Wednesday, December 16, 2015

White Oaks, London

Photo Description: A large wall of windows with the White Oaks Mall logo in the top center panel.
I am in London, Ontario, right now, just getting up to get ready for a day full of meetings. Last night, on arrival, we headed straight over to The White Oaks mall to do a little bit of Christmas shopping. Neither of us are feeling well so we gave ourselves an hour to get some done and then pledged to go home. We kept to the time table.

As we were driving to the hotel, I mentioned to Joe how much I like shopping at that mall. I told him I wasn't sure why, it's a nice mall and all, but it is a mall. Joe said, "I think it might be because for some reason people don't stare at us there. They notice us, but that's it. They don't stare." I thought for a second and said, "I think you're right." "And," Joe went on being all perceptive, "if they aren't staring they aren't going to intrude in other ways, it feels a little safer than other places we go." Again, he was right.

We all know that places are accessible by both architecture and attitude. The place really was accessible, I had access to most stores, they had lots of merchandise but lots of room too. We, giving up on figuring out why this place was different, started coming up with 'it's in the water' ... 'it's full of university students so busy with their own lives that they haven't time to torment another'.

But then.

I remembered saying hello to a woman in a scooter who went by me in the mall. I commented to her about her Santa hat that she was wearing. She smiled and nodded at the compliment and was on her way. Then I knew. These places become accessible not by the work done by an architect but by people with disabilities going in and taking them. Being there. Being part of the community. Shopping and going about daily business. They, when the place opened, would have been the recipient of the stares and the intrusive questions. They did that work. They continue to do that work.

They made it possible for me to go somewhere and have a nice time without feeling freakish. These are the uncredited acts of community making that are very seldomly discussed and even less seldom honoured. One of the most dignified men I know is an old guy who uses a power wheelchair. He's been disabled all his life. I think he thinks me messy and unkempt and untidy but he saw me once take on a manager of a store over a needless barrier and he's always greeted me when he sees me. He told me once, when he was waiting outside the same store I was waiting outside. He talked about how different it was these days. Going out to malls and stores and movies and restaurants. When he was young, it was unheard of. Firstly, virtually nowhere was accessible. Secondly, even if it were, to go in was to be centered out and unwelcome.

But you went out, I asked.

Oh, yes I did, he answered.

Community building. The courage to take disability to where it hadn't been before. To roll over curb cuts and into people's lives. That's the stuff of legends.

So all this to say, we're nearly done our shopping.


Jenni said...

Its a political act just to be a (visually identifiable) disabled person, out in public, living a normal life, isn't it? Merry Christmas Dave

Colleen said...

My place of work is turning an accommodation request into a monumental power struggle. I am very upset about it. But after reading your post I will think of myself as a trail blazer. said...

Was in White Oaks Mall today - so sorry not to be able to meet you. Nice to hear that you found it accessible. Know I have found it and some other stores in London accommodating but hadn't really thought about it. Thanks to you and Joe for recognizing the reason behind it. Now if only a few other stores in London would listen! Guess I better start expecting them to accommodate me and not vice versa.