the way. But I got by and I got out.

Then it was back into the lobby but something had happened to the door overnight and now it opened and closed quickly. I rolled back to the door because, again, the slope was steep and I had to use hands and feet to get up it. But the door would close just before I got there, the automatic sensor couldn't see me. So it was down and back up, down and back up, down and back up, the third time Joe stuck his foot in the door and held it as it pushed hard against his foot to close. But I got in.

I went straight to the desk, told them that I hated going into hotels through back doors and that if they had one disabled entrance and a car park full of cars parked in disabled bays they shouldn't be blocking that one door, I told them I had hurt my hand in trying to get by and that my hand was integral to my movement.

They stared at me.

Said not a word.

Just stared at me.

It is amazing what the privileged think is good enough for others. It's amazing no one though that it might be a problem for people having to use back door entrances. It's amazing that they call themselves accessible yet treat their disabled guests as second class citizens.

Let me give a hint. If what you think is good enough for others isn't good enough for you ... you are, without question a bigot.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Her Smile My Chair

We had to park very close to the front door of the hotel. There was little room for dropping off, the cut curb was extremely close to the door and the slope of the driveway made it both dangerous and daunting to attempt as an exit from the car. Just as we pulled in a woman, pulling a suitcase from the parking lot, gave Joe a really dirty look for having parked where he did. He had not blocked the door but she did have to step around the front of the car. Oh, well, people get upset for a variety of reasons and who knows what kind of day she'd had.

By the time I was out of the car and into the hotel she had been checked in and was long gone. I then went through the check in procedure, double checked about the accessibility of the room and then received a map of how to get from the lobby to the room. It was a large hotel and the room was not accessible from the lobby. To get there we were recommended to get back into the car and then drive down the fairly steep driveway to the second building.

I really, really, really, didn't want to get back into the car. So when I got out I decided it might be fun to roll down the hill, a tad risky, but fun. I am almost 65 but occasionally I get the 'testosterone-stupids' and they hit full force. I pushed off and headed down. It was a wild ride but I never once felt any real fear because I had really good control of the chair. I reached the bottom and then started pushing over to the room.

As I was on my way, pushing on the flat driveway, the woman who'd been upset at where we parked came out of her room. She saw me in the chair, I saw her face react to the realization that we had been parked where we were parked so I could have easy access to the lobby. She broke into a smile and wished me a good day.

Nice.

But, here's my thought.

Why did that matter? Shouldn't we all be just a little more patient with each other, a little more forgiving and understanding? Why does my wheelchair matter? There are all sorts of reasons that people may have parked there, up to and including, momentary selfishness. Who cares? There are so many things we have to deal with in our days that you'd think that the practice of giving and receiving understanding would be commonplace. You'd think that we'd all have a sense of proportion. Let me tell you if the worst thing that happened to me in a day was that I had to push around a car, I'm having an awesome day.

Anyways, her smile and my wheelchair interacted in such a way that I felt excused.

I didn't like it.

But if that's the worst that happens in my day ... it's a pretty good day.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

One

There is an idea about inclusion that I think needs to be examined. I also think the only people who can examine this are those who are out in the community working or participating in some way. Those who have been 'included.' More and more I believe that the end result of the movements towards community living and integration and inclusion should be evaluation by those who, firstly had no say in the development of the idea, and secondly, those who are at the mercy of other people's good intentions. The disabled voice is an important voice and it's the only one that can determine if what was done met their internal goals of belonging and feeling welcomed.

I went into a place where they had a man with a disability, both intellectual and physical, who was a ticket taker. When I came in, he spotted me and smiled, I couldn't get my chair around an entrance barrier so he came over and undid a clip that would let me in another way. I thanked him, gave him my ticket, which he ripped, gave back, and said, smiling hugely, 'you're welcome.'

On our way out he spotted us heading to the exit door. He took a quick look around and saw that at that moment he wasn't needed. I also noticed that the other staff in the area were all laughing and joking and he was seated quietly on the chair set up for him to sit on while taking tickets.

He came over and asked how I had enjoyed myself, keeping his eye on the door at all time, this guy took his job seriously. I told him that I had and he said that he was really glad. On his way back I said, "It's hard being the only one sometimes isn't it?" His eyes filled with tears and he nodded.

I understand that. I am often the only disabled person in a place. I feel, sometimes, so isolated and so alone that it takes my breath away. Seeing another disabled person, not even speaking to them, just seeing them, is a big deal. That alone reduces my sense of being alone.

I am glad he was there. I just hope that those who support him understand that the work isn't done. He's alone. Really alone. Yes, it's a job. Yes, that's wonderful. But he didn't have a job like others in the same place the others that were laughing and talking and making work a social experience. He sat on the edge of exclusion while a number in a column somewhere would count him included ... inclusion at work.

One is the loneliest number that there can ever be. 

I doesn't have to be.

