Thursday, September 17, 2015

Weaving Through People

We went into a restaurant. It was the kind where you go up to the counter, read the menu on boards above the till and place your order. We chose it because we heard they had lots of veggie options, and the rumour was true, they did. When we entered, we were the only one's in the line up. After we ordered we turned to see that there were fifteen to twenty people lined up behind us. We had just beaten the lunch rush.

After paying we were given glasses to go and fill up our drink from dispensers located on another counter just kitty corner to the till. We did that. There were now near thirty people lined up, another cashier had come to help take all the orders. We went to get a table and this was when I realized that I couldn't get into, or through the tables because they were so closely packed together. We had planned, on entering to sit at the raised area at the window at the front of the restaurant, and had noticed lots of room to move around there. I didn't look closely enough at the rest of the place primarily because there was no one there.

The only way I could get back to where we could sit was to go back down the entry way, now filled with customers waiting to order and be served. I grit my teeth and headed over. I asked politely for people to let me by. They all did. They were all really nice about it. I asked over and over again, of course, because many were talking amongst themselves and weren't noticing me coming through the throng of people. Even so, as I said, I asked and every moved. I said 'Thanks' and pretty much everyone said 'No problem.'

So nothing bad happened. 

People were nice.

But even with that I found myself exhausted from the experience. Having to ask, needing people to help out, constant thanks on my lips, the incredible sense of being in the way, all these things are part of the high social cost of being disabled.

I sat there and watched everyone else filter through the maze of tightly packed tables to a place to sit and simply continue on with their chats or with their phones or simply with their lunch. I had had at least thirty more interactions than they did to get the same result. I'm not sure why I don't feel myself enriched by that difference, but I don't.

I get tired.

Does anyone else?


Glee said...


CapriUni said...

I do.

Even when it's pleasant, it takes energy, it takes work.

Even pleasant work can make you tired. And that's even when you begin the work with utter trust you'll enjoy it.

But when you're weaving through a crowd, at each encounter, there's a bit of doubt: Will this encounter go smoothly? And this one? And the next?

So not only are you working on navigation and communication, you're also working on keeping your defenses up, just in case.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave: I don't use a wheelchair nevertheless what you describe would exhaust me because I'm an introvert and that much social interaction would take a lot of energy for an introvert. I haven't really considered that navigating an inaccessible world takes that particular kind of energy before. Even when people are nice, the environment is demanding. Colleen

clairesmum said...

i know i use up energy getting myself mentally prepared for situations that i anticipate might be a threat in some way...but it doesn't happen to me these days very often. asking for space in a crowd is like rolling the dice over and over. with folks focused on cell phones instead of their surroundings, it's less likely people will anticipate your request and move aside without being asked. your explanation of how this situation uses up energy is a great description.
your posts could be scripts for training materials on the importance of accessibility and the variations that exist...
hope the lunch was tasty, after all the work it took to get it!

Anonymous said...

Yup, I get tired. I'm autistic and also have other invisible disabilities, and I can't drive. I also can't take public transit on my own to many places. I have to ask for help, and it's really exhausting emotionally to feel like I'm always creating a problem for other people by needing help. I actually don't get care that might help me because I would have to ask for help to access that care, and that in itself ends up being so stressful that it's bad for my health.


wheeliecrone said...

Absolutely! And I avoid that sort of situation like the plague. In spite of everything, all my planning and strategising, I still wind up having to ask for assistance in getting through various sorts of crowds, from time to time. Exhausting!

B. said...

Yup, agree with you and the commenters. I need to be alone to recoup.

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt said...

In addition to physical mobility limitations, I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and have had it far longer than the other (26 years this November 5th).

I rarely leave the house - it is too exhausting to do what you describe. My basic functionality is improved if I have NO stress and can get a half hour nap each three-hour period - you can see how that would be near impossible.

Sometimes I must - or start to feel completely shut in. Then, it costs me.

You can - so you decide if you want to spend the energy - but it takes far more than other people would willingly spend.

Hope you continue to be able to - and that maybe people will get a bit better at helping automatically.

Anonymous said...

Why not get a whistle? One good tweet and everybody knows you're coming through. Simple, effective, low cost, low energy output, and we get you where you're going far more easily.

Mary said...

Yep. It's been a discussion point with my staff as well, about when it is or is not appropriate to intervene on my behalf (rule of thumb: unless it's an emergency or I've specifically asked them to, then probably it's not).

Quite often I will choose to just stay still for a few moments, until either the crowdedness clears, or I've got enough "oomph" to pull off the tricksy navigation, the excuse me, excuse me, thank you, excuse me, thanks but it's easier if you just stay still and I can work around you, it's when people move unexpectedly that toes get squished, hahaha, thanks, thank you so much, excuse me, thank you...

But once in a while, someone decides that *they* feel irritated on my behalf that the gangways aren't clear and people aren't magically letting me through. So they create a *scene*, with me unwillingly at the centre of it and having to do the fiddly manoeuvres and excuse me etc whether I'm ready or not, and to make matters worse, the standing-up people try to engage in conversation with the well-meaning intervenor, about me but over my head, because the intervenor has basically broadcast the perception that I can't speak up for myself. It's stressful and humiliating.