For those who haven't used the subway system in Toronto, let me explain how I get into and out of a subways stop. On entry, along with several turnstiles where the bulk of those entering go through, there is a spot for wheelchair entry. You approach it, put in a token or swipe through a pass, and then a gate swings open leaving room for you to get through. Once through, the gate closes. To exit you approach the same gate, push a button, the gate swings the other way allowing exit. It's a simple and effective solution. It's, of course, used by all sorts of people; those with strollers, bundle buggies, large packages, bicycles as well as those of us who use wheelchairs.
Yesterday we headed downtown to go to the theatre and pick up tickets to go see the 'Last Night of the Proms' next Saturday. We wanted to be sure that we had tickets for the both of us and a couple of friends, it's become a tradition for all of us. The subway was packed on the way down, just packed. I was the last to get out and then just pulled over to the side for a few moments to let the throngs get out and get passed me. The subway platform is a little frightening to me and I fear that my joystick will get bumped in a crowd and send me plunging over the edge.
As the crowd thinned out I noticed a disabled woman, walking very slowly and carefully towards the exit. She wore a helmet, which looked like it had been battered and bruised by several falls, she used a complicated kind of cane that assisted her with a complicated kind of walk. She, like me, was being careful, clearly understanding what it is to be someone who moves slowly in a world full of people in a rush.
She got to the exit just before me. It looked like she was going for the accessible exit, but she did not. She stopped just beside it, at the turnstile next to it, then began a routine of dealing with cane and getting her body into position to go through the turnstile. I, being careful to not startle her, made a wide arc around her which took me to the accessible exit. I pushed the button for the gate to slide open as she pushed to go through her exit.
She spoke to me as she went through, "At least I don't have to use THAT exit. I can still get myself around just fine." She smile a superior smile, very proud that she wasn't a member of the disabled classes, and slowly moved on.
I felt quite stung. It's one
thing to get that kind of attitude from the great non-disabled throng,
but to get it from someone who has a clear and noticeable
disability, was something else. I have always known, of course, about
the 'disability heirarchies' .... the one they use and the one we use.
She was clearly stating to me, "whatever you think, don't think that I'm
one of you, I am more than you, I have value because I walk and I don't
use adaptions." Well, except for the complicated cane and the helmet,
The absolute need that some have to disavow
their disability status strikes me as so sad and so unnecessary. I know
we are surrounded by negative messages about disability, I know that we
are targets of hate and hateful behaviour, I know all that. But pride
beats prejudice every day of the week. Her need to slap out at me, letting me know that her exit through the turnstile
allowed her entrance into a different world of respect and
acceptability than mine, seemed to come from a deep place within her. A
place where fear of her own difference gave her the need to punish that
difference in others.
I fought the impulse
to shoot back at her. She may have been mean, but anything that I said
would be have been cruel. Even the mildest rebuke like, "Honey, look in
the mirror, you are as disabled as I am" would, I think, have crushed
So. I said nothing. I let her have this moment. I expect she's experienced unkindness elsewhere, she didn't need it from me.
There are times my heart slaps
hands over my mouth. This was one of those times. I hope though, that
she can begin to embrace who she is, I hope she can lose the fear, I
hope that she can experience, for a moment what it's like, to simple be