The first time it happened, I felt uncomfortable, but I wrote it off. It was one interaction, it didn't mean anything, it wasn't part of a larger patter, representative of a larger social response to disability. Then it happened again. And finally again. Hmmmm.
Each time it happened, the situation was the same. I'd been going along a sidewalk, a nice law abiding citizen, and I had to stop because I'd run into some kind of barrier. In many places, the snow has been shovelled only blade wide. Non-disabled walkers could make their way through, but the passage was too narrow and putting one tire on the cleared path and the other on the snow would dangerously tip my wheelchair. In other places the sidewalk was blocked by a ridge of snow left from someone plowing a driveway. These are the realities of winter in Canada. In each case I've had to go cross in other ways. Often I go back to a curb cut and go on the road. Nothing much has happened when I do that.
The other times were when there was a problem. I'd find a driveway or a place where snow and ice have formed kind of a natural ramp that I can take down to the road from the sidewalk. In each of these situations I have not been alone in the decision to cross the road. Pedestrians not wanting to go through the narrow pathway or step over a barrier, have also done the same thing. We wait and then dash across the road.
Three times now I've a drivers, of both genders, roll their windows down and speak to me. They spoke to none of the others who had crossed the road with me, just me. When the first window came down I thought I was going to get 'pedestrian get out of my freaking way' stuff from the driver. But instead I got a "do you know it's unsafe to cross the road like this, you should look for crosswalks." I got advice. I got information. I got sad smiles that came with encouraging words like, "you'll do better next time." I would have rather been told to "get the fuck off the road."
None. Not one. Felt it was necessary to give advice or encouragement to the other, walking pedestrians. They it seemed had made reasonable choices for their access, I, however, was breaking a rule and needed corrective criticism.
Some will say that they are making the assumption that they are treating me as if I have an intellectual disability. I think that's too easy an answer and in this case I don't think that's true. I have often stated that when people use patronizing approaches and childish tones when speaking to me 'as if I have an intellectual disability' that NO ONE should be spoken to that way INCLUDING people with intellectual disabilities.
I think, and maybe I'm way off base, that my status as a disabled person puts me in the role of care-recipient of anyone who feels the need to slip into the role of care provider. Suddenly strangers adopt the attitude of 'let me help you out, poor deluded cripple guy,' or 'oh, I see you don't have a care provider with you, poor man, well, I'll do that for you right now.' I think seeing disability is a trigger for THERE IS SOMEONE WHO NEEDS HELP, RUSH TO HELP, RUSH TO HELP.
What ever it is, I think its the first time I've ever wished that someone would have said, 'Get the fuck out of my way!'