Monday, January 09, 2012

A Poll: Petty or Not

OK, I'm almost over my cold. So, I went out today and ended up getting really, really, annoyed. I know that what I'm going to write is petty. I tried not to write this because I don't want to be seen as petty. And then when I realized that I simply couldn't not write it. Then I wondered if it was petty at all. So, I'm up to your responses.

We went to see an exhibit at one of our local museums - it's not one we go to often. We arrived just as a tour was starting so we joined in. The woman giving the tour was wonderfully well informed and spoke with a real passion for her subject. I enjoyed her presentation from the start. However I ended up being frustrated from the moment we started moving. I'd get into position where I could see her and the display case that she was speaking about. And then ... every time, someone stepped right in front of me blocking my view entirely.

At first I thought that this was just a typical people being rude to people kind of thing. The loss of our social contract to consider others, to me, is one of the tragedies of our age. However, I noticed that I was wrong in my assumption. People were very considerate of others. The people who freely stepped in front of me, always blocking my view, never stepped in front of any other person on the tour. In fact, they always checked to see that they weren't blocking someone else and NEVER stepped in front of someone else.

But with me, it was like I wasn't there. Now, can we please acknowledge that I'm probably one of the most obvious people you will ever meet. It's impossible NOT to see me. I guess I'm easy to see and just as easy to ignore. I guess I'm the guy in the crowd that doesn't matter. I keep asking why I try so carefully to be considerate of those who don't return the favour.

The other day I was in the mall and saw a elderly man, a fellow power chair user, who I see often. He and I have chatted a couple of time. I was getting on the elevator and said to him, 'Drive carefully, it's packed in here today.' He smiled and said, 'I drive carefully all the time, it's getting harder not to drive aggressively though.' And I knew exactly what he meant.

So, choose a letter and let me know in the comment section which best describes your response to what I've described:

a) it's flat out petty

b) you were sick and were probably over reacting

c) you have a point but it's not a big deal

d) that kind of thing pisses me off and is evidence of how people with disabilities are socially dismissed



Maggie said...

d. Definitely. It's something I've noticed over and over again, even though I'm still a TAB, a walkie-talkie, or what I recently heard called a Vertical.

It's maddening that nobody else notices but the person whose view is blocked. The same parent who will caution Little Johnny not to step in front of someone else's grandmother, standing there at 4-foot-11 with her cane, will not even notice when Little Johnny steps in front of the man in the wheelchair.

I definitely do not think you're being petty.

CapriUni said...

D. I was going to ask if it was the same person who stepped in front of you each time, and try to limit the ugliness to one person, instead of the crowd.

But Maggie makes an excellent point about how no one else in the crowd acted on your behalf. They wouldn't even have had to make a scene, or raise their voice-- just a tap on the offender's shoulder would have been a useful social cue.

Anonymous said...

Definitly d)

But I have to admit that I probably would have been one of the people standing before you. If I am in an exhibition where the pictures or exhibits really interest me, I sometimes stand right infront of a big crowd waiting for me to stop standing in their way.

Sorry, Julia
PS. But I never intently did stand infront of somone in a wheelchair. And now I will try to remember this whenever I am putting myself infront of something.

CL said...


To me, this is so obviously wrong that I'm a little surprised you're questioning yourself so much here. It's not petty at all. They're treating you like you're not there, rudely blocking your view, and you know it's related to your disability because you saw them being considerate to the able-bodied people in the group. It's actually worse to block your view than it would be to block a standing person's view because you can't slip around people as easily in a cluster of people.

Sometimes a test in these situations is to ask yourself how you would feel if you saw it happening to someone else -- I think it would be upsetting. You have as much right to be irritated when it happens to you.

Louise said...

d. Just after Christmas I went to a show with my foster son who uses a wheelchair. In the row where we sat there were four other wheelchair users. All these people apparently had profound and multiple disabilities. At the end there was a wonderful finale with huge silk balls being batted around over the heads of the audience. Some small children came to stand in front of us - fair enough. But then some adults came too. I get that they needed to be near their kids, but there were a number of free seats in our row.
I tapped several off them on the back, indicated the folks in their wheelchairs and indicated the spare seats beside us. Most completely ignored me. One woman looked carefully at each of the people sitting in wheelchairs, then at me, then shrugged and carried on standing right in front of us.

Anonymous said...

I’m gonna try to add something as an observation and seek to avoid offence. I’m selecting d bcos I’m sure it’s about social dismissal of people with disabilities. I wonder whether in this setting, size also plays a part. I guess I’m flagging up issues of intersectionality.
I wanna say that fat people don’t seem to count as part of the community of mutual respect and courtesy. I observe a total lack of courtesy, and often disdainful looks from people in crowded places towards the large people that I love.
I feel that larger people are seen as taking too much, as not deserving of ordinary courtesy.
I heard an academic from Australia (sadly can’t remember her name) presenting about her research about airline seats and I have hear you speak about this Dave. I took away from her presentation that larger people get the social blame for the airline industries lack of acknowledgement that ordinary people have different needs.
My observation is that disability epitomised by the sad old stereotypes: pitiful, asexual, eternal children, dependence- this may elicit care. So sight of a small cute girl with glasses in a wheelchair surrounded by an attentive family or cheerful carers may part the red sea of people in the shopping centre.
If the person in the shopping centre in the wheelchair triggers responses other than pity- by demonstrating attitude, or there’s something that onlookers feel disdain or even disgust about, then people stare and just don’t bother to get out of the way in the ordinary manner that they do in shared space.

Dave Hingsburger said...

anonymous L ... no offense meant and none taken, I'm open to talking about wieght and 'fat' issues. I think that because, when I was standing, I'm well over 6 feet tall, when I attended these things I stepped to the back because I could see over most people. Surely I got stares, as I have all my life, due to my weight but would not have noticed someone stepping in front of me - probably because I would have invited them to stand there! You bring a good point to the table.

Betty said...

d you were not petty, the people were rude. I hope they got out of your way when you said something to them.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Betty, I didn't say anything. I simply wasn't up to doing it. I've been low energy because of a bad cold and I simply didn't say anything. I know I should have but I can't always find the energy.

wheeliecrone said...

d. Without a doubt. If you're petty, then we are both petty, Dave. I have noticed the same thing, repeatedly. It's as if I lost my membership in the human race on the day I had to sit down in my wheelchair.

Dave Hingsburger said...

CapriUni, one person did it more than others, but it wasn't just one person or one time. If if had been just one I don't think I would have written this, it was because it happened so often by so many that I got the sense that it was definately due to a sense that my view was less important than others. Good, question, I should have been more descriptive in the post.

Andrea S. said...


In this context, "D" can also stand for "Ditto to everything everyone else has said so far"

Louise -- I wish I could go up to that woman who looked so carefully at all the wheelchair riders then ignored them, so I could ask her what on Earth she was thinking and who raised her to have so little consideration for others.

wendy said...

d. absolutely. I don't know how or why but I've seen this and things like it happen frequently in my work and also when out in the mall with my mother when we've borrowed a wheelchair at the mall to make it easier to get her 89 year old self from one end to the other.

Anonymous said...

D. Unfortunately I have a clear vision in my head of this happening over and over for's a wonder that the tour guide didn't notice either...

Glee said...

d) that kind of thing pisses me off and is evidence of how people with disabilities are socially dismissed

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

D for sure!

Here is an example - in my church there is a point in the service where the congregants greet each other - everyone is standing. I am often sitting due to arthritis in my knees. Often the only person who greets me is my husband - everyone else looks right over me like I am not there. This is in CHURCH Dave - people are supposed to be nice in church!!!

I do not think you are being petty Dave. And I agree common courtesy is right out the window in our society. I miss it!


J. said...

d. all the way

ivanova said...

D. I would always take someone's word for whether something was a "big deal" or not. I think sometimes things that seem small to outsiders can be symptoms of a terrible, systemic problem, and I think that's for sure the case here.

This story was especially interesting to me because I am a former tour guide. The tour guide did not do anything wrong, but she had an opportunity that she probably was not aware of. She could have made sure that everyone on her tour was able to see by telling the group, "Please make sure there's no one behind you whose view is blocked" or by asking you "Can you see, would you prefer to be in front?" or by asking someone standing in front of you "Can you move over so everyone can see the exhibit?" She was probably so focused on imparting her information that she was not aware of what was happening. When I was a tour guide, we received some training in making our tours better for guests with disabilities and how that would make the tour better for all guests. One of the things I learned was that one of the possible obstacles is not a physical barrier, but the attitude of the other guests on the tour, exactly like what happened on your tour. Because the tour guide is "the boss" during the tour, they don't have to be a bystander to stuff like this, they can make it stop. Even though it's not the museum's fault that their visitors rudely refused to acknowledge your existence, I wonder if it would be worth it in the long run to write a letter to the museum that said, "Hey, your tours are great, I'm not complaining, but I have an idea how you could make them better, & you could get some additional training for your museum education staff."

Rosemary said...

d. Happened to me last week at a museum in Toronto, too. I had my walker with me, so that I could sit when needed (often). People just kept stepping right in front of me, as I sat on my walker/chair. So frustrating.

Martha said...

D. No doubt about it. It would be different if it happened to you once. But it doesn't. It happens all the time when caregivers and friends are asked to speak for those they are with and when access is denied when it should be created. You are not being petty.

Jeannette said...

D, definitely.
It might have changed that whole group dynamic if ONE person, JUST ONE, had offered to let you move up front so that you could see, had said it out loud, so that other people could hear the offer.
No one did, obviously, not even the guide. Mentioning that possibility to the museum might be what's euphemistically known as an "opportunity for improvement".

Carolyn said...

A big D

Rachel in Idaho said...

D. This isn't petty at all. People have been blocking my view for my entire life. It's maddening! How could somebody think that's petty?

I have had people come into movie theaters with kids, see me on the row behind them, then sit their kids to their side and sit in front of me themselves. Due to my particular condition I have a very short body and longer limbs, so when I sit I am extra-extra short. That sort of thing is only one reason I almost never see movies in theaters.

Anonymous said...


And look at the experience of Louise - truly rotten!

Debbie (NJ)

Samrat said...

D. While in general, I think I'm pretty conscious that I'm not blocking people personally, I should be more aware of group dynamics.

The points that Maggie and CapriUni raised in the beginning are particularly important. In my mind, there's no way this isn't related to the larger issue of social dismissal if neither the tour guide nor fellow tour attendees thought to call out/gently correct rude patrons.

Alternately, they might have thought about it but felt that it would be less socially acceptable to "police" each other than to let "just one" person feel socially excluded. It seems like they're banking on you not wanting to "cause a scene" and feel safe that they won't be challenged for denying you access (because "you must be used to it").

Karry said...

D. I am a "Vertical," but have a friend with CP who is in a wheelchair and I notice this with her all of the time. People blocking her. Bumping into her. Apparently having trouble noticing her. She is in a motorized chair and I sometimes help her maneuver through places-- and I'M tempted to run people over. :-)

Elasti-Girl said...

D. I have encountered this many times in the area I live, though it's been my daughter who is the chair. I have had to exhibit that very careful tone of advocate & educator on the outside toward those people while my Mama-Lion is ROARING on the inside. I've never NOT been able to say anything though.

Anonymous said...

D. Of course. We spent an hour waiting for the parade. When it started new arrivals kept crowding in front of me blocking the view. When we eat out, nearly always at least one waiter bumps into me, even when there is plenty of room. The time at the hospital when the nurse asked my then 8 year old "Ask your mother" like I needed a translator. My pet peeve is when I hand my check to a cashier and they hand the receipt and change to my daughter.

Anonymous said...

Definately a big D!

Christina said...

Another vote for D! As a longtime wheelchair user, I have definitely become more aggressive (or at least assertive) on account of people who choose to ignore me. For example, i drive pretty fast because i've learned that speed is pretty much the only way to get noticed. Nothing like the prospect of getting run over to get people's attention. I also drive in a very exaggerated way, always expressly declaring with my body language which direction i'm going or about about to go. At busy pedestrian intersections, as I'm sure you've experienced, i get right out in front, because there's nothing worse than having someone butt in front of you or cut you off with people coming at you in the opposite direction. You need to show everyone at the intersection you are there, or they will walk right into you. For me, the greatest challenge is concerts with no seating (i.e. everyone standing in a large room). As soon as you ask one person to step aside, someone else swoops in to take their place! Don't even get me started on the challenge of navigating places when so many ppl are absorbed in their cellphones or ipods, etc!