Monday, January 12, 2009

Odd Man Out

I made an enemy today. I don't know how I manage to piss people off on such a regular basis but I do. I guess I've got one of those personalities. Really, I try to be nice - actively try.

Here's what happened.

We tried to go to church today but there was so much snow around the disabled entrance (the walkies entrance was very well shovelled) that there was just no way I could manage to get into the building. We drove home and I could tell, though he wasn't saying anything, that Joe was upset. I do sometimes feel like a drag on his life. But snow is snow and a wheelchair is a wheelchair and there's not much else to be said.

So I got into the lobby of the building and ended up chatting for a few minutes with an elderly woman who was sitting on one of the couches in the lobby having a significantly difficult time with breathing. She told me that the cold air makes it hard for her to breathe. Then she was saying that she was worried about a trip next week to the eye doctor. The weather is supposed to be blisteringly cold and she can't stand out waitng for a bus, she'd stop breathing.

I mentioned to her that she should register for WheelTrans because they come right to the door and the service would be perfect for her.

"I DO NOT HAVE A DISABILITY." Her tone was harsh and her eyes ice cold.


Now she was sitting on a couch unable to breathe, unable to get up and walk ... ok, maybe that's not a disability - and maybe I'm a pumpkin waiting for midnight.

She then went on to tell me all the things she did. Giving me evidence that she was fully functional, that she did not in fact have a disability. Well everything she said she did, I do too. And I have disability.

Oh, well, I guess some people think of disability as a demotion from full personhood.


When I was talking with the OT about my power wheelchair, she said that most people wanted scooters because scooters allow people to think of themselves as 'other than' disabled - while a power wheelchair kind of loudly announced disability status.


I thought that disability just meant adapting to the world in a different way, not becoming a different being.

But, then, maybe I'm odd.


Becca said...

When I was going through a long period of problems with my feet, I wrestled with identifying with the term for a long time. I think part of my resistance was that it sounded so permanent to me, that if I said I was disabled I was conceding that I would never get better, which I desperately did not want to do.

Indeed, after being disabled for three years, I now have the use of my feet back, but it took me a long time to accept that some disabilities could be temporary.

Carleen said...

I think the key to the lady's upset is that she is, as you noted, elderly. Most elderly people I know have a very real fear of losing their independence and in doing so, becoming a "burden" on others. If she acknowledges that difficulty with breathing is a disability, then she is simultaneously admitting that she is not quite as independent as she thinks; therefore, she gave you a laundry list of everything that she can still do without help.

Heather said...

I still struggle with the word 'disabled' as if it somehow makes me a different race.
Reading your blog made me realise that perhaps it is because on the inside I am exactly the same person I was.
It's just the outside that has changed and the way that other people see me. So perhaps disabled means different but still me.

I think I'll be able to live with that for now.

Thank you


Anonymous said...

Sometimes I wonder about having a binary of disabled and non-disabled.

I doubt may people would classify my husband as having a disability but I certainly see how his health problems affect his life.

He has rather bad asthma. This means that he can't go anywhere without his puffer. Most of the time it's no biggie but a couple of times he's forgotten to get his refill and I've had to get a new inhaler for him doesn't feel safe making the 15 minute walk to the doctor. His asthma means he can't really run which excludes him from certain careers, such as the armed forces. When his job involved youth work he had difficulty getting his co-worker to understand that he couldn't join in games that involved running.

I seems like a huge overreaction to refer to these sorts of problems as a disability but at the same time I'm aware of how they affect his life and career options.

Andrea Shettle, MSW said...

"We tried to go to church today but there was so much snow around the disabled entrance (the walkies entrance was very well shovelled) that there was just no way I could manage to get into the building."

Down here in Washington, DC, we don't get nearly as much snow as you do up there -- but when we do, the people who bother to shovel sidewalks at all don't even seem to THINK that, hey, curb cuts might need to be cleared too, or else how will wheelchair users manage to get onto the sidewalk?

And don't get me started on how the city (who is supposed to take responsibility for any public areas not under the responsibility of shops and residents) consistently and totally neglects to clear ANY of the sidewalks that is supposed to be its responsibility. No wonder some stores, etc., can't seem to be bothered in taking responsibility for their bit, with such a lousy example to follow.

Sorry for the rant, especially on something that isn't even the main point of your blog post. This is a topic that has aggravated me for YEARS.

Ob on topic: Yeah, I don't really relate to people who find it so offensive to be considered "disabled." I sort of understand it -- it's rooted partly in common misunderstandings about what "disability" actually means, as well as the other things people here have mentioned (Becca, Carleen etc). But I don't really understand enough to relate to it.

Maybe part of my own resistance is that, when other people get THAT offended by the idea of the "disability" label, it makes me wonder if they consider ME offensive for existing. So that tends to make me rather defensive.

In the culturally Deaf community, many people find it offensive when hearing people consider them to be "disabled": they see this very sharp, binary split between the concept of being a cultural, linguistic minority (which we ARE) and having "disabilities." Personally I think there's nothing wrong with identifying as BOTH: there are times when the cultural/linguistic aspect of belonging to the Deaf community is more strongly relevant and pertinent, but then there are times when it can also function as a disability--if nothing else, in the way that environmental barriers (such as lack of captioning) interfere with our ability to function independently. And I sometimes wish that more Deaf people would at least respect that perspective even if they don't necessarily agree with it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave- It is odd. Glad to know you find it as odd as I do.

FridaWrites said...

Prejudice rears its ugly head. She can't see herself as disabled because she sees disabled people as less than her. If she didn't, she wouldn't have a problem with a word that encompasses her functional limitations.

wendy said...

If not for the fact that you live in Toronto I would be asking you to describe the woman you met. I swear she could be my mother...same medical issues and same attitude. My mother is 86 and asthmatic. She will agree to ride the HandiTransit in her community but only, I think, because she literally could not go anywhere otherwise except by cab. She certainly doesn't see herself as disabled. She uses a walker. Even so she can only manage very short distances without resting.She enjoys shopping, poking around the mall, but for the longest time she ademently refused to sit in a wheelchair (borrowed from the mall) to shop. She prefered to sit on benches than to risk being seen by someone she knew while sitting in a wheelchair. What is that all about???

Glee said...

You said Dave "I thought that disability just meant adapting to the world in a different way, not becoming a different being."

It's the ignorance, fear and prejudice of abloids that make you (in their minds and beliefs) into a different being. That make you into something "other"

You are not a different "being" if you have a disability either acquired or life long. You are merely a human being.


ps why don't you complain to your church. Hypocrites. They probably have a sign out the front that says "Everyone welcome"!!! Most churches do, right next to the bloody steps!! Outrageous that they shut out some of god's children. What would Jesus say? Organised religions are some of the most exclusive and discriminatory groups in the world. I have no time for them!!

And YOU are not a drag on Joe's life. It is those that exclude you who are a drag on both your lives!