Friday, December 19, 2008

Cold

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.

15 comments:

Belinda said...

Dangerous, demeaning, disgusting. I hope that the driver is corrected swiftly because that was abuse.

It's no use being front page headlines after the fact, and there being an "inquiry." It is awful, and yet, in large ways and small, you just described what everyday life too often for people with disabilities. Not listened to, overpowered by those with care entrusted to them and put in danger by those who were entrusted with safety.

liz said...

That is horrible. Just horrible.

I am so glad that you escalated it. I hope that it never ever happens again, to anyone.

Question: For your own safety, is there any way you can get a key to the office building?

Anonymous said...

What exactly is your disability?? It is the weight issue that has caused you body to respond in a way that requires you to be in a wheelchair??

Teresa said...

I was a caregiver in Calgary assigned to meet a lady that was in a wheelchair, blind and unable to get to her suite without assistance. The driver of the Handidart took Mildred from the hospital after dialysis and brought her home earlier than expected. I was not informed and showed up at the usual time. Mildred had been left in her building lobby alone because the driver said he was not "responsible" for taking her to her suite.

When I arrived looking for Mildred - she had been alone in her lobby for 45 minutes crying and no one would help her!

I complained to the company and they took the same attitude as well. NOT OUR PROBLEM!

I am glad that you are okay Dave, don't stop fighting for what is right!

Rosemary said...

This is awful, awful, awful. The driver had a heart two sizes too small and the people in charge are just worrying about coverying their butts.
I am so sorry Dave.

Andrea Shettle, MSW said...

To anonymous: Dave has mentioned in a few other blog posts that he has diabetes and related complications.

To Dave: I hope that the supervisors who listened to you in the end don't just talk the talk but also actually DO something. Meaning, more than just a conversation with the driver but maybe some kind of sensitivity training so the driver understands why some wheelchair users simply cannot be safely left out in the cold in the same way that an able bodied person can and why his abandonment of you was wrong on so many levels, including both issues of dignity and also issues of pure safety. But also, an emphasis on LISTENING to the concerns expressed by the passenger. Because it is clear that a good part of the problem is that the driver didn't LISTEN when you told him clearly that you had circulation problems that made it dangerous to be outside in the cold.

Heather said...

To Anonymous...sorry, but you've just pressed a few of my buttons here...
The nature of Dave's disability is irrelevant to this issue...fact is that he has a disability...his movement is restricted...sitting around in the cold is not good for him...he SAID that...that should be enough!
I'm just wondering if there is in your comment a whiff of the "oh well...he's fat, he's brought it on himself" bs that abounds in our society and is another layer of prejudice that people have to navigate as they just try to get on with their lives.
My boss used to talk about working to create a world in which people are simply "at ease in the presence of difference"...doesn't matter WHY they are different.
There are many things that I would like to go on and say to you, Anonymous (that's interesting isn't it) but they would be mean, rude and would come out all angry so let this be enough...MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS!!!

maryanne in pgh said...

Re "anonymous"'s question as to a specific disability, and Heather's response to that -
We "abloids" have, I think,a nature curiosity - similar to the curiosity of children - regarding specifics of the abilities, or disabilities, of others, and as "abloid culture" is the dominant culture we think nothing of boldly asking such questions as those posed by "anonymous". But as Heather noted, it truly is none of our business. The point is to get past that and concentrate on Dave's experience. He was as disempowered by the driver as our friend NightOwl is disempowered by her family situation in which her sister's preferences trump the needs of her siblings.
It's about power. We all should have it, we all deserve it, and we shouldn't have to beg for it, or prove why we are entitled to it.

Anonymous said...

Hi I just started reading Daves blog and was curious. Had nothing to do with being in the cold. This was just the last post by him and though I would ask what I wanted to know. Simple.
I'll mind my own business and wont read a very personal blog. LOL Get over yourself not everything in the world is ment tobe negative.
Andrea :Thanks for the answer to my question.

Andrea Shettle, MSW said...

To Anonymous:

I had taken your question to be the straightforward curiousity that Maryanne suggested and answered in that spirit.

But at the same time, I think if you truly wish to understand anything about what it means to have disabilities, then it can worth taking the time to listen when people react in ways that you do not expect. Instead of trivializing and belittling people's concerns by saying "get over yourself" and claiming "not everything is negative," try pausing and asking yourself, "What history am I missing that has led to this reaction?"

