You know what's kind of weird about living here in Toronto in this particular apartment building. Everyone in the building is very cool about the wheelchair. I get looked in the eye when I'm greeted, people speak to both Joe and I and most importantly no one ever grabs the chair in their rush to get by or their impulse to help. No one. Ever. I expected something different, frankly, worse.
Yesterday after coming home from teaching up in Barrie, Joe dropped me off at the front of the building while he went and moved a few more boxes from the car up into the apartment. I sat beside the bench where others come out to sit and wait for taxis or to have a quick smoke. I chatted with people there and those coming in and out of the building. I was remarking to myself how nice everyone seems to be and how unaffected they were by having a new tenant with a disability. Cool.
Finally it was just myself and the Superintendant and he asked me how I was finding the building accessibilty wise. I told him that I was managing well and that I was impressed with people's graciousness regarding the chair. He said, "You've got Tess to thank for that."
I pictured Tess, who lives across the hallway from us, and in my mind I saw a sweet mild mannered elderly woman with a disability. She uses a walker to get down to the garbage shoot but a wheelchair to get around the area. On our major move in day she openned her door and welcomed us as neighbours. She reminded me of the type of woman who would bake cookies just to fill the air with scent. We plan on having her over for tea when we are finally settled. Understand then I was a bit surprised that the Super was crediting this little old woman with humanizing the building for me.
It took no encouragement at all to get him to continue talking. He explained that Tess had had several loud battles with residents regarding their actions towards her or her chair. People, he said, would grab her chair only once. She would tear a strip off them. She does things on her own and she asks when she needs help. She doesn't want to be seen as a helpless old woman and 'Bless God' anyone who tries that stuff on her.
That old lady with white hair and blue walker. That little tiny woman who greeted us in fluffy slippers. She's a disability activist.
But I'll tell you what I learned.
It makes a difference what I do every day, what I stick up for, what respect I demand. I'm changing the world. One person at a time. One interaction at a time. It's what Tess did. And it mattered.
It's what I can do.
What you can do.
And it matters.