Sunday, May 01, 2016

I'm Public In Public

Image Description: Person in power wheelchair with arms up embracing the space around.
Twice yesterday I had people grant me space that wasn't theirs to give and for which I needed no permission. It's an interesting kind of privilege when people feel that they are able to cede me the space I am currently using. It's interesting that those with privilege feel that public space belongs naturally to them and therefore they are the monarchs of all that is before them and can grant me entry into public space by their magnificent act of generosity. And. It irks me.

The first time it happened was on a broad, very broad, public sidewalk outside of a mall a several meters away from the door to a large anchor store. Joe had pulled the van up and set out the ramp. I was about to get in. We were using up maybe slightly less than a third of the space. A couple coming toward us, taking up, between them, a similar amount of space, and already, before seeing us, walking alongside the building, meaning they had no need to swerve or adjust their routing in any way, stops. They come to a complete halt as if waiting for me to get on the van so they can move again. I indicate that they can keep going, that there's lots of room. He says, "That's alright, we'll let you do what you need to do."

Let me.

They are going to let me.

They have the power to let me.

I didn't move. I wasn't in a rush. I waited, they passed by and said, "No problem mate." They acted as if I had thanked them for the generosity of their time and the granting of the public space that they had graciously given me. I hadn't thanked them, but they received it anyway.

I was in public space.

Public.

Space.

I am public. It's my space.

Then, later the same day, Joe and I are at our hotel. We are waiting outside the elevator. I've been in a wheelchair for 8 years and been alive for 63 years. For most of the time BW (before wheelchair) I knew how to wait for an elevator. I knew not to stand right in the door. It's a skill many have not yet learned, that people need to leave before one can get on. AW (after wheelchair) I move back so that people have plenty of room to move. I recognize that it's public space so I need to share that space with other members of the public. Again, a couple gets off, if they want too go left, they can, lots of room, if they want to go right, they can lots of room. They just get off and turn. But instead, they get off walk round behind me and then go left. They veered way out of their way, in order to say, "It's OK, we don't mind, take all the space you need." Then, at my silence, they said "No problem, no problem at all." They acted as if thanked. I didn't thank them.

I was in public space.

Public.

Space.

I am public. It's my space.

People with disabilities are not yet quite seen as part of the public, we are still visitors on outings. We are welcomed to space that's not seen as ours.

It's mine.

I claim it.

Space.

It's mine.

I claim it.

Belonging.

4 comments:

Unknown said...

Makes sense to me now that I have been reading you for a long time. I didn't realize how insensitive I probably was, before that. Clairesmum

Cheryl O'Brien said...

I have noticed this so many times where people do behave like they are granting space, giving permission for me or my daughter to take up space, and then acting like one or the other of us has thanked them. Odd that I had not really thought of it in those terms but that is what happened. thank you for putting words to our experience.

Denise said...

Oh, the elevator dance! As if I don't know how to successfully navigate my chair amidst all those walking people. Usually when I do go in the elevator (without running anyone over), someone tells me how well I maneuver my chair. Thanks stranger. And you seem to walk pretty well, but I didn't feel the need to comment on your ability to do so.

Kimberly said...

I do this for everyone, everywhere. After reading this, I probably still will.