Monday, September 06, 2010

Digest This

I was shouted at. Loudly. For a very long time. We were coming along Dundas Street from the AGO and crossing University Avenue. The light turned green and as we headed for the median, I noticed that it was a very poor curb cut. There were several inches between the tarmac and the ramp. My power chair does not do well with those kinds of cuts and I avoid them if I can. I decided that I'd zip around the median and thereby avoid the badly cut curb.

Two women were walking and talking together, I said, 'Excuse me.' They did not hear me. I said, 'Excuse me!' They did not hear me. We were almost at the median so I zipped up and cut in front of them to get around them. I must have cut it a bit close. Though I didn't hit them, I think I frightened them. One of them yelled out at me. Loud enough for Tessa and Joe to hear the commotion. 'You people take up the entire side walk. Like it's your right or something!!' Her friend must have shushed her because she continued, 'I don't care,' she said speaking to her friend, 'it's true they take up way to much space.'

I was mortified and when I got to the other side, with them and their anger behind me, I said to Joe and Tessa, 'Let's go.' They had stopped to wait for me, I didn't want a confrontation, I just wanted to get going. So we went on, Tessa asking me why I was being yelled at. Tessa drives a scooter and is more stable on curb cuts like that one but even so she noted how tall the lip on that curb was.

At first I felt badly. Like I had done something wrong. But then, as I calmed down from being embarrassed, my feelings began to change. Why are people who walk so oblivious to their surroundings? Anyone who had any experience with wheelchairs would notice that the curb was dangerous and difficult. But when you step over things, you seem to also be willing to step over people, over issues, over accessibility. If they can get around, everyone of importance can get around.

Now I wish I'd stopped and said something. Now I wish I'd faced that anger with reason. Not that it would have made a difference but I'd feel differently and maybe that's difference enough. People don't often 'out' with their prejudice - as soon as I stopped being a random wheelchair user and became 'you people' I knew I had tapped into a deeply held prejudice. As soon as I became an anonymous member of a devalued group, I became a target for pent up anger. As soon as I became a non-person, it became OK to harangue me on the street.

One of the difficulties in writing this blog is that those who choose to come here will get it. I think it's called, 'preaching to the choir'. I'd love to write something that she might read.

I wonder if 'Asswipe Digest' is taking submissions.


stephanie said...

I love it here more and more ! Not because you met the Asswpipe of the century... but because it's real here.

I love your writing.

But it does seem you've been getting yelled at a lot lately, LOL

CAM said...

I often worry about how often we are preaching to the choir and how we can get to the people we are not currently reaching.
I sit in conferences and think, "This is really important stuff". There are so many people that need to hear it, but they never will come to a conference like this. How do we spread the messages wider?

theknapper said...

Think another oppotunity will present itself for you to share your insight.....

Zoe said...

What an obnoxious person! What does she mean, wheelchair users act like it's their right to use a sidewalk? It IS your right! The idea that every person has an allotted amount of space, and can't take up any more space than that, is also troubling. I'm so sorry this person came into your life for even a moment.

I don't know if I should say this, but I feel I should: I was a little bothered by your use of blindness as a metaphor here: "Why are people who walk so blind to their surroundings?" People often use "blind" to mean "inattentive" or "unaware," but from what I understand, blind people are often quite aware of their surroundings, just not using sight. It bothers me when people use disabilities they don't have, as metaphors for negative qualities in other people.

This isn't meant to be a criticism of you. I respect and enjoy your work; that's why I pointed this out.

Georzetta said...

Sorry, this one is on you.

The entire blog today reads like a justification for your own behavior.

"not that it would have made a difference"

Didn't you just make a lot of assumptions about who they are and their value as human beings?

You got it right the first time. You should've turned around and apologized.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Zoe, I so heartily agree, I'm going in now to change the wording. Thanks, I try to be careful of this very thing. I'll try to avoid this kind of usage. If I mis-step again, please don't hesitate to point it out.

e said...

i think there are more of "us" in the world, than of "them"...but no one ever seems to want to get involved. You shouldn't have HAD to say something to them...someone standing with them should have stood up for you!

My girlfriend at work is studying this very thing at church, which she told me about after an "incident" at work...she stood up for me, after i left, and a Preacher's wife who happens to also be my supervisor, started verbally slamming me.

I work in a small space,and it's always a slamfest when the person they wish to ridicule is not present.
I just stay quiet when it's happening to avoid being the brunt of future fun...It Usually it gets out of hand with some laughter, but for my friend? It was the last straw, and she shut it down. She stood up for me while i was gone.

All of us need to learn this lesson...we need to care for our brothers & sisters in this world, we all need to MAKE A STAND in your situation...only then will those situations would cease to happen.

And on a lighter note, we took the metro at the game this week. My little girl (DS/ASD) sat in the only seat available, next to a woman my age who was trying to read a book. She happened to be black. Although I've never noticed my girl to notice differences in people before, that was about to change.

I was standing on the rail, right next to daughter, and saw her giving her seat mate the "side-eye" examination. (kids on the spectrum rarely look at you face on...but they still 'gawk' in their own way-out the side of their eyes)

All of a sudden, I saw my daughter reach out, and just run her fingers up and down the woman's forearm, inquisitively examining the dark skin.

"DON'T TOUCH!" blurted out of my mommy-mouth..when the woman calmly said. "It's alright" in a tone that shut me up.

There are some wonderful people in this world...they just don't speak up all the time...I happened to run into a couple this week that DO!

Pearl said...

it's always easier to level logic. might have worked. we were on the sideway when a pedestrian went ballistic at cyclists for being stupid to not be in cars. at that points, it was such a loss of what can be said.

Dad said...

I backed the car out of our driveway this morning.
Something I hate doing but last night I was too tired to bother backing in.

I carefully watched the left hand side and thought "Mum" in the passenger seat was watching the other.

As I went tentatively back I looked the other way and there the Postie sat waiting on her bike with a most friendly Grin while I shat myself at not having seen her there.

I guess the smile makes all the difference.

Kristin said...

"Asswipe Digest"...bwahahahahaha. I'm sorry you had to deal with that crap.

Moose said...

Many years ago, when I was lighter in weight, younger in age and able to still walk, although not very fast, I was walking to work from the bus stop. This meant a hike across a not very large campus.

As I approached the building I heard voices behind me but, hey, college campus, there are people everywhere. Suddenly there was a young man, obviously a college student in front of me, who seemed to pop around from my right.

"Where are you going?" came a voice from around to my left.

"I had to go around this old, slow lady," the first guy told him.

They both stopped and stared as I BURST out laughing. I weighed 250 lbs, I walked relatively slowly, and I was not yet 30. They didn't comment on my size, but my age -- and my perceived age at that!