Thursday, December 18, 2014

Committees Everywhere

I was rolling up the street, minding my own business, when someone decided to mind mine. A woman, sitting on the street with a sign asking for change, saw me go by and said, "It's cold out, you need to dress for the cold." I didn't think she was speaking to me, why would I, so I kept on going. "You, there, in the wheelchair, it's cold out, you don't want to get sick, you should wear a winter coat." Now others, waiting at the light with me, are looking at me and I'm being evaluated on my life skills and calculations are being made as to my suitability of dress in relationship to my suitability for independent community access. Trust me, there are committees everywhere

 I may say it but many don't understand it: Disability isn't permission.

It's astonishing the degree to which people, often strangers but not always, feel they have the right and even the obligation to 'help out' by interjecting themselves into my life with their opinions and values. From what I've ordered at a food court, to how I get on an elevator, to what I should do to heal myself, I get advice. Advice and intrusion. I've spoken to parents of kids with disabilities and am told that they, too, sometimes get unwanted advice on parenting, nutrition, healing strategies, from people.

We're supposed to think of people who do this as 'kind hearted' and as 'only trying to help'. I suppose some of that is true, but I wonder why they seem to target those of us with disabilities or those with a family member with a disability. Maybe because they have learned it's inappropriate and unwelcome when done to others. I don't know.

But what I do know is that I wish, just some times, that people would just, and there's no nice way to put this, shut up. If you want to talk to me, say hello and engage me, in the same manner as you would with anything else.

As I write this I can still hear her voice, "A sweater isn't enough on a day like this!" And for those of you thinking, "Oh, my gosh, Dave went out with a sweater in the winter, maybe I better write him and tell him that it's not weather appropriate," hush. It's was a pullover winter coat/sweater worn over a thick black shirt, worn over my cloth light green shirt. I layer. That works for me. A winter coat doesn't keep me as warm as this combination. So, really, I'm good with dressing for the weather.


Please don't take away my community privileges.


Kristine said...

Heavy coats weigh me down, and make it really tough for me to move around. Plus, I can't take them on and off without help, and that help isn't always available. Most of the time, layering works best for me too. And I always want to smack the people telling me how I should dress. They have NO idea how much time and thought I put into balancing warmth, function, and style!

CapriUni said...

If I were in your situation, I'd be tempted to answer: "You should wear layers. Don't you know a coat just isn't warm enough in this climate?"

And then, when she gets huffy, say: "Oh. Sorry. I thought it must be 'Trade Advice Day!'"

Then again, I probably wouldn't have thought of it until a couple hours later...

Anonymous said...

Dave, Those "dress for the weather" people take it upon themselves to intrude on everyone. I hate coats and either don't wear one or have it unzipped and flying open...but it doesn't stop...usually a woman...the comments keep on coming. I nod and increase my pace.

gps said...

Have you talked with parents of children without disabilities? All parents get unsolicited and unwanted advice. And some people are busybodies who will give advice to anyone within earshot. I don't think this is disability-specific. For that matter, how do you think it compares with sexual catcalling?

Anonymous said...

I have a Tee shirt that says "Don't Should on Me." Want to borrow????

Mary said...

With unwanted public interventions like this I always wonder whether the person is delivering their so-called help or advice is doing so for the benefit of the "target", or if it's more for the benefit of the "audience".

Look everybody, see how caring and considerate I am being to Those Less Fortunate. I'm such an amazing humanitarian. I totes deserve a medal and a small ceremony of thanks and recognition. Or at least a cookie.

In this particular instance, you noted that the lady in question had a sign out asking for change. You have observed on many occasions that this can be as good as a cloak of invisibility. I wonder if she was using you to make herself more visible, and her display of "caring" to paint herself as a Worthy Cause.

(Not that it would make it okay.)

Mary said...

@gps - unsolicited advice to parents of children without disabilities happens, it's true. And sexual catcalling happens.

But these are different things. Real things, unwelcome things, intruding things, and often distressing things - but different things to what we're talking about, which is the experience of an adult wheelchair user being presumed to be incapable of the most basic self-care.

It must be pretty galling to have strangers tell you how to raise a child, but believe me, it's a whole other level to have strangers presume you can't look after your own fundamental bodily needs.

The fact that unsolicited parenting-advice and sexual catcalling happens does not in any way neutralise the way that certain people in society infantilise disabled people and choose to publicly humiliate us in the way Dave has described.

Of course, if you're now about to head over to Mumsnet and tell the parents who are complaining about unsolicited advice "oh, disabled people get that too, it's not just a parenting-specific issue," then do let me know and I'll grab the popcorn. ;-)

Anonymous said...

This is not about someone getting unsolicited parenting advice. This is a case of an adult infantilizing another adult and questioning his decisions because of ableism. And speaking as a disabled feminist, please stop with the "compares to sexual catcalling" crap. It's not a contest. Both are dehumanizing, oppressive, and wrong.

Anonymous said...

I too was relating this to catcalling. I am a pet sitter and have been barked at when I'm walking dogs. Just recently I was meowed at.There are people who are just wanting to interact. My daughter was told hey beautiful one day and that was fine I wasn't offended, she wasn't offended. some catcallers it's a power play. They will pick on whatever they can come up with. If you're fat it's a fat comment, tall, tall comment, short, short comment pretty, pretty comment, walking dogs, barking at you, disabled, disabled comment. I guess my point is it's not always about the disability, it's whatever they can come up with.

Anonymous said...

I learned long ago that I share a planet with 7 billion people who don't give a shit about how I would like them to behave. It's a full time job just trying to change yourself let alone changing anyone else. I would guess a woman sitting in the street asking for change knows a bit about being cold, maybe from her perspective you were under dressed. You seem to spend a big chunk of your life being offended.

Anonymous said...

Anon, if you think Dave spends a big chunk of his life being offended, then perhaps you haven't read this blog for long, or chose to focus your attention only on certain posts. I have the feeling that Dave is mostly happily living his life, and observing the life around him. But people do upsetting things to you when you're disabled, and when people who were not around, who don't share his experiences, write that is is not that bad and that he is looking for ways to be offended, it really belittle his experience.


Anonymous said...

I don't like unsolicited advice either, but I'd like to think that she was worrying that you HAD a coat. That may be something she needs to worry about for herself.

MYOFB said...

The same thing happens if you are a pregnant or nursing mother. It happens if you have kids, typical or otherwise specified. It happens if you have bi-racial kids. It happens if you are young, different, or other mobilized. It falls under the umbrella Spectrum Disorder of MOPFB (Minding Other People's F***ing business). There is no cure.

Ettina said...

My brother often goes outside in late fall (which in Saskatchewan is as cold as many winter days in other places) without any kind of jacket, just a sweater. He's always been a warm person, just like his Dad, and those of us in his family know that he really is fine going outside like that.

No one has ever given him, or me when I'm with him, unsolicited advice about what he should wear. I assume that's because he looks nondisabled, and therefore competent to decide for himself.

People do sometimes give me unsolicited comments on how I'm dressed, but even so, it's not with the preachy tone that this woman was giving - it's more amazement that I'm wearing a winter coat on a hot day. (A coat helps me regulate sensory overload, so I wear one as much as I can stand.)

Anonymous said...

That must become a PITA.

I think I'd have just told them that I know how to dress myself and that I'm plenty warm.

Anonymous said...

due to my very bad circulation it often takes me two or three days to feel the temperature of the weather going on outside.

Until I had a very big argument/discussion with my parents about it, I was always feeling to cold or to hot, if I was forced to wear "appropriate" clothes.

Fortunatly this stoped a while ago and I woul never force someone else to wear something just because of the weather.