It began, as most things do, mundanely. A phone call. We were driving home from work and I was attempting to book a ride on Wheel Trans the following morning. The automated system was unable to accommodate me for my request to arrive at 8:45 so I put myself on a wait list. A couple of hours later a computer called me back and told me that a ride had been found and that I would be picked up between 7 and half past for an arrival at 8:15. I accepted the ride. Somewhere in the evening they called again and left a message which we retrieved in the morning saying that the van would be here at 7 for a 7:45 arrival.
That time is too early as the building would be locked and I had no way in. We went down to talk to the transport guy, who'd arrived ten minutes early, and told him that it was too early, he nodded and loaded me in. Before the door closed I said, 'I'm worried about getting there too early,' he said that it would be OK. We dropped off the other fellow on the van and then pulled into my office parking lot at just half past seven. He tried the door, it was locked. I told him that I didn't want to wait out in the cold. He pulled out the ramp. I told him that I had very poor circulation and was afraid to sit in the cold for a prolonged period. He got my chair out. I emphasized that I was afraid for my health, perhaps even my life, if I was left in the freezing winter cold. He said, 'I wish I could sit with you but I've got others to pick up.' I told him that I was going to call Wheel Trans to complain about this, he told me that calling was a good idea.
Only a few minutes sitting outside the door and I'm freezing cold. It's below 0, the wind is whipping round the parking lot, my eyes are watering and my tears are freezing to my cheek. Joe had made me a thermos of tea so I poured hot water into my sippy cup and let it warm my hands. My gloves are made for wheelchair pushing, not for warmth, and my hands were glad of the hot tea. Every car that drove by the parking lot I scanned to see if it were someone arriving at work early. Every time the bus pulled up on Weston Road, I looked to see if someone was coming to rescue me. A half hour later, I am frozen through.
A few minutes later Manuela drove in, her son had wanted to use her car for the day so she was being dropped off early. She let me into the building. I rode up the elevator, feeling the warmth in the air and wondering when it would begin to penetrate the ice in my veins. I was cold. Really, really cold.
A few minutes later I am on the phone with Wheel Trans. The 'customer service' woman berates me for taking the ride, said it was all my fault, said it wasn't up to the driver to advise me about times, I was the one who booked the trip. I said, 'YOU ARE DEFENDING A DRIVER DROPPING OF A VULNERABLE PERSON IN A WHEELCHAIR OUTSIDE IN THE FREEZING COLD. I didn't like referring to myself that way but in fact that's what it was. She offered for me to talk to a supervisor. I left a message.
I expected a call back quickly. It didn't come. I called again just after 11 and ended up telling the story again, this time to a horrified service representative who said she would personally go get a supervisor. I had two complaints, being dropped off in the freezing cold against my will and being treated coldly and dismissively by their 'customer service' representative. She came back, voice full of apology, the supervisors were out. She assured me they could call me back.
They called just after our office Christmas, oops, Seasonal gathering. I was in full good spirits. The warmth of the gathering and my recognition about how much I like working with these people had taken the edge of nearly freezing to death in the morning. I spoke with two of the supervisors who were clearly upset at both the incident and how it had been handled. I am 55 years old and know when I'm being 'managed' and nothing pisses me off more than being 'managed'. I got that these two guys got the seriousness of the situation. They told me what they were going to do to deal with the situation now and what they were going to do to assure it wouldn't happen again.
All I wanted was for someone to care about what happened. All I wanted was to be taken seriously. That's what I got. And more.
To be disabled means, almost automatically, to be in the hands of care providers. To be in a position where one's trust is expected even if it hadn't been earned. To have to be open to help without being accepting of abuse.
To be disabled means a constant battle for dignity and respect. To be disabled is to learn how to be an equal while being treated as a lesser.
To be disabled means ... much.