People with disabilities do often have our experience with impairment and with discrimination challenged and doubted. This probably does tend to happen even more frequently when the person is overweight. People blame the weight for the disability, and the weight on lack of will power, and decide the person deserves no accommodation for their supposedly "chosen" disability -- not even accommodations that are essential to daily independence, safety, or the preservation of their own life.

I'm trying to give a "nutshell" explanation that does not even begin to capture the difficulty that many people with disabilities can have simply in getting people to believe our impairments exist, that they are real, and that, no, they cannot be overcome merely with "positive thinking" or "trying harder." Within that broader context, it is not at all surprising to me that some people did interpret your question through that prism. It is not a question of disabled people needing to "lighten up" --sometime the real problem is that too many individuals within the broader society really DO respond to us in the negative ways that some people here projected onto you.

I hope you will stay around and keep reading Dave's blog ... and some other disability-oriented blogs ... and take some time to learn. Then maybe the next time you see someone react with anger at certain questions or statements, you won't be so quick to brush it off.

Dave's blog is meant to be public: he writes with a wide range of audiences in mind.

Lene Andersen said...

It's taken me a while to stop sputtering. You could have FREAKIN' DIED! Or been seriously injured and/or sick. WTF is wrong with this man? I hope they fire his arse. And the "customer service" woman needs a major throttling, too.

Pardon the language, but seriously. I hope they fire his arse. And then I hope they fix the blasted WheelTrans system that so severely interferes with our ability to be part of the community because having to choose between showing up at work or risking frostbite? Not very equal.

Am going to go sputter some more now.

Heather said...

Dear Anonymous
I come back to my point...what difference does it make to the situation if Dave's disability arises because of his weight or not? The incident you were responding to had nothing to do with Dave's weight and everything to do with the fact that his reasonable requests were ignored or simply overridden.
My apologies if you think that my position on this arises because I simply have had a sense of humour bypass or that I need to lighten up...perhaps...

But there is a serious issue here about prejudice.

Andrea's post explained the issue in a way that I would have liked to have stated it and I thank her for that. There is a huge issue here. In the 19th Century in the UK we had the categories of 'deserving and undeserving poor' to describe people who were destitute and in need of some help with their lives. The 'deserving' poor fared much better than the 'undeserving' poor. This kind of thinking still goes on today. Wolfensberger says that people with disabilities get the kind of treatment and services that society thinks they deserve. Whether you are conscious of it or not, Anonymous, your question leads people down that road where the attitudes and responses to people with labels of difference are formed by their perceptions and prejudices. That can be positive but is often negative ...depending on Dave's answer, you then embark on another train of thought about who he is and how you should relate to him based on what you think about people who are overweight and the causes of that.

You're right, the blog is a personal one. But consider for a moment that you ask a couple of quite personal question of Dave but don't even give him the courtesy of knowing your name. The personal nature of the blog doesn't mean that we abandon all the conventions of politeness and decency.

Anyway...my apologies to you, Anonymous, and to any other blog readers already weary of our little spat...it would be great it if you kept reading the blog and thought about the stuff it talks about. I will certainly consider your words and think about how I might respond in the future.

I'm off to 'lighten up' after all...'tis the season to be jolly...

Enjoy the holiday Anonymous...season's greetings to you and yours...

Dave Hingsburger said...

Heather, I know who anonymous is, though that might surprise her. And you are right, she doesn't believe that 'elective disability' counts in the same way that other disabilities do. She believes that my 'claiming membership' in the disability community is essentially dishonest - though she lauds my work in the community as a non-disabled man. I too wish that she had the courage of her convictions but that's between her self and her soul. By the by, she actually writes a disability blog so she's not new to the scene. As I respect her privacy I will not 'out' her.

Anonymous said...

Dave your post raised a point with me, the attempt of members of the disabled community to distance themselves from others - even to the point I sometimes wonder if there is such a thing as a disabled community.

I once sat in a meeting where a disabled person referred to others with similar needs as being "second class citizens" and was horrified, in fact everyone was to the extent we could not challenge them.

I wonder if it's a reflection that I have seen with a growing number of young people who refuse to see themselves as disabled because that is what they were told?
M

Ettina said...

"I once sat in a meeting where a disabled person referred to others with similar needs as being "second class citizens" and was horrified, in fact everyone was to the extent we could not challenge them."

Usually when someone says something like that, they're talking about how other people view them, not how they do themselves. Are you sure that's not it?