When I first heard that there was going to be an exhibit on disability history at the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) I was excited. As people with disabilities are still only on the cusp of being considered a legitimate minority - the suggestion that the 'people' who have disabilities have a specific history goes a long way in establishing the arguement for the concept of a 'disability community'. I knew that it would be several weeks before I could attend as my travel schedule has had me away for much of the time.
But this weekend I had time so we hopped into the car to head down to Toronto on what we were jokingly calling "an outing". We arrived at the museum and Joe set me down at what we later discovered to be the old entrance. When he, and the friend who had come along, parked the car and came and got me, I had been enjoying sitting in the shade and watching people go by. We wheeled around to the front entrance and our experience began. Several tourists in the line up seemed absolutely shaken by my existance. I don't know what language they spoke but pointed fingers and staring eyes are a universal way of saying, "Look FREAK."
The fellow taking our money was also discombobulated by the disability thing. He first charged us 60 bucks, that's 20 each, then looked at me and said, "You have a disability?" Um, yeah. Then he explained that my 'attendant' didn't have to pay so he reduced the cost to $40. Well, OK. He then told us that we should consider going to see the Darwin exhibit and some other exhibit (didn't catch the name). I said, proudly actually, that we were there to see the disability exhibit. I swear, really I swear, he almost rolled his eyes. Why he mentioned those two exhibits and didn't mention the disabiltiy exhibit is beyond me. But he dutifully, and only after we asked specifically, drew a circle on the map to show us where the exhibit was.
We went into the foyer as Joe had to hit the washroom and then I asked the two of them to come round and see the old entrance to the museum. I told them the story of the ramp there. Years ago when I worked as a classroom assistant for kids with physical disabilities, I was an attendant on a trip to the ROM. We went up the long ramp outside only to find that there were three or four stairs and no ramp inside. So the outside ramp was really only for decoration. Instead we had to make our way around to the back entrance of the museum. We got back to the school and instituted a letter writing campaign and ... ta da ... got a ramp. We were there for disability history, after all, and I wanted to share a bit of my own.
We noted an elevator in the old lobby so we took it up to the third floor. After exiting the elevator we rolled along a few feet to a set of six or seven stairs up beyond which we could see the exhibit but there was no way we'd be able to get me up those stairs. So we took the elevator back down and rolled over to the 'MAIN ELEVATORS' and took those up. Exiting those elevators we were faced with a choice, turn left, turn right. We turned left and found ourself, now, on top of a set of stairs. They had an elevator there but it was one of those 'for disabled only' elevators that are never left on - always need someone from the staff to operate. I sat there as the other two went in search of the way to the exhibit.
Joe came back and said he'd discovered the way. It was an extrordinarily long walk, poorly marked, but we stumbled upon the exhibit. We noted, with some frustration, that there was an elevator right there, right beside the exhibit. After touring the exhibit (which I will write about in another post) called 'Out From Under' we went over to watch a video about the installation. The video was fronted by a long bench, with three sections that took up the entire viewing area. They had left no space for a wheelchair so I sat behind the bench while my companions sat on the bench. No sense in having a disability themed exhibit have space for wheelchairs to sit as equal participants - what need is there of this?
We then rode the elevator down, curious to see where it came out on the main floor. It was just off to the side of where we first rested when we came in while Joe went to the washroom.
I had some questions ...
1) Why weren't we informed about the disability exhibit as a possible choice upon entry to the museum?
2) Why was the ticket taker almost dismissive of our desire to see the disability exhibit over the Darwin exhibit?
3) Why didn't the ticket taker tell us that access to the disability exhibit was through a specific elevator?
4) Why wasn't there signage to alert wheelchair users that the disability exhibit was access through a specific elevator?
5) Why wasn't there space left for people with wheelchairs to sit alongside their friends, oops, attendants at the video programming?
6) Why was the person who was manning the disability exhibit not a person with a disability?
7) Why did I end up feeling like a second class citizen at my own event?
The exhibit was called "Out From Under" to that I say, "Not here, Not yet."