Tuesday, March 12, 2013


I have a quick question. It popped into my mind yesterday afternoon. I was over at the Mall, located conveniently across the street from my hotel. Sometimes the world is designed by credit card companies I'm sure. Anyways, I watched two women with enormous, absolutely freaking enormous, strollers manoeuvre around each other, all while chatting about their babies. Their skills were many an apparent. They had good understanding of the dynamics of space, their could have been but wasn't a horrible collision at any time, They had superior driving skills as they negotiated corners and managed to their their Hummer sized strollers and their Mac Truck Prams down little aisles without knocking anything off the shelves. Amazing.

So here's the question. When one of those self same carriage drivers was getting off the elevator with her uber stroller, why did she fall into a dread panic seeing me sitting waiting for the lift? It was like she didn't know what to do, how to get around me. Her sense of space was lost, her skills dribbled out her fingers, she panicked. I had to reassure her that there was lots and lots of room. She inched past me careful trying not to hit me, and as she didn't come within a foot of me, I felt entirely safe.

I heard her release the breath that she held all the way past me, Hmmm.

Sometimes I think that we, people with disabilities, take up way more space in the world, in the minds of those who see us as a bigger problem than we are.

Perhaps that explains a lot.


Sharon said...

It may also be that she is concerned about the space her mega stroller is taking up. I know when my girls were young, I was very aware of that and would go out of my way to not be in other people's way.
As for the look on her face, she didn't expect to see you there, obviously,and handled it the best way she knew of in that moment.

Camilla said...

I think it's all about predictability. Wielding a stroller in a crowded place elicits pretty predictable responses from pedestrians.

When she encounters you, she isn't sure who has right-of-way; you, because her wheeled vehicle is low ranked, or her, because exiting traffic has to leave first? Should she pull over into a corner and wait for you to get in? Then as she hesitates, she realizes that hesitation might be interpreted as rudeness, and so she has to decide quickly.

An elaborate display of caution getting past you is also a form of active submission; she does not want to be rude, but more than that, she doesn't want to be called out for being rude. So she signals, "I'm trying as hard as I can, and this is hard for me."

Anonymous said...

Some people are nice - we make eye-contact (such as when I was coming back from a solo trip to Mexico, maneuvering my walker, large rolling suitcase (on floor), small rolling suitcase (on the folded-down seat of the walker), and purse from the terminal to the Newark Airport monorail to the train station, down the elevator, into the waiting room by the track, and then onto the train) - they ask if I need help, I accept or not as necessary at the moment, and we all go on our merry ways.

Many other people handle it by IGNORING me. It is weird. They're standing right there, I'm struggling to get the whole kit-and-caboodle onto the train because there is a foot-wide gap between the train and the platform PLUS a level difference of at least an inch PLUS a time pressure (will the conductor see I and my suitcases are not ON the train yet?). And they do nothing.

I'm flabbergasted when the same people who made eye contact before, and seemed nice, and helped me get ON the train just walk OFF the train without a look back. Really?

I liked that bit you had about disabled people being entitled to five minutes to think about their response to a question. I think we also need a few extra seconds to get around the barriers, natural or man-made, to our movement.

Fortunately, the train didn't leave as I was trying to get off. I didn't have the free time/energy to look around and see if the conductor was holding it. It was only a few seconds, I was PROBABLY okay.

We DON'T take up that much extra space, and now that you mention it, I shouldn't have needed people to rearrange themselves when I got on a train - there SHOULD have been space at the end of the car for me and the walker.

I shouldn't have to feel, when I'm on public transportation, that I am a burden to the system. It should be designed to allow me, a member of the public, to go along.


Mary said...

Going for the positive slant, I'd say that she's just more worried about potentially scraping/bumping *you* with the edge of her tank than she is about potentially knocking over *stuff*.

Kind of like how I'm a LOT more careful pulling in to an occupied table than an empty one. Even though I'm 95% certain that I won't hit an empty chair any more than I'll hit a person... hitting a chair results in "whoops!" whereas hitting a person would be awful.

Anonymous said...

