Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Quiet Wheelchair Guy

After work we went to pick up a couple of things for supper. We were in a huge store, and I enjoyed pushing myself up and down aisles. As the store was so large, Joe stepped in and gave me a push a couple of times. When done we headed to pay for our groceries. There was a line up of at least fifteen checkouts, we strolled along looking for the wheelchair accessible one. Finally, we asked one of the clerks, who had a short line up waiting, where the wheelchair accessible one was. She didn't know. She thought it might be the one back the way we came, the first in the line of check outs. She wasn't sure so she called. There wasn't one. That hit me harder than it should have. I mean, I'm used to this right?  There were so many 'for them' couldn't there be one 'for me'?

We were told to go to the customer service desk and tell them that we were told to come there. We went to the customer service desk, but the problem is that only customers going to the customer service desk are customers who want or need service. The line up was long, the problems complex. I said to Joe, "Just take the stuff off the back of my chair and go pay, I'm way too tired to wait." He unhooked the bag off the back of my chair and headed off.

I rolled back over to wait form him The clerk we had spoken to was near the end of the very, very, very long line of checkouts, none of which was adapted, and saw me as I pulled up to park. There was a question in her glance, I just said that there was a long line up of complex issues and it would take forever. She said, 'But you were next in line here.'  Now there was a long line up. 'Where's your friend? I'll take him next.' I said I didn't know but that he was somewhere back there trying to get through.'

After finishing one customer she came over and said, 'Do you want me to call a manager so you can speak to him?' I said, 'I am tired of fighting this battle, I've just finished a long day of work and I've got some other big things going on in my life right now. I'll just not come back, that will have to be the extent of my protest.' She said she understood.

After finishing the next customer she came back and said, 'It would be a really good time to let the management know, they are going to be renovating.' I said, 'I have no emotional strength to do this right now, right now I'm getting through, another time, another me, would take this on. I'm just not coming back.' She said she understood.

It was weird for me to do this, to have an issue and an opportunity to protest, but sometimes, I have an important right. I have the right to not be the warrior in the wheelchair. I have the right to let life affect me in the same way that life affects others. I may have to work, before grieving, I may have to work, before 'going home' ... but I've done what I can. Kept commitments that there was no time to change, changed commitments when there was still time for people to be understanding. I've not let my 'life' affect the work done. But, it will affect other things.

There is a store with a billion check outs without one for people with disabilities. There was a guy with a disability who is used to protesting injustice. He didn't do it. He sat silent and let go both the responsibility to make change and the anger behind that responsibility, simply because, sometimes you need faith that there will be another voice, another protest ... that you need to take care of you, that others can take care of the world for awhile.

She, as I was leaving, came back over quickly - 'I'm going to let them know that you, a customer was made to sit alone unable to go through to pay with your groceries with your money. I have never seen something so grossly unfair. I'm ashamed that happened to you here in my store. I'm ashamed I never noticed it. Can I just promise you that they will hear about this.' I said that yes, I appreciated it. She smiled at the permission as I rode away, she called, 'I hope the load gets lighter.' And in that moment it did, it did feel lighter.


Displaced said...

This is such an interesting post the atrocity of NOT having even ONE accessible checkout is mind blowing and yet the warmth and honest of that single cashier is wonderful. Terrific accidental juxtaposition. Good for you taking a day off from being the warrior!

Elizabeth McClung said...

It is the problem of those with disabilities; often the battles we want to fight the most might occur when we are simply unable to. I hope the Canadian Retired persons get together now to get acts through for impairment access and disaibility rights, as they did in the US 25 years ago.

I guess knowing it will be required in that province by 2025 isn't going to make today better.

Hang in there.

Noisyworld said...

All I can do to help is- ((hug))!

There are just days where you can't fight everything or even anything at all. This is not a character flaw, this is life.

I really hope the clerk fought that battle and won, kudos to her for realising that she could make a difference :)
Sorry if this posts twice, it didn't seem to work the first time :/

Nan said...

Maybe sometimes its important to be tired and to tell people that we are tired? So that maybe we will inspire someone else to speak out, to be a voice. And that then the chorus grows. The beauty is in co-opting, teaching, inspiring others who may not, at this point, use a wheelchair, to think it THEIR right and responsibility to point out injustice and promote change and equal opportunity. To me, that is the most beautiful ... when ALL see it as neccesary and ALL are inspired to speak out. So. You WERE advocating change by being to tired to be the voice yourself. Pebbles in a pond, pebbles in a pond. sometimes it doesn't have to be a boulder!

coffeetalk said...

The key to lasting change is not one voice, it's many. I'm sure the store has had guys in wheelchairs complain about accessibility before. How many walking people complain about accessibility? How many even think about it when they're in a store? You made room for someone who may have never considered the issue before to do so.

Anonymous said...

lovely story - not that you could not pay at any check out but that the clerk took to heart the issue! See somedays other warriors will step up to the mark!

theknapper said...

As I was reading this, I kept thinking....when does she get she can take your experience and pass it on to management and cheered when she did. Poor service needs to be commented on by everyone.

Anonymous said...

NAN, thank you for saying exactly what I was thinking. I'm trying to get others to join in the pebble throwing here.

~ Elizabeth & Andrew

liz said...

Thinking of you.