The experience of disability, as we all know, is as much a social one as a physical one. This realization keeps slapping me in the face - especially when I've been dealing with my own person experience of myself as a disabled person. This happened in the Vancouver airport on our way back home. We'd checked in and when I asked if it was a long way to the gate the person checking me in told me that she didn't really know where the gates where. This happens to me a lot, when someone pleads ignorance so that there isn't follow up requests for assistance.
I figured, I'm stronger now, I can push farther, I'm going for the gate. We got through security and found that our gate was the furthest from where we were, but in for a dime in for a dollar, off I pushed. I made it to the gate, a very long way, under my own steam but my arms were screaming and I was really puffed out. Even so, I headed straight over to the desk to alert them to the fact that I was there, needed early boarding, that the chair was mine, all the stuff that I do.
The woman at the gate, very nicely, indicated that she hadn't got the computer up and to wait for a moment. I was glad of the moment so I could catch my breath and organize my thoughts. As soon as she looked up ready to assist a woman blasted over to where we were and began speaking to her about seats and her children and what she needed. The clerk said, "This gentleman was here first let me serve him and I'll get right to you."
The woman looked at me and said, I shit you not, "He doesn't matter, he can wait. We need help now. I am not seated with my children, I want to be seated with them. They are 10 and 12 and we need to be together."
The clerk said, "I will be right with you, but this gentleman was here first, I'll serve him and be right with you."
The woman began speaking again saying, "He ..."
I then burst in and said, "... don't say it. Really. Don't. Say. It."
She glanced at me, saw that I had been angered by her behaviour and by her statement that I didn't matter. In her silence, I said, "If you'd asked me if you could go ahead because of your concern, I would have said yes, but now I'm going ahead, not to spite you but to make a statement that I matter too."
I spoke to the clerk, clarified everything and then rolled over to Joe.
The pain that had been in my arms from the pushing now competed with the social pain of being 'someone that doesn't matter."
This wasn't the end of it. On the other end in Toronto, I was being helped to get to the luggage area by someone who'd met the plane to assist me. He had pushed for the elevator and when it came a fellow rushed ahead of us, almost smashing the foot pedals on my chair, and got in the elevator first. The guy pushing me, a guy really aware of disability issues, said, "I think what I've really learned in doing this job is that no one thinks that the time and the needs of people with disabilities really matter in comparison to their own. It's shocked me."
I said, "It no longer shocks me."
How is it that people so firmly understand their own importance that they don't recognize the importance of others?