She waved at me. And smiled!!
A few years ago, BC (before chair), Joe and I were having dinner in our favourite Chinese restaurant in San Francisco. It's a hole in the wall kind of place on Polk Street and we've been going there for years. The last few times Joe walked in to place an order, even if we hadn't been in town for a year, they say 'Hey! Canada!' The food, in a word, astonishing. Well, we were there after the pub and before going home.
We chatted and watched as six people with disabilities came in and sat at one of the large round tables with two staff. They were fairly quiet and we soon forgot they were there. A few minutes before leaving I got up to go pee. I'd had several beer over the course of the evening and now it was time to 'spend a penny'. I walked by the table and nodded hello as friendly people do.
I've always been big.
I'm hard not to notice.
AND ... I had nodded a greeting.
I got to the door of the washroom and swung it open. This restaurant had only one washroom and it was for everyone. I turned towards to toilet to see a woman with Down Syndrome, sitting on the toilet, naked from the waist down. Yikes.
I went into reverse, since I had oiled my transmission with alcohol, I stumbled a bit. And you know what she did?
I approached the table and told the staff that there was a woman with a disability in the washroom. The female staff said, 'Oh, my, I forgot, sorry.'
I said, 'The door was unlocked and I walked in on her."
Staff said, 'That's OK, she doesn't mind.'
The fact that she doesn't mind IS THE PROBLEM.
This has happened to me more than once. I've been in England and opened the door to an accessible loo at a Welcome Break and found a woman with a disability sitting on the toilet. Again, that time, she waved. I stumbled back.
Where is the shrieking!!!
How is it that women with disabilities get so comfortable at being seen naked that they aren't startled? That they aren't outraged? That they see this as a moment to MAKE A NEW FRIEND???
I know that it takes longer to teach someone with a disability toilet skills and that more people will be involved than with typical kids ... just because of how long it takes. But does anybody remember that teaching privacy is as important as teaching toileting? Girls who will be women and girls who have become women need to be taught how to be in the world that we live in. How to maximize safety, how to minimize risk.
Does anybody remember the research that says that women with intellectual disabilities are the most victimized group in our society?
Is it that they get desensitized to being naked in public because we get desensitized to seeing them in their all together? Is it that we are so busy with teaching one thing that we forget to teach the other?
The other day I was in a food court and a woman with a disability came out of the washroom, walked up to her staff, pulled her shirt up, exposing midriff and waited as the staff pulled up her zipper and did up her belt. In a food court. With people watching. Neither the staff or the woman with a disability thought for a moment that what was happening was odd. I know you are going to think that I'm making this up but I'm not ... I saw a man watching this, moving his hand quickly under the coat he had laying across his lap. I felt sick.
Women should be safe everywhere. I know. I get that.
But women aren't safe everywhere. It's wrong. But it's true.
Boundaries and bathrooms ... make the connection.