When in Scotland lecturing, during one of my breaks I spoke with a guy with a disability who had attended my lectures several times over the years. He, unlike me, was born with his disability and therefore has a lifetime of experience with what it means to be disabled and what it means to live with a disability. I respect that. I wish I had more social contact with my 'elders' in the disability community.
As we were chatting he had a caution for me. He said, "You've got to be careful not to become grateful for what should simply be expected." I assured him that my character was never thus, and when I spoke, I was being entirely honest with how I saw myself and how I predicted my development as a person, or rather as a disabled person. I thanked him for his advice.
Last year Joe and I flew in and out of Chicago airport making connections between cities. Our experience there was so incredibly humiliating. Airport personnel making sure I was degraded in every way possible. When we landed, I waited until I was in the car and then I cried. Joe simply quietly put his hand over mine and we went home.
When we were getting ready to fly to Edmonton, I began to have sleepless nights and cold sweats. I wanted to go. I wanted to do the work. I had specially prepared something I wanted to say. But deep down I was terrified of the trip. Not the travel but the interactions that travel required. I have lived a life of facing personal fears and demons, so I just gritted my teeth and decided that I was going, hell or high water. The evening before travelling we set the alarm but it was nerves that woke me.
Travelling to the airport I 'fessed up to Joe that my nerves and short temperedness had been as a result the anxieties born on the trip through Chicago. He just nodded and I could tell that he was worried too. Well, we got to the gate and were greeted professionally and ably assisted. Nice like. Everything went smoothly. Wonderfully even.
We landed, took a deep breath and I said, 'Yeah, but there's the trip back.' So, we dug down, did the work, had a wonderful time with both the host and with the audience. Thought maybe it was mattered we'd hauled butt to Alberta. Set the alarm but once again was wakened by anxiety.
At check in the Air Canada staff actually joked with us as they answered our questions and checked us in. At the gate we boarded without incident. On landing my wheelchair was there and waiting for us. We were back. No drama. No horror stories. Just pleasant interactions, capable service from people who clearly knew how to provide service to those with differences and disabilities.
So here I am, right where that fella from Scotland predicted I'd be, grateful for simply getting what people should expect - normally. It seems that part of living with disabilities is simply dealing with the day to day challenges of getting by. But the greater part is simply dealing with the vagaries of attitudes, biases and prejudices of those encountered along the way.
I shouldn't be grateful for the fact that I wasn't subjected to hostile or negative attitudes. But I find that I am. And I think, maybe, I'm OK with that.