Well I mentioned it yesterday, so here it is today. These are the 12 weird things that happen to people who are wheelchair users. OK, let's be more honest, here are the 12 weird things that happen to ME in a wheelchair. I know I don't speak for all. I think there's lists to be done for those who have other kinds of disabilities. I think there's even lists for those who are parents or care providers. But here's my list .... The Dirty Dozen ...
12) Pardon, Pardon, Could You Please Speak Up?
I sat down in a wheelchair and suddenly I lost my ability to hear. People actually, sometimes, even yell at me. Others enunciate really really clearly. Or speak so slowly that I lose the meaning of their words. Have you ever noticed how funny speech looks when it's being done in slow motion. I have. Often.
I was buying a package of condoms a few days ago and the clerk said to me, "What do you use these for?" I calmly said, "F#cking" and placed them on the counter. Really, can you believe that? Now I don't want to tell you that I was actually buying them for use in a sex education class, because that answer would have not been quite as much fun. It's weird how people, who used to be shocked by Joe's and my relationship, are now quite convinced that he's my 'carer', my 'staff'. Like suddenly there is a way that they can explain our relationship in their heads that make all the discomfort go away. I'm willing to bet every single disabled person has a story to tell about this one.
It's discombobulating to go from being the object of stares from others, from a sense of being highly visible to suddenly becoming invisible when seeking to place an order or receive service in a store or restaurant. Or, how's this, to be waiting in line at a counter and having someone step right in front of you and, worse, having them being served as if you were never there in line, never seen by the clerk (who'd been staring at you out of the corner of her eye the whole time). The other day I was waiting in line at the LCBO with my purchases, the woman ahead was returning booze (did you know you could do that?) and was taking a lot of time. Another till opened, the clerk there said, "I'll take the next in line. The person behind me stepped directly in front of my wheelchair and plopped their plonk down. Like I wasn't there. No I didn't do or say anything, Joe gave me and 'Please' look. So I just waited.
9) Being a Big Baby
What people say to me is bad enough, what they say to Joe is worse. Sitting in the food court at the mall here in Barrie, Joe's had the oddest conversations. Now for those who have never met Joe, he's as non-confrontational as you can get (out of the home) so he usually just smiles and extracts himself gently from the interaction. Something he wishes I would do more often. But recently here's what has been said to him. Once I shoved off to go to EB Games to check on a video game as a gift for someone. A woman, parent to a baby in a pram, said, "He's awfully well behaved isn't he?" Another time, while I was busy being invisible, a clerk said, "Is he a lot of work?" That interaction turned very nasty and it's one we don't talk about much here.
8) A Jewel in The Crown
I've always mistrusted those who use the poverty or disability of another for their own enlightenment and salvation. Like God made nations poor so that rich white kids could go and have epiphanies. Kind of like a Disneyland for the soul. Picture a teary eye-d teenager telling graphic stories of disease and destitution to parent's friends at a cocktail party. I see this sometimes when I ask someone to get something for me that's out of reach. Most people are cool with this but some leap to do it and get this beatific expression on their face as if they are calculating the cost of the jewel that God just placed in the crown that's awaiting them in heaven. Um, yeeeeuk.
7) There But ...
If I had a dime for every time I've heard someone say to someone else in reference to me, "There but for the grace of God ..." Believe it or not I feel God's grace. Apologies to the unbelievers in my readership, but I do believe - and to have it suggested that God specially granted grace to you because you walk and denied it to me because I roll is as offensive as it gets. If you listen carefully you'll hear jewels being pried out of your crown for that attitude.
6) Toucha Toucha Touch Me
Get your hands off me. Really. Stop it. Why do people feel like they can just come up to me and place their hands all over me. Well, not all over, they do have some boundaries. But get your hands off my shoulders, my arms, the back of my head ... DON'T TOUCH ME. Yesterday coming out of the cinema I was coming down a ramp, quickly, and a woman stepped right in front of me. I had to pull up quickly and almost over turned the chair. I was being invisble at the time. She suddenly saw me (because it's hard to notice a hugely obese guy plummetting down a ramp at light speed) and realized that she's almost overturned me. Her hands flew all over my back and shoulders as she apologized. I kept pulling away asking her to stop but she just kept on until HER NEED had been met.
5) Typhoid Mary
What I have isn't catching so you don't need to shrink away in horror or to pull your children to you and away from me. You know they say we only use a small portion of our brain, well that's patently obvious to me! I've had people leave stores because I came in, or flee off elevators - disability isn't catching but ignorance often is - because once one starts, others feel free to do the same. It's strange how mistaken ideas can jump from one person to another without a word being said. I think that's the nature of bigotry some how.
4) I Don't Know Jack
Yes I live in Canada but I don't know Jack. OK, Jack is in a wheelchair too ... but I don't know Jack. OK, he's my age ... but I still don't know Jack. Umm, everyone, everyone (picture me knocking at your computer screen now) WE DON'T ALL KNOW EACH OTHER. There isn't a disability yearbook with everyone's name and favourite colour or anything. We don't meet in secret every year to exchange secret handshakes ... hell some of us can't even shake hands. We don't have a secret wave we do when we see each other like VW Beetle drivers do. So, understand, I really don't know Jack.
3) Stream of Stupidity
Regular readers will know that I often rail against stupid things said to me by complete and total strangers. Recently there's been, "Is there any hope?" and "Are you allowed out?" But that's just a drop in the barrel. It's amazing how people will say mean and hurtful things in a tone of voice that they consider kindly. "It must be awful?" "I couldn't live like that?" "Wouldn't you rather be dead?" If I didn't have a thick skin before I was in the wheelchair, I certainly do now.
2) Being Prayed For
One of the most intrusive thing that happens to me is when someone comes up to me with an offer of prayer. They want to lay hands on me and pray. For my forgiveness (as if disability arises from a sinful state) and for my healing (as if I spend my day wishing and wanting to be something other than who I am). Worse is how that offer of prayer, offered in gentle loving tones turns instantly into anger when it's rejected. Really, anger. Like I didn't allow them to fulfill a need they had and they are angry at me for denying them. Like I'm some kind of prayer whore there to smile and purr and make them feel - powerful. Not me, not ever.
1) Rights Not Privileges
Why do people assume that accessibility is a gift, not a right? When a comment is made about the inaccessibility of a store, I often hear, 'The disabled don't shop here." Um, because we can't get in you dipstick. I don't like it when I get told, 'we make accomodation for those with disabilities' ... um, aren't lights accomodations for the sighted? When I go into theatres there's all these chairs provided for those who don't bring their own. All I want is a space to put mine, you don't even have to frigging BUY ANYTHING, but buying chairs for the walking is expected while providing space to the rolling is INCONVIENIENT. What is that? Accessibility isn't accomodation, it's a reasonable expectation. A human right.
Um, I have to tell you, that in writing this I had to stop several times because I got myself upset. I had to stop once or twice to laugh too ... like at the memory of the clerk with the condoms getting a horrified look on his face and quickly running my order through the till. But this was somehow, wonderful. Like I'd wanted to say it for awhile. I'm sure there are other lists out there ... if there is ... could you cue me to them. Or if you do your own list ... please leave the web address in the comment section. However, I'd like to grow this list to 50 ... so if you have something to add to the list, put it in the comment section.