Monday, July 30, 2012

Being Seen: Two of Two

I hesitate to mention where Joe and I went on Saturday morning. Even though Joe put up mild protest, we went to see Andre Rieu's 25th Anniversary Concert playing on our local cinema screen. I know that Mr. Rieu is loved or hated by fans and critics respectively but I've been looking for fun ways to introduce classical music to the kids and I thought he might be a way in - I wanted to see for myself. So, off we went. But this post isn't about the concert, though I want to mention it a bit later on.

We got to the theatre, presented our printed at home tickets and were instructed to go up the ramp and to the right. The ramp in question is a very long one, I was in my power chair and headed over to it. On the ramp were two girls in their late teens. They were standing, about midway up the ramp, talking, one showing the other something on a cell phone. They glanced up and saw me heading towards the ramp. I got to the bottom thinking that they'd just head up the ramp. But no, they stayed put, alternately looking at the phone and me.

I said, "Would you mind letting me pass?" I kept my tone light, as I always do in these cases, but inside I was bothered. Why did I have to ask?

They were immediate.

"Of course," they said, smiling, and rushed up the ramp where they waited expecting the "Thank you" that I gave as I passed them.

I'm troubled.

Again, why did I have to ask?

I have some ideas but the one that I keep coming back to is that they wanted me to ask so they could grant me the request. That in giving me what I asked, they were doing something nice. That by my asking, I put myself in their power, and in their actions they could demonstrate their generosity. That they could earn gratitude, and maybe a jewel in their heavenly crown, by being 'nice' to the 'poor man in the wheelchair.'

I find myself asking and being granted a lot.

On the trip to Chicago with several people with intellectual disabilities I noticed that they asked me for permission to do a lot of things. I caught myself, very early, giving permission - then stopped myself. The power to give permission, to grant a request is an inviting one - it says good things about me, it gives me a way to demonstrate my permissiveness. But refusing to be in the role of permission giver, I changed the dynamic, for myself, for those I was travelling with.

I know this isn't directly comparable but it sort of is ... in a sort of way.

The two girls saw me.

They knew what I needed.

But they wanted me to ask for it.

And they wanted to give it to me.

This is a dynamic that I think happens a lot more than people want to admit. And I know that many readers won't agree with my thoughts about it.

But I was seen.

And everything happened after that.

On another, completely unrelated note. I quite enjoyed the performance, I'm not the classical music buff that Joe is - I could feel him wincing once or twice - but I decided that I'm going to get a couple of Mr. Rieu's DVD's for the girls. I liked how the concert showed people enjoying and reacting to the music. I want the girls to know that music isn't just for listening.I also liked the fact that as they panned the crowd I could see people with disabilities there. One fellow, a wheelchair user, was boogying with his wife, another old duffer in a wheelchair was stamping and rocking to the music. I liked the fact that they were actively participating in the event, not passively watching it. I liked that they were SEEN to be living and loving and fully alive.

So, have at me.

Agree or disagree - was the moment on the ramp about power and about gifting access or was it just a meaningless thoughtless moment.


I vote power.


theknapper said...

I wish it wasn't power but I think it was....

Anonymous said...

Glad you enjoyed the concert. I too wince with Joe at times - but you can't deny the power of music delivered with such enjoyment to the masses.

As to the ramp incident - you unfortunately met a trifecta of 2 teenagers and a cell phone. Ramp or not, you would be hard pressed to get attention, unless you were a teenage boy :-). Some grace needed here. Remember - many are not exposed to the needs of others at that age. (Nor is their world much bigger than their social network - viral or otherwise.)

Your philosophy of "by asking you put yourself in their power" is troubling to me. How is that? When you ask for popcorn and a drink - are you in the power of the server, or are you getting what you want? When you ask for a hotel room with handicapped access, are you putting yourself in their power - or are you taking the power for yourself? People only take your true power if you let them. Asking for something is not a weakness! It is called communication!

Further, why is it difficult to throw the eager young folks a thank you? Even if they felt they helped "the poor man in the wheelchair" - is that so bad? It may not be a perfect situation - but it could be a big deal in their self-absorbed world. You, being the mature well-educated and seasoned gentleman surely can throw them a bit of education.