But it often is. And all it means is that the first step has been taken, and many more are yet to follow.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

I'm Reviewing The Situation

We were considering going to an area of town called The Old Mill Market and had nearly dispensed with the idea. These kinds of markets, in old buildings are often less than accessible and really frustrating for me as a shopper. So I went to a review site where customers can rate a place and write commentary. I was hopeful because there were nearly 100 ratings. I did a search for the word 'accessible' and when nothings showed up 'wheelchair and found, again, that nothing showed up. Not one review mentioned accessibility.

The front desk was our next shop and we were informed that, without a doubt the area was accessible. They explained that the name was misleading because it was where the old mill was but it was a fairly new development. Thus assured, we went.

When we got there we were met with a completely accessible experience. Although I never had to use the toilets so don't know about that, but all the stores I went to, I got into. And, most importantly, Joe and I spent time talking about things other than disability, accessibility, cut curbs and ramps. A nice break. We had a good time.

Got home and went to the review site and reviewed the area both from a shoppers point of view and from an accessible point of view. I used accessible in the title of my review and the word wheelchair in the body of the description of the area. I wrote about other things too, of interest to all readers, but I wanted any other disabled sod who wanted to find out if it was accessible to be able to search and find my review. We almost never went. We would have missed out.

Please, those of you who have the time and the inclination go to a travel review site and review the places in your own town from a disability perspective, write reviews when you travel. It doesn't take long and it's a way we can help each other out. Even if you don't have a mobility disability, write about your own personal disability experience for others with similar disability or accommodation needs.

We'll help each other and occasionally, a bad review of a place will change things. I had a hotel write a response and then talk to me on the phone, when I called as asked, and they completely altered how they did the barring in the bathroom and shower. They loved feedback from someone with a disability rather than from a consultant without one. So it can  make a difference. It's the power of social media to inform and to inspire change.

I'm beginning to feel like an advert so I'll stop now.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Meaningless Chair

Back in my chair I pushed into the gate area through a wide doorway. There was nothing in front of the door, of course, nothing that would block the flow of a lot of passengers disembarking. Off to the side was a podium, the kind where they check your tickets and documents when you are being loaded on to the plane. Behind the podium was a tall chair, on swivel wheels. Again, it was well off to the side. No one was at the podium or on the chair. There was, however, an agent working the next podium over.

She must have noticed me out of the corner of her eye. I was, as I always am, the last off the plane. I'd been frantic moments before because my chair had disappeared in the hands of other passengers and it took more time than you might imagine for me to calm down about that. But I was pushing my own chair and getting ready for the long push to the luggage area when she saw me.

It would have been comical if it wasn't so entirely odd yet entirely expected at the same time. Some people just panic when they see a wheelchair. It might happen a little more often with me because of my size, but I know from other wheelchair users that it's not just the size, it's definitely also the wheels. So, she saw me.

She flew out of her seat.

She left behind the person she had been serving who gawked after her as she fled her post.

She ran over to the chair behind the podium that was well off to the side.

She grabbed the chair and moved it, swiftly almost toppling it over.

She smiled at me, letting me know that the way was now clear.

I'm sometimes just dumbfounded when this happens. The chair wasn't in my way and even if it had been the podium was still there. It provided exactly zero help at all. There was no need for any action, for anything to be done. The pathway was wide and open.

She then, noticing I'm sure my lack of gratitude, returned to her post.

I pushed down to the large, long ramp, where I stopped and started laughing. It was comical. It was frenetic and meaningless and made no sense at all.

But, after having my chair nearly stolen, my heart gripped by panic, it was good to laugh.

So moving the chair, meaningless as it was, did actually help.

Odd, huh?

Monday, September 18, 2017

Again

Once again, and I know this is hard to believe, a fellow passenger attempted to steal my wheelchair from the door of the aircraft. My chair is old, well worn, and easily identifiable as a personal chair. It bares faint resemblance to the airport chairs. But just as I was told that my chair was up, a flight attendant noticed that it had disappeared and sent the gate agent fleeing after the people who took the chair. No one sat in it, no one has any idea why it was taken, but the fact is that it was. The fact also is that this is now the second time my chair has been taken from the door of the craft.

Second.

Last time it was when we landed in Buffalo and the security guards got the chair back as they were putting it in the trunk of their car. I kid you not. That time I got the chair back without the foot pedals, this time my chair was intact.

But I'm not.

I'm really not.

I find, and found, this incredibly traumatizing, so much so I can't even begin to tell you.

Every time I get on a plane I tell the purser about what happened in Buffalo, and now will add Vancouver to the list, and ask them to keep a sharp eye on my chair. That's what happened and because of that I have my chair.

I go into deep panic when I think about the 'what if's' ...

Don't people know that?

Why doesn't it matter?

The psychological pain that this causes me is deep and real. I don't know what I'd do. I'm fat, I fit my chair, it's not easily replaced.

Now I'm afraid of the next flight and the one after that ... I'll never feel safe again when traveling by plane.

Ever.

Again.