Her hip smashed into the controls of my wheelchair and sent me flying off to my left. She had come from behind so I hadn't seen her coming. Luckily there was room to fly into, I hit nothing and no one. I waited for an apology that didn't come. She was walking rapidly away from me, looking down, tapping a message into an electronic gadget. OK. She's lost to the world that she was in.
Then I realized a pattern that I was seeing. Several times on the sidewalk, even more during festivals or parades, I find myself tapping someone on their shoulder or arm to get their attention and fail to do so. Every time I fill with frustration that these people out in public are so tuned into what's going on somewhere other than where they are - that they are a danger to me in the places where they actually are. I thought them highly rude, I found myself feeling a kind of discrimination in that they couldn't see me as a disabled person and they couldn't feel my little disabled tap on their shoulder. I felt more than invisible, I felt like I didn't socially exist at all.
I think I was making a huge assumption.
I think that people are starting to detach from their very bodies and have begun to live somewhere naturally insensate. I don't think the woman was rude. I think that she was living in her mind, her eyes and her fingertips. I don't think she felt her hips slam into me at all. Those people who I had to tap because they couldn't hear me were all holding on to things, looking into things, doing things to things. I think that they have had to divorce themselves from their bodies in order to be able to be part of the machine.
Oddly. Really oddly. My disability has made me more, not less, aware of my body and my physical space. I constantly seem do be doing math and geometry and surveying when I'm out. Will I fit in here? Will I be able to turn there? If I go here can I get there? Those are only some of the equations. Then there is the focus on making sure that my chair doesn't come into contact with other people's shins, other peoples elbows, other people's paths. I was never so alert in public before disability.
I don't think, and correct me if I'm wrong. I've ever seen someone with a disability out in public texting while they are wheeliing, in the same way that 'they' text while they walk. I'm not sure I've even seen someone with a disability wheeling or steering a chair while talking on the phone. Certainly I've seen wheelchair users with earplugs in listening to books or music or whatever - but even that is rare. I wonder if we all, or at least most of us, see a huge social responsibility that comes with wheelchair use. A kind of social responsibility that isn't assumed, as it rightly should be, by those who use feet for transport. I am very aware that my chair is made of metal, and that metal hurts when it strikes flesh. But then, as I've been elbowed countless times, hip smashed a few times more, and have been smacked countless times by back packs. Don't we all share responsibility? How have I suddenly, by being disabled, by getting around in my wheelchair, become the guardian of the safety of others around me. It must be because when THEY bump into ME, they always respond like it's my fault.
I've always been grateful to my wheelchairs, both the manual and the power, for getting me around. Now I find myself grateful for them for keeping me awake, keeping me alive to my environment. They may not see me, but they should be grateful, that I have the grace to see them.