She then told me that she'd just received her new chair and the controls were unwieldy. She demonstrated all the movements it took in order to set the speed and how it required great effort on her part to make any of the adjustments. She had been told that her controls were now standard and that it was what everyone wanted. That led to a real discussion.
I told her of the man who had stopped me outside Metro, to ask about my tires. His tires were narrow which caused him to slip in the snow, mine are wide and give me great traction. I told her that I was inordinately proud of my tires at that moment. Glancing down, I saw that she had good wide tires with a strong tread on them. I said, "Hey, there ma'm, you've got a nice set of tires on you, yourself there." She batted her eyes and looked all coy and said, "Why, I blush."
I wished her well and she went one way, I another.
Later, I saw her paying for something at the cash point in the pharmacy. She hadn't noticed me but I called out, "I just knew you did drugs!"
"I know, I look the type."
Again, we laughed.
A day or two later I was leaving the liquor store and I saw him sitting quietly near the entrance. He was clearly waiting. I wanted to go speak to him, but didn't. When I saw him again in the grocery store, I had to. I rolled up and caught his attention.
"May I ask you a question?" I asked.
He nodded and I continued. "As you know they've installed these weird bars in the liquor store which are supposed to be wheelchair friendly but make it impossible for me to get into the store through the main entrance. I complained but they told me that they were designed for wheelchairs and wheelchair users can get through. I told them I couldn't. They said I could. I insisted I couldn't. They said that every other person with a disability could. And further more, I was told, they'd had no complaints. I didn't seem to get them to understand that I was actually making a complaint so that wasn't true." I was surprised at the way this all poured out of me but it did. And it felt good.
He listened to all of this and then told me that he, too, couldn't get through the bars and that he used the exit and simply asked people to step aside so he could get in. I told him that I did the same but I resented a store being accessible, becoming inaccessible yet claiming accessibility. He told me that I might want to consider going to the Human Rights Commission. But his face showed what I felt, weariness with the struggle. We continued talking and he noted how I rode high in my wheelchair while he rode quite low. "I can ride higher," he said, flipping a button and rising in his chair, "and I can tip back," flipping another button and slowly tilting. My chair only rolls, which is all that I need.
I thanked him for his time and was off. It was terrific to feel unburdened for a few moments. To be able to talk with another about his experiences, to be able to share a moment where explanations don't need to accompany questions, was simply freeing.
Next time I was in the liquor store, I found the manager. Now I knew I wasn't alone, that others had been forced into entering the exit, I felt a renewed vigour for the fight for accessibility. It's amazing how the non disabled can convince the disabled that our experiences aren't valid, that we are alone in our need, that we are somehow the cause of our own inaccessibility. A moments kinship changes that.
Most often when I'm out and about and see or encounter others who use chairs, or walkers, or canes, I note them only because they are in my field of vision. I note them slightly differently because of their slight differences. I note them because it means that suddenly I'm less alone in my world. But, though I note them, I have no real need to talk to them or seek them out. Some seem to even feel a little uncomfortable when our eyes connect, like they are telepathically saying, "all we have in common is the chair, don't presume anything further." I get that and it's true.
But there are moments, like the two above, when disability seeks disability. When one needs to speak to another member of the diverse community of disabled people. Like any minority, there are more differences than commonalities within the group itself. But those commonalities do shape a world view and inform experiences. Those commonalities give common ground. And sometimes they are cause for connections.
In those moments there is no real need for introduction. One simply begins, one simply expects acceptance, one typically receives openness. I have been approached many, many times by others in wheelchairs to be asked a question about my chair, about accessibility, about the best way to get from here to there. These encounters feel as if, in that moment, we let the struggle for inclusion and welcome fall aside and say, "Hey brother," or "Right on sister." Aloneness drops away and a kind of frankness about the world as it is becomes possible.
I always leave refreshed or renewed in some way.
I am grateful for the disability community. I give thanks for the moments where I am less alone.
(Image of a turkey holding a Canadian flag with the words 'Happy Thanksgiving, eh!' printed beside the turkey. Turkey looks happy, probably because this blogger is vegetarian)