"Does it hurt?" he asked, eyes intense, feet constantly moving.
"Being in the wheelchair?" I asked, for confirmation.
He simply nodded.
"No," it doesn't hurt, "in fact ..." but he was gone. I remembered that in a little boy's brain, answers are simple. I was going to use this as a teachable moment but he had other things in mind. He sprinted away from me and back to his Mom and Dad who were both engrossed in reading just a few rows away from me on the ferry from Victoria to Vancouver.
It's a few days later now, his question keeps coming back to me. "Does it hurt?" And I don't think I was entirely honest with him. After all I do experience pain in my feet and lower legs, sometimes extreme, mostly not. I do experience pain when I misjudge my ability to stand or walk and then crash into something. But all this is hardly worth mentioning to a little boy wanting to know if disability hurts.
That's not where I figure I fibbed. I have been accused of, and am perhaps guilty of, making light of the disability experience. "Two men looked from prison bars, one saw mud the other stars," is one of my favourite quotes attributed to Oscar Wilde. The same experience changes based on perception. On where one chooses to look. Me, I've always loved the stars.
But, even so, I live in a world with both mud and stars. And sometimes it's work to crane my neck up to see the glitter when I'm in my ankles in mud. On this weeks poll I asked about the barriers experienced by those with disabilities. As I suspected the majority responded that the 'attitudes of others' outstripped their frustrations with barriers in the environment.
And, I think, that's also what hurts. Like here in the hotel in Vancouver, they have a large elevator. I like to get on an elevator and turn myself around so that I can face the same way as everyone else. It takes, I've timed this, less than 5 seconds for me to do this. But when I attempt, others just swarm in, pinning me such that I have to face backwards. It's little but it hurts. And I get off the elevator with a bit of mud on my soul.
Yes, that's what hurts. Like yesterday being in the line up at Capers, a fancy dancy upscale market, and having not one but two people just step in front of me as if I wasn't there. It was on a day I didn't feel like protesting, didn't feel like I should have to constantly bring attention to myself in order to be considered equally. I left the store with mud on my tires.
Then there was the moment at the movie theatre, when I wanted to go off on my own and was stopped by the fact that the disabled button that opens the disabled door didn't work. The guy taking the ticked had to leave his post and come and open the door. Oh, but, you say, that's an environmental barrier ... wait, he said, "You know you people should come with your own help, I'm busy here." And he was gone. And no, for all who want to know if I went and complained, raised hell, no I didn't. Because I didn't want to have to fight every day every time. I wanted a day off ... I just wanted to go to the movie. But it was hard seeing the screen through the mud in my eye.
"Does it hurt?"
"No, 'it' doesn't, but sometimes 'you' do."