Tuesday, January 07, 2014


"I've never noticed but I imagine it's pretty good," she said, smiling and friendly. She was answering a question I'd asked about accessible seating in other of the live theatre venues that are owned by the same company. She had just explained, as we were chatting, that she is being trained to work in some of the bigger houses and she was enjoying the process. I'd asked her if she'd been to a couple of the big theatres downtown, she said that she had. My follow up question was, "What is the wheelchair seating like in those theatres?"

"I imagine it's pretty good."

"Really?" I said, "Like the very back row and off to the side like in this theatre? That's not 'pretty good' it's a barely adequate after thought." She looked quite offended by what I said and I wasn't really wanting an argument, so I said, "I don't mean to be at all combative or aggressive but wheelchair seating isn't often 'pretty good'.  She asked me what I meant and we explained some of the theatres in town and some of the ways that accessible seating in provided, like driving a power chair up onto a little plywood stand placed at the end of a row, right near the wall.

But I don't want to write about the wheelchair seating, I'd like to consider that she said ... "I imagine ..."

In her mind accessibility is pictured as being there and being more than just adequate. I wonder if that's how non-disabled people picture the world they live in. It's funny isn't it that people say that "When I had my leg broken and was in a wheelchair for a few weeks, I realized how inaccessible the world is. I never imagined that it was so difficult."

My guess is then that most non-disabled people, like the theatre usher, imagine that things are just fine. I imagine that they are comfortable with how the world is structured because they can't imagine it not being fine. I also noted that she got a little offended when I challenged her world view that everything was peachy keen for people with disabilities. Even though we were in a theatre where the absolutely worst seats in the house are the disabled seats. That's not 'pretty good' ... it's less than adequate. I know this to be true because they are also the cheapest seats in the house. The seating with the least value is reserved for customers with the ... well you get the point.

I wonder if the reason I meet so much anger when I bring up accessibility is because I'm upsetting a world view that everything is 'pretty good' for disabled people. To draw attention to inequity is to point out, without mentioning it, their quiet acceptance of things the way they are.

She imagined that the seats are 'pretty good.'

I'd like my imagination to have the same optimistic outlook.

It doesn't.


Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

I think that your analysis is right on. We, the one's who do not use wheelchairs, imagine that it is pretty good. We see accessibility signs, ramps, larger stalls in bathrooms, accessible parking spots and think that the world is just fine.

My wake up call happened about 10 years ago. I was with my mother-in-law who used a wheelchair after she had had a stroke. We went into an "accessible" bathroom in a MacDonald's. There were 2 stalls in there, one was the "accessible" stall. First I had to move the garbage can out of the bathroom completely. Then I had to wait for both stalls to be empty because there was not enough room in the "accessible" stall to accommodate the wheelchair without leaving the door open. So we took up the whole bathroom. Her wheelchair was blocking the other stall. By this time it was too late for my poor m-in-law. So I had to then help her change her clothes which took us a while. Meanwhile there was a line up of mothers with little kids who needed the bathroom - some of them were not very happy. Was that bathroom accessible - no! not even in a barely adequate way. Yet they displayed an accessible sign. Until that incident I never would have questioned the accessibility - if they had the little blue guy in a wheelchair sign I just assumed that it was accessible. Now I know that is not true.

I think you are absolutely right, Dave!

MichiganMom said...

I will never forget the experience of being asked to supper at a work friend's home. (We worked together at a school for children with disabilities) My daughter is a wheelchair user, so as always, I asked How many steps there were up onto her porch and into the door. She told me 'just a couple', so I didn't worry, as my daughter and her chair were quite small at the time. We arrived to find a porch with four steep steps and then immediately after a tiny landing, another steep one into the home. My co-worker, despite spending her days with people who use wheelchairs, "imagined" everything was OK, even in her own home. Something inside me changed that day. I still find it hard to be even slightly optimistic about accessibility in places I have not yet negotiated. Unfortunately, my pessimism is almost always reinforced.

Glee said...

exactly Dave we upset their warm fuzzies.

Anonymous said...

It's sort of like the converse, my experience today...
I have been negotiating accessibility issues as a child with my grandma and as an adult with my partner who is disabled.
Today I went to a coffee shop with my baby. I was in the queue, figuring out how I was going to manage the baby, the tray of food and drink, and getting the high chair. I had worked out where I could sit without 'bothering' others and that I would put the tray down and ask someone to watch it while I took the baby with me to get the highchair.
When I ordered, one of the staff loaded up the tray, picked it up and carried it for me- without me saying anything- and asked me where I would like to sit, suggested we would be comfortable on the sofa, and checked whether we had everything we needed. I asked her if she could fetch us a highchair, she did, and told me she would just be a minute, she was going to wipe it down for me.
I really appreciate what was done for me, without me asking. I was also bowled over because nothing like this happens with our support needs around disability.
It's tempting to write that today our support needs were noticed. But I suspect that they are noticed around disability too, because I've seen the disability disturbing people around us.
Oh how will it be when they notice my baby grows into a child with DS...
I think it's really sad that my experiences around disability leave me imagining we are on our own in an inhospitable world, even when I saw the highchairs lined up and waiting by the door.
I guess that's because I've learned that accessible signs are just logos, not signs of welcome.

Mary said...

I think when people say access is "pretty good" they imagine themselves using our facilities but forget to add the impairments and equipment.

They'll see that the blue-badge parking spot is conveniently near the door and think "hey, that's good, wish I could park there!" and not notice the deep gravel path, or the bollard handily placed in the centre of the dropped kerb, or other issues that don't yet affect them.

There's also an issue of comparison. Coffee shop A has "pretty good" access compared to coffee shop B, but "kinda crap" access compared to coffee shop C.

Anonymous said...

I've noticed this when I'm in the cheap seats at theatres: oh, look, I'm right next to the wheelchair seating. Wait a minute, I can't see a third of the stage, that can't be right!!

If I didn't read your blog, though, I doubt I'd notice. Yes, there's wheelchair seating, that's fine. Yes, there are accessible loos everywhere. How do I know they're accessible? There's a sign.

Karry said...

I didn't notice until I had some friends in wheelchairs. Now I notice. If I'm not sure about access at a particular business, I go there and check for myself before planning to meet a friend in a wheelchair there. I have a friend with CP who uses a very large motorized chair, and places that are supposed to be accessible often aren't wide enough for her chair.

Frances said...

I've only just discovered your blog, but am having a wry chuckle over many of your posts. I have been a paraplegic for the last 15 years of my 28 year life. The issues with theatre access always sets me off.

In Australia most tickets to theatre events nation wide are only sold through two providers and neither handles disabled seating. In order to book that you need to phone which ever specific theatre is hosting the event and book through them. Which means that online booking (which is often offering tickets days if not a full week before phone bookings) is not available. Then, if you're lucky enough to get through to someone on the phone and purchase a ticket before they have been sold out online (with the added phone booking fee...) you can never sit with the rest of your party because the chairs directly beside the one wheelchair spot have been sold already. Every time I ring up it's an ordeal.