I was holding on tight as the subway rocketed under the city. I've fully conquered my fears about driving on and off the subway cars and this is a fairly usual way for me to travel on cold and rainy days. We were heading down to visit Tessa in the hospital and were both thankful that we had an accessible subway stop only blocks from our apartment. As I looked around I saw a number of other people with disabilities in the car with me. I was in the only power chair, but there were walkers and canes everywhere.
My first experience using the subway with a wheelchair was when the wheelchair wasn't mine. We'd just moved to the city, ahem, decades ago. I was working with high school students with physical disabilities. One of the students really, really wanted to see what riding the subway was like. I arranged for Joe and I to carry her down the stairs, in her chair, and then upon arrival at where we were going, carry her back up. I was a big, strapping, strong guy back in those days and it was easy to conceptualize and almost as easy to actually do. It doesn't always work out that way.
We had a bit of a tussle with buying her a token, but once past the attitudinal barrier, there were all the physical barriers. But we did what we set out to do. It was a radical idea at the time and it was radically fun to actually do. We all felt roguish. People gaped at the sight of her sitting there in the car with us chatting as if she'd been on the subway a thousand times.
And now, here I am, on the subway, in a wheelchair. And it is just as natural as she once pretended it to be. No one took much notice, no one much cared. It wasn't a big deal.
Oddly, that's the big deal.
People with disabilities just being part of the community.
People with disabilities just getting about their day.
That's what it's all been about.
When we've so far to go with accessibility we can forget how far we've come. For the cost of a token I got to be 'usual'. I loved the plain ordinariness of this exceptional experience. I loved being able to go visit a friend in a hospital on a spontaneous whim rather than have to plan way ahead and arrange transportation.
We carried that young woman down to the subway car not knowing that she was trailblazing. That her desire to be able to have what others took for granted would one day transform attitudes and remove barriers. Her dream became my reality.
I think that's the basis of all human progress.