Why do you have to ask? Well - unless mindreading becomes mainstream - we need to use our words. It is through your work, your info sessions, your books that such ignorance will be fought. Keep it up!!

Shan said...

I think teenagers are completely thoughtless. Not-yet-completely-developed brains plus daily dip of hormone soup plus distractions of modern 'communications' equals blank stare while a painfully slow wheel turns and the word "Buffering....Buffering...." repeats in the air above their heads.

Beth said...

I'm still voting thoughtlessness as the most likely, though power seems a bit more likely than usual, since they didn't seem embarrassed.

People can utterly fail to notice the implications of their positioning, not that I know why. Within two weeks of each other (and only then), I had two instances of people trying to help but absolutely failing in exactly the same way. I rarely need someone to open the door for me. I never need someone to open double doors for me while standing in the middle, completely preventing me from going through. I know these people weren't after power, but I find their actions astounding.

Then again... why is it that people like to hang out on or on either end of wheelchair ramps, completely obstructing them? You'd think if it were thoughtlessness, people hanging out on ramps wouldn't be any more common than them hanging anywhere else around, yet it is. Leaning on the handrails just that tempting even though it might prevent the easy use by someone who needs the ramps? What is it, anyway?

Louise said...

Dave, I have a question: how do you deal with not giving permission. I completely see where you're coming from, and I support people who lived much of their lives in long-stay institutions. Despite many years of being able to make their own choices and decisions, some of these folk are still very passive and ask for permission for all sorts of things.
Not giving the permission causes anxiety and sometimes anguish. I remember a post of yours some time ago about an older woman asking your permission to go to the bathroom - and how in the end you gave it because otherwise she simply couldn't have gone. That really echoed with me.
How about one of your articles on this topic?

CL said...

I think you're exactly right about your interpretation. They wanted you to ask, and they wanted to grant your request.

I feel like I have done the same thing that the girls did at some point in life. I can't remember any specific examples, or if I have ever done this to people with disabilities. But if I'm really honest, I think I can relate to sensing that I'm about to be asked for something and feeling pleased.

I will try to remember this post in the future.

Team Lando said...

Teens with a phone, I tend to think thoughtless, meaning quite literally without thought. I often see incidents like that (involving a person with or without a disability) with people who simply do NOT give the time of day. Is there a subtle, underlying power struggle? Maybe, I certainly can't say no. Do I think more often than not, it is an offender who does not think of anyone but himself/herself? I don't know if that makes the situation any different though... Do I want to live in a world of power struggles, or a world of indifference? Neither is appealing. One has all the wrong passions and connections, the other lacks passion and connections in favor of self-centered-ness.

Louna said...

I vote for - unconsciously - power. They saw you, so it's the only explanation that makes sense to me.

Anonymous said...

Thoughtless, meaningless, oblivious to the world around them.

Anonymous said...

It's pretty clear that there was power exercised and reinforced in the interaction. That doesn't mean that it was intentional, or that they were even aware that they were doing it. (It presumably was not a move planned in advance for the purpose of reinforcing their power.) But yes, this is a great reminder of the power we wield when we grant permission (or assistance) to others.

Susan said...

I put myself and my ADHD brain on that ramp and saw myself doing exactly the same thing those girls did. And it would have had nothing to do with power. In fact, as soon as I realized how insensitive and thoughtless I had been, I would have beat myself up for it for at least a week and cringed for the rest of my life every time it came to mind...

I vote thoughtless. But I also vote that it is a very uncomfortable and unfair place to be for you - and inexcusable for them - ADHD/teenage brain notwithstanding.

Maggie said...

Two incidents:

One, last night at the movies. We got there early so sat on the bench waiting for the usher to open the ticket-taking station. One of the other mini-theaters got out and the crowd poured into the lobby.

Very soon it stalled and we couldn't see why. I looked and saw four people standing together outside the restrooms (which are very near the exit door) and chatting, clearly waiting for someone in the restroom. They completely failed to notice the arrival of the noisy crowd, nor the wish of some people to actually reach the exit.

Eventually someone asked them to move. They moved far enough for ONE person to pass, even though there was room for them to completely move out of the way of the exit door and still be in sight of the restroom.

I thought they were oblivious, caught up in their own conversation, completely unaware of the exit door even after they moved.


A housemate of mine was raised by parents who (she perceived) used 'questions' as 'attacks'. If I ask her 'where's the blender?' she thinks I've accused her of stealing it, or breaking it -- when all that's happened is I can't recall which cupboard it's in.

I learned, over time, to seek information from her by stating my situation: 'I don't recall where the blender is, and I need to know.' Whereupon she would speak up at once.

On the other hand, when I use that format with my husband, he replies, 'how can you find out?'

Different folks need different methods of communication.

And I totally see how being the 'constant asker' can feel like a one-down, disempowered situation. I totally see how the girls were (at least unconsciously) exercising power. But I don't know what to do about it, especially with strangers. Because I don't know in each individual case what's going on at the conscious level, never mind underneath.

I so appreciate this blog and the work you put into it for your readers. It makes me think and has helped me be much more intentional and thought-filled about my own interactions with strangers regardless of my notions of our relative 'ability-or-not'.


Mary said...

I'm going to say thoughtless, but also: I like people to wait until I ask for something (or if they can't do that, to ask me and wait for my answer), instead of presuming they know best.

You must have experienced that thing where eager people dash ahead of you to open doors you don't want to go through or start moving furniture that you'd already figured out how to get around, or scuttle to "get out of your way" when you were hoping to ask them for directions, or other Unhelpful Help. At best it creates a scene and is mildly embarrassing, at worst it's outright patronising and results in physical damage.

So a prompt and ungrudging acquiescence to my "excuse me, could I squeeze past?" is pretty much my ideal outcome. Not sure I'd want all human life to flee before me as a matter of course.

I also think asking permission isn't always a case of asking permission. I understand what you are saying - that some people become conditioned to ask and be grateful for things that are really up to them, and that's worrying. But sometimes it's just a social protocol of politeness.

For instance, let's say we're having dinner and I want some ketchup on my chips.
Leaning across the table and grabbing is rude.
Demanding "pass the ketchup" is rude.
Asking "please could you pass the ketchup?" is a polite request, it's not like the person I'm asking will refuse me, but everyone's a lot happier with polite requests.
Of course I do agree that when it becomes "am I allowed ketchup on my chips, please?" that's a massive problem.

But I think there's a big difference between "I would like you to do X," and "I would like your permission for me to do X."

Ettina said...

I vote thoughtlessness. Certainly I doubt they were deliberately calculating how to play a power game with you - it would be a pretty unusual teenager (probably a psychopath, actually) who'd deliberately try to play a power game with a random adult.

I'm a bit concerned, actually, because it seems like you're reading a lot into ordinary thoughtlessness lately. It seems every couple posts is the tale of someone not moving out of the way until you asked, or otherwise not providing good access, and you assuming it was deliberate. In the vast majority of cases, it isn't.

Karen said...

Ettina, I was suprised by your comment. I've been a reader here for the last few months and I hadn't noticed the pattern you suggest: that every couple of posts is about people's thoughtlessness. I counted back over the last 21 posts and none of them had anything to do with this topic. Yes the last two, which should could as one because it really is one post in two parts, deal with this theme but I'd hardly say this is a pattern. You are concerned about Dave but, as a reader her who doesn't know you, I'm concerned that you seem to want Dave to NOT discuss this issue. said...

What I often do in situations like these, is wait. I don't ask. I've gotten tired of continuously asking permission for my right to take up space, especially when it comes to things that were supposed to have been made to be accessible for people like me in mind. What I do is wait, give them a 'look' and when they finally realize I'm there, they ask if I need to get by. Then I do the eyebrow raise.

Flemisa said...

I think that most teenagers are so used to being told or asked to do something that it takes awhile before they anticipate things that need to be done. Hopefully those girls will learn. And I must admit that some people are just so self absorbed that they never do and some only learn after confontration.

liz said...

I'm still ruminating over the asking thing...

In the meanwhile, have you ever heard the Beethovan's Wig cds? Silly lyrics set to classical music that help little ones (and big ones) remember who wrote what (and sometimes where and when). My favorite is "Please Don't Play Your Violin at Night" (Eine Kleine Nachtmusik)

Lisa Gleeson said...

I would just love to give the two of them a good smack! Sorry if that sounds awful, but obviously there were never taught to respect others when they were young. If they were my two I would be deeply embarrassed for not raising better people.

Anonymous said...

erm.. Ettina says, 'it would be a pretty unusual teenager (probably a psychopath, actually) who'd deliberately try to play a power game with a random adult'.
well we all live in different parts of the world that may be very different, but where I live, teenagers playing power games with adults is totally what happens. I was brought up in the 70s to respect people older than me and it was only rough types who took on the adults. But now where I live that seems to be the common pattern- and I'm not sure that teenagers asserting themselves is generally a bad thing.
Asserting themselves in disrespectful ways is dodgy, but given the power imbalance between the vilified youth and righteous adults where I live, it may actually be a good thing.
However I don't read this story as teenagers playing power games with a random adult. This is people without access issues, the privileged, playing power games with someone with access issues. And that is totally not ok.
I guess it's maybe not 'deliberate' in the sense of deliberated, thought about, as in they probably don't have a conceptualisation of the power issues and what's at stake here.
But it is a choice to assert oneself, to be disrespectful here.
Maybe they perceive Dave's male-ness, elder-hood as something to resist and as two young women, assert their agency against the bias that they experience in general (but not specifically from Dave).
But Dave describes them as moving immediately and smiling, so I think they were asserting their able-bodied-ness (hate the term but I think that's what is going on here) against Dave's need for access, and that is totally disrespectful, and, like Lisa says, deeply embarrassing.
L, uk

Anonymous said...

My husband is a teacher and loved Shan's description of "buffering buffering".

For me the main word was "teenager", from my contacts with children of all ages including my own over the last few weeks I think most of them left their brains on the classroom floor when school broke up. Thoughtless, clueless and irritating

Baba Yaga said...

As you describe it, it sounds most like some variant on stupidity-not-malice. You know intimately what the ramp's there for: callow teenagers might technically know, without putting it together, even with your waiting presence at the bottom of the ramp - or might just not realise that you needed the ramp clear in order to start up it. (Walkies don't: physics and therefore the specifics of propriety differ.)

However, now that you've put it into words, I believe the "ask me so that I can be seen to Help and can extract the gratitude which is my due" dynamic exists, particularly among 'helper' types. I'm pretty sure I've been on the receiving end a few times. It's not at all a paranoiac thing to wonder about.

wheeliecrone said...

Yup, Dave. It was about power. I don't think that it was something the girls thought through - they weren't purposefully making your day more difficult. Thoughtless, they were for sure. They are also relatively powerless, usually being told what they should or should not do, by adults. So anytime they can be annoying to an adult - well, they will.
I tend to give people who behave like this the benefit of the doubt and smile sweetly and say, "Thank you." But privately, I still think it's about power.

Nan said...

teenager. say no more. say no more.

Nan said...

Oh, and I forgot; Mozarts' Magic Flute, Beethoven Lives Upstairs and Vivaldi's something or other. all GREAT intros, with story and music, to classical ... and Canadian!

Kristine said...

I'd just like to add another anecdote about teenagers...

I teach middle school ESL. A few years ago, I spent one class period every day in a mainstream math class, giving extra support for ESL students. While my own classes are usually small,--less than 20 students--a mainstream class is much bigger, and harder to get around in my wheelchair. But over the year, I noticed a fairly consistent pattern... The Latino kids were usually quick to remove any obstacles, step aside, whatever they could do to help me get around. And I don't remember any sense of "expected gratitude." They were just very natural about noticing and meeting a need. With the Caucasian kids, it was rarely like that. They were all nice and willing to assist or whatever, but they usually needed to be asked, or to have the specific need explained to them. It wasn't anything dramatic or terrible, but it wasn't as natural as my interactions with the Latino kids.

At first, I just thought it was because many of the Latino kids were "my students," who knew me from ESL class, so they were more accustomed to me and my disability. But then I noticed the same behavior from the Latino kids that weren't in ESL and didn't know me outside of this one class.

Cultural phenomenon? Coincidence? Something else? I can't say for sure. But there ya go.

Glee said...

I believe it is not about power nor is it about thoughtlessness.

It is about ableoid stupidity. I often say "excuse me" to get past a bunch of people and they immediately move. Sounds good eh? NO they only move enough to leave a 12 - 18 inch gap. DER!! So I look them in the eyes and say "ya reckon???!!!" with a slightly sarcastic tone and then look at the gap and then look at my chair sizing up the match. I also add a withering look sometimes.

And Dave you are using awful passive sentences "would you mind letting me pass?". Don't bloodywell ASK!! Say something like. "Girls! I need to get past you". and smile. They will move and you can go past without thanking them. If we keep thanking people for doing things that ableoids don't have to be grateful for then the status quo will remain.

For example. Here in Adelaide the train driver has to get out of his cabin and put down a ramp so I can get on or off the train. I NEVER say thank you to them. They are PAID EXTRA MONEY to do that little job. And no ableoid person has to thank anyone before they can get off the train. I do however say "see ya" or "goodnight" to them to acknowledge that they are human.

Some will say I am being mean and trivial. It is possible to have a train that is fully independently accessible, try Washington DC trains. I have and it is easy and I don't have to wait, or put up with the demeanor of a driver who is pissed off that he has to get off his arse to do it.

When I get the same access and opportunity as ableoids then I will be able to act in a "normal" way too.

People expect acquiescence, smiles, gratefullness and thank yous for ordinary things, from us crips. And while they continue to get it they will continue to get away with treating us badly.

Same with the bloke in the supermarket. Use your voice Dave FFS!!!! You saw what was happening yet you sat there like a dummy being acquiescent. They will never know if you and I don't tell em.

Not everyone has to like you! You are being a wimp! Hug for you cos I know how hard it is too!

Anonymous said...

Wow - some anger showing through in some comments. I'm all for voice, speaking up for your needs, education, communication - but I also believe we get back what we give. I feel we need to mirror the type of behaviour we want extended to us.

And what is an ableoid? Sounds like something from a Terminator movie. Labels.

So - some feel it is ok to hold back their civility until they get everything that they want? Isn't that a bit like holding your breath and turning blue? Temper tantrum?

True - not everyone is going to like you - able or not. True - not everyone is willing to go a bit extra - pain or not. Yet I don't feel the fight for access is to be able to run others over - but for inclusion. We confront to increase communication not to control.

Kristine said...

Whoa... I don't see anything wrong with saying thank you! Isn't it a cultural norm to say thank you for basic civility, not just going-the-extra-mile situations? When I take public transportation, I always thank the driver, as he lets me down on the lift. And almost everyone else who simply steps off the bus says thank you too! It's just polite, and a cultural norm. I also regularly thank the custodian who cleans my classroom, and the receptionist that directs my calls, and the waiter who delivers my food, and the student who hands me their completed homework. Sure, all these people are just doing their job, but I still appreciate the service they provide! And I certainly appreciate it when people thank me for doing my job!

AkMom said...

I read the post and had a very surface reaction, no thinking it through.

I saw people. Unaware people, but people just the same. How often have I had to move a grocery cart, give a loud "Excuse Me" to two (yes, usually) women who have decided to carry on a conversation side by side in the grocery aisle, usually after seemingly looking right at me.

I don't think there was a power play, I think it was just mindless people.

Made worse because it was teens and a cellphone. Definitely mindless!

Dave Hingsburger said...

Wow, this is another of those times when the comments are way, way, more interesting that the post that occasioned them. Thanks so much for the discussion - I've thought a lot about what everyone had to say, I still think it's a power play, an unconcious one, but a power play none-the-less. It's terrific to have such a variety of points of view and I like the opportuntity to think and rethink my views.

Anonymous said...

WTF is an 'Ableoid'? Combined with the comments from the previous post about how men are 'used to diminishing and discounting women' I'm beginning to wonder if I can bare to read the comments on this blog any more.

Disgusting discriminating behaviour! I'm surprised that Dave allows it.