I'd been warned. It was a warning that I heeded. I still remember sitting chatting with him in an Edinburgh lecture hall. He was a lifetime wheelchair user and as we chat I kind of felt like I was talking to an 'elder' in the disability community. Though he wasn't that much older than me, he'd lived years longer in a wheelchair and therefore was able to give sage advice.
He told me solemnly that I needed to be careful to not become grateful for what I should normally have, normally expect. The temptation, he said, is to start to see 'rights' as 'gifts' ... this was a dangerous path to follow. I understood immediately what he was saying and pledged to him and to myself that I would live a life in gratitude for the many gifts in life but, while doing so, maintain an attitude of expectation to be considered equal and to be treated equally. I didn't want a life without gratitude but I didn't want 'gratitude that grovels'.
I have failed in that promise.
I had several things to do today. Several places to go. I woke up at 3 with a knot of worry in my stomach. I worried about things that I shouldn't have to worry about. I worried about access and accommodation. I didn't want the day to become a trial. More and more often as I set to do things never done before, ordinary things, I have begun to anticipate problems and calculate strategies should this happen, should that happen. The worry got me up. The worry made me clumsy in all that I needed to do to get ready to go out.
And the whole day was fine. Absolutely fine. Every door was wide enough. Every task was easily completed. The subway ran on time, with me on it. The elevators are were in working condition. It was smooth. We traipsed through the day and when all was done, Joe suggested going for tea. So we did. I took a sip and sat back and felt a creeping sense of ... oh no ... OH NO ... real gratitude - for doors that I could get through, for barrier free aisles, for adaptable equipment, for operating elevators, for automatic door openers - for access. I tried to shake the feeling way. I knew, just knew, that I was the only one in the coffee shop with a disability and the only one feeling grateful that I could get into the building.
It was wrong.
I know its a wrong to be grateful for a right.
Once some smart ass stranger told me that I should be grateful to curb cuts, I said, 'I'll be grateful for curb cuts when you are grateful for sidewalks. I got the 'it's not the same' look. So I know it, conceptually, rights are rights not gifts or tokens.
But I couldn't help myself. I was just plain relieved that I'd had a day without struggle, without argument, without concerns. Gratitude slipped in there somehow. And I want to get rid of it. I don't want the fight to go out of me. I don't want to kiss societies butt simply because I'm not limber enough to kick it!
Accessibility is a right.
I am a citizen.
This society is mine too.
I am grateful to be alive, to be loved, to have purpose.
I'm not going to add, getting in and out of a building to that list. I just won't.
OK, well, I won't tomorrow. (Will that do?)