Thursday, March 24, 2016

'As They See People'

Image description: a group of chairs set up lecture style

I go into a lot of rooms that have been set up for a lot of people. I also go into a lot of rooms which are set up for small meetings where only a few are expected. All these places and spaces are set up with the idea of welcoming those attending. Conference centres are careful to ensure that the chairs are set up in such a way that people, as they see people, can easily enter find a seat and sit down. Similarly meeting rooms are set up so that people can come in, drop their stuff on the table and then plop down in the chair.

I also go to other places, like clinics, the dentist's office, Service Ontario's waiting room, hospitals waiting areas and other such public places. Again chairs are set up in such a way such that people, as they see people, can find a seat and sit and wait.

So, I get about.

I didn't realize until the other day when I rolled into a meeting at my office, where the corner of the table is reserved for me as it's the easiest access for me in order for me to easily participate, that this is the only room that I go into where a spot is allocated for someone with a disability who uses a wheelchair.

Let's say this clearly.

I have never gone into a conference, large or small, where there has been space created for wheelchair users to sit. Never. Once.

I have never gone into a waiting room of any kind has had a space open for a wheelchair user to use.

I have never gone into a small meeting room, outside my own at work, where I don't have to shift chairs to make a space for my chair.



It's like it's always a surprise that someone who uses a wheelchair shows up. WHAT?? Someone brought their own chair??? What do we do with the extra chair??? (Let's make a production out of moving the extra chair so it's clear that is a right freaking bother.)

I think it's interesting in a kind of alarming way, that it's not part of the thought process that when you set up a room for people, you should set up a room for people. Not some people. But, people. The fact that we're not thought about even in places where we'd be expected to be. Like, the waiting area in a hospital. Like, a conference room where the topic is disability. Like, a meeting room where someone with a disability often attends (or even might just attend).

Having a disability is always fighting for the right to space and the right to occupy space. Having the right to simply 'be' in a public place means being able to enter and not have to shift furniture and create fuss just to be there.



Barriers are messages aren't they? They are concrete ways of messaging lack of welcome. Welcome or not, space or not, I intend to keep going into room and making space, taking up space, and using that space as an equal. Because, dammit, I'm people too.


Happy Turtle said...

I had three reactions:

1. So it isn't just me, and it isn't just here.

2. The NHS waiting rooms must have gotten a bulk deal on the kind of chairs that are all bolted together, like the seats at airport gates. There is never a slot for a wheelchair, AND there is no way to move a chair. I just have to block a path.

3. My dentist had chairs all in rows, like your drawing, until my first visit, when we complained. The next time, it was completely open, chairs all around the walls, plenty of room for moving. I was so grateful I made a point of telling them over and over. Of course I don't need to go back for another year, so here's hoping it won't have all been switched back by then. I can't be their only wheelchair using patient!

Frank_V said...

I was performing music at an expo, put on BY people with disabilities, FOR people with disabilities. The bathroom door, supposedly wheelchair accessible, had a big heavy standard door. No problem, I get in okay. I used the special stall, no problem. I wash my hands after, everything nice and accessible. I go to leave said bathroom: The door handle was practically five feet off the ground.

Being born with dwarfism, instead of risking my life stretching on tiptoes, and risking getting bashed by the inward opening heavy door, I waited patiently for about 10 minutes, for the guy in the next stall to be finished. Good thing he was tall, that's all I can say.

Liz Miller said...

Thank you for this post. Sharing!

Glee said...

My workplace which is a self-funded organisation which "amplifies the voice of people living with disability" in many different ways. It has always sought to be state of the art accessible. And it pretty well is, with improvements as we go. I was a founder and board member and now I work there.

After I started working there I realised that I was always having to move chairs out of my way in meeting rooms and the lunch room. So I said that we need to leave spaces at tables permanently (with chairs nearby out of the way if needed). So at the round lunch room table there must be only 3 chairs and one space. That worked well for awhile and then BAHAHAHAHA the cleaner? or someone? decided to fucking arrange those 3 chairs evenly spaced around the table, which, BAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHHAAA effectively left NO whole space big enough for a wheelchair....BAHAHEEEEHAHAHAHA getting a little hysterical now!!!!

Unbelievable eh!! So we sorted it by only having 2 chairs there and telling everyone again and the cleaner. sigh.

But the other meeting rooms and tables all have spaces and chairs. It's so nice to work in a place that doesn't fight me.

And I have been in HEAPS of conferences and seminars where there are always spaces scattered in with the chairs. These have been disability centred events however. Other places, not so much :/

I find the same as others with waiting rooms - no space for us wheelchair users. But I request as I go and at least my doctor always has a space available now. Getting there :)

ecodrew said...

As usual, your post really made me think about something I (as a typically-abled guy with a son who uses a wheelchair) haven't really thought of before. Conference/meeting rooms are often so cramped and/or jammed with chairs, that even able bodied people have trouble getting around in them. Universal design and leaving an open space would benefit everyone.

When we're at a pediatric specialist's office or hospital, they're also the places that bug me the most when accessibility is lacking. Since as you said, they're places that should "expect" an above average number of wheelchair users.

BTW, thanks to a recent BBC Ouch podcast, I now understand why you include text descriptions under your pictures (visually impaired folks using reading devices). Cool.

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt said...

Ditto most churches.

It becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy: when you go out you don't find space, so you don't go out, so they don't see people needing space, so they fill every corner with stuff.

Louise said...

Funny that this is your post today. This afternoon, for the first time ever, I arrived at a celebration the find there were spaces in easily accessible places for the five wheelchair users expected.
It made me think, though, as a non wheelchair user, would anyone who uses one prefer NOT to have a space reserved, since that dictates where they 'have' to sit?

Emily and Laura said...

I can't disagree with you, but I will say I found one medical place recently that is prepared -- the emergency room at the local Veterans Hospital, where my husband gets his medical care. (As an aside, for everybody in the US who screams about socialized medicine, what on earth do you think the VA system is???) They allow spaces in all the rows for people in wheelchairs. But it makes sense there since (a) their patient population tends to be older, and young or old, there are a lot of people with disabilities using their facilities, and (b) they have a nursing home-type residence on the hospital grounds, so they have people who actually live there who need space.

But otherwise, you're right -- although in the US, thanks to the ADA, theaters and other public gathering spaces normally do have open space (although it's always in the very front or very back, both of which are annoying, especially in a movie theater, where some of us prefer to sit where we can actually *see* the movie).

My only personal experience was being in a wheelchair for a couple of months after surgery, and inaccessibility and lack of space to put the chair was a big problem everywhere I went. People were always willing to help make space for me, but just *having* to make space spoke clearly about how unprepared they were for anyone who doesn't walk in on their own two feet. And in today's world? They should. They really should.

wheeliecrone said...

When I became the Chairperson. THEN they set up a space for my chair. Not before. Humph.

Nightengale said...

The chairs provided are only for some sorts of walking people, also.

I am not safe in chairs with wheels that do not also have brakes.
Everywhere I go for meetings these days seem to have chairs with little casters on them. This includes "everywheres" in the building where I have worked for a year.
(It's a building that provides care to people with disabilities, interestingly enough)
It can be surprisingly hard to find a chair that does not roll away.
I am content to stand or sit on the floor for meetings but no one else seems to accept this. They also fuss if I bring in a usable chair.

The one place where someone routinely accommodates my need for a non-wheely chair?
An autism self-advocacy group.
They treat me as part of everyone.