That's a good point, Mary. In my mind (and I'll be the first to say that I'm ignorant about it) there is a perception of pain that comes along with disability; that you're going along with a dull ache always, and if I bump your leg and you're in a wheelchair, it might send some shooting excruciating pain up your leg.
Likewise, I could see myself as that mom, feeling like I was not as entitled to use the elevator as you, since it is a necessity for you and a convenience for me and my giant stroller. In situations like that, I often feel like I'm in the wrong, and as some bizarre and pointless act of contrition will be very deliberate about getting out of the way of the other person.

Anonymous said...

It is also a necessity for a mum with a pushchair/pram to use the lift! they can be pretty heavy and not very safe to start trying to drag up stairs. Dave I agree with Sharon, I think it was probably just being self conscious about getting in people's way, and with another person with a stroller they are in the same position so perhaps they would feel more comfortable with that.


Kristine said...

Surprised by the responses on this one. Sure, I don't know this particular woman or her thought process in that particular moment. But I know the panic that sets in for some people when they see me coming! There doesn't have to be a baby stroller involved. There have been many times when I'll just be going along in the stream of crowd traffic, keeping the normal amount of distance between me and the person in front of me, when that person will suddenly notice me, and freak out! They can't jump out of the way fast enough--limbs flailing, bumping into other people--even though I was nowhere near bumping them, or showing any signs of wanting to pass. I've heard the huge sighs of relief when they determine the danger has passed, while I've never even come within five feet of them.

Of course, there's the people who can't judge space, and think that allowing me 8 inches should allow an entire wheelchair to pass by. But those people are just spatially challenged, and I can explain the problem to them. They'll generally accommodate. I'm much more irritated by the people who act like I'm a terrifying, out-of-control monster, or some ginormous obstacle that's taking up much more space than I deserve. (I don't know if it makes a difference, but I'm a fairly small person in a heavy, but compact power chair. I don't feel like my presence is really that powerful...)

Anonymous said...

You know Dave - there was one point in my chair life that if someone jogged or jiggled my chair - it was agony. Not everyone is educated - and really - how could they be on the extend of your disability. A different kind of "feeling" is felt by you - as if you were a problem. You have talked about the fear in other posts - often a fear produced by ignorance - yet a fear others have of being around the disabled. Further, the lady wouldn't know what an expert navigator :-)you are and may though you would need more room to exit. (Boy - some of those prams are like SUV's, aren't they - what happend to the wee material fold up type?) Happy travels.

Anonymous said...

I'm pregnant and aware that I'm entering into a whole new world of entitlement. If I rub my bump, I expect that some people- strangers- will offer me their seat on the train or to go in front of them in the toilet queue- I've seen it happen to pregnant women. So far, I'm not needing to rub the bump in that way.
I see that when women get on the bus with their kids and buggies, the driver lowers the step and it takes a while to get everything organised including paying the fare. People might notice the delay and frown a bit, but not like I see them do when the bus driver lowers the step for someone with mobility challenges who then takes about the same amount of time as the mum with buggy to pay the fare, but gets much more frowning from fellow passengers.
Maybe this doesn't happen where you are, but I notice it where I live.
In London there are signs on the buses telling people they can put their buggies in the spaces at the front of the bus but if the space is needed by a wheelchair user, they must fold up their buggy to make room. This seems logical to me- I can lift my kiddie out the buggy and fold it, with some inconvenience of course, but if the space isn't there for the wheelchair then the wheelchair user can't use the bus.
I think good on transport for london for educating people in this way.
Being mama doesn't give me entitlement, but having extra support needs as a mama does. If (it hasn't happened yet) I'm sitting on public transport and someone with a disability, health issues, aging issues gets on who clearly could do with a seat, I expect to stand up and give up my seat. If I'm having a low energy moment and giving up my seat is more than I can manage, then I would point out the situation and ask other passengers to offer their seats.
I am already finding wierd entitlements as a soon-to-be mama- I find myself telling people, I'm not ill, I'm pregnant. Sometimes parents and kiddies have additional needs, like if the kiddie is distressed and crying and needs to get out the shopping centre quick, they should have increased right of way. It seems to me obvious and right that if you have a buggy with a placid kid in it, the wheelchair/walker/scooter takes priority, and your eyes and face and body language and actions should acknowledge this. I guess the woman Dave me didn't 'know' this, and I think this is bcos she is probably victim to some wierd assumed entitlements about motherhood.
(I would have liked to address dads too, but when I thought about it, I just haven't seen examples of this stuff going on or not going on with dads).