Sunday, January 01, 2012

What World ...?

"What world do we live in?"

Ruby's question, that came with no obvious prompt, led me to a long explanation. I explained to her that there was only one world. That that world was broken down into countries, and provinces and cities. I took a map, when I get going, I get going, and showed her where she lived and where we lived. I then showed her the 'revolver map' on my blog so she could see the world spinning in space. She listened carefully to my explanation and when I was done, she furrowed her brow and then asked again, "Yeah, but what world do we live in?"

Could it be that from the vantage point of childhood that she understands a profound truth? That there is, indeed, only one planet - but that the people who live on that planet live in vastly different worlds. I understood this, briefly and very deeply, when I left the world of the walking and entered the world of the rolling. My world changed, socially, politically, professionally and personally. My existence became defined by where I could go and where I couldn't go. I found barriers of concrete and barriers of attitude. My options narrowed while at the same time my vista's broadened. I saw things I never saw before. I lost and I gained, probably in equal measure, but, for certain, I took up citizenship in a vastly different world than the one I had lived in.

Being ripped out of the social fabric is a startling experience. It caused me to see the blissful privilege with which many live, and which few question. Things I never noticed, things which granted my access while denying it to others became glaringly obvious. How could I have not noticed the absence in so much of the world in which I had moments before walked, of so fellow citizens who moved differently? How could I have not noticed the existence of exclusionary practices and physical barriers? How could something that was obvious fifteen seconds after sitting in a wheelchair be something to which I was so oblivious?

I complained about lack of access to a store owner who said, in all seriousness, "we don't get disabled shoppers here".

And yet the existence on one planet of different worlds could be written about by any one with any difference. Exclusionary practice isn't limited to those with disabilities. Access is a concept that is understood, though defined differently, by others who find barriers because of faith, of gender, of sexuality, of race, of height, of weight, of wealth, of education, of age, of wellness, of attractiveness. Of ... everything. To a certain degree, those of us with dsabilities who have claimed the word 'access' and 'accessibility'  need to give it back. Perhaps if there was universal access then there'd be simply one world. Perhaps if we we understood equity as access then s barrier-free world would also be a fully inclusive one.

Privilege and power and opportunity are the things which draw borders around our existence. They are the 'holy trinity' of prejudice. They are the sharp blades used to slice one planet into many worlds. Maybe that's what I need to be thinking about this year. Maybe I need to be as dedicated to the idea of 'one planet, one people, one world' as I am to the struggle for inclusion 'for me' and 'for those like me'. Maybe all of us need to use the word 'diversity' to mean 'diversity' rather than how it's typically used - to mean more than simply 'me too'.

I still remember Ruby's little brow furrowing as she asked a second time, 'Yeah, but what world do we live in?" She must have been confused at my answering by pointing to lines on a map rather than to the true borders which separate us all. One planet, one world - that's what children want.

And that, is what I want, and what I wish for.

It won't come in 2012.

But maybe if we try, it can come closer.


Anonymous said...

I understand Rubys question. I asked it myself very very very often. Maybe it is a sign of my psychological problem...

Some evenings short before I go to sleep I do feel like I feel every feeling that is on this planet. Million of people being happy, being sad, feeling romantic, feeling pain, feeling greedy, feeling....

Until my head spins and my mind seems to implode.

I can read, show TV and travel. And always feel something new and learn something new.

In the end the world (my world) and my feelings are just defined by me.

But it feels so different. We get a whole world as a present when we are born.

Maybe we can experience it different. But we can define it a little too.

Julia (living in her world in Germany)

Andrea S. said...

In reading this, I do wonder if Ruby might have had a more literal meaning of the word "world" in mind ... perhaps the answer she was looking for was, "Earth"?

But to carry things on in the more figurative approach you have taken:

Sometimes groups of deaf people refer to "deaf world" and "hearing world" as if we were in two separate worlds. When I was a teen at a summer camp for deaf teens, hearing counselors sometimes tried to stop us from talking in this fashion--they tried to insist that we weren't in two separate worlds, why separate us artificially or create a new division?

Most of us found this insistence annoying. I don't think I could have really articulated well back then just why. And I think many of my peers were in the same situation. But today I can say, we were annoyed and frustrated at being told not to "create" this separation between the deaf world and the hearing world because we weren't the ones who created that separation. We were simply recognizing a separation that already existed--in part created by hearing people who excluded, who failed to include by providing sign interpreters for workshops and lectures or captions (subtitles) on television or simply by repeating or writing things down when we didn't understand them the first time. In part the separation also occurs somewhat inevitably simply due to the fact that we communicate visually whereas hearing people communicate aurally. I'm not just referring to sign language versus spoken language -- even if you take sign language away, spoken language would always remain more of a struggle for us to use, if we can use it at all.

But, recognizing all this in the use of the phrase "deaf world" vs "hearing world" is not the same as creating the division in the first place. So being admonished for "creating" this division that we didn't ask for felt like being blamed for being the messenger to report a problem we had found already in place.