It was International Day of Disabled Persons yesterday and I wanted to do something to celebrate. I decided that what I would do that day, to make a difference, was simply: go out. For people with disabilities to come out, we simply need to go out. Existing in a public space is enough to challenge stereotypes and attack prejudice. To be different loudly, one need not say a single word.
We chose a mall that was a bit of a drive for us.I wanted to lap the mall so that I could both exercise my body while exercising the minds of those closed to the idea of disabled people being out and belonging in public space.
All the disabled parking spaces were taken so Joe dropped me off at the front of the mall, right beside a fairly steep and fairly long ramp. I got out, had Joe pull the car away so I could back up to give me space to build some momentum and then up the ramp I went. One fellow offered help but respectfully responded to my 'No, I'm good.'
I went through the large sliding doors with two young teens. One of them turned to me and said, "You should really be wearing a jacket." WHAT?? Disability is still seen as a diminisher by some. I said, "I'm old enough to be your grandfather, would you speak to him that way? And by the way, I'm a stranger, don't talk to strangers." So I begin my International Day of Disabled Persons by being chastised by a child for not wearing a sweater.
Then, the lap began. I've been pushing long distances for a while now and can really get up some speed. I was enjoying the physical movement. I was enjoying whipping around slow walking people and surprising them. I left them in my dust. It's International Day of Disabled Persons and I'M HERE, I'M OUT AND I BELONG. You may think this silly, but I don't.
Disabled people are in a continuous battle to claim public space and to claim belonging. Because we are diminished we are also dismissed as full human beings, with our own agency and with our own lives to live. I believe that every time one of us is anywhere 'they' are, we are agents of change.
Non-disabled people will never know what it's like to go out into the public realm and know, with certainty, that you will be constantly reminded of outsider status. Staring. Pointing. Giggling and then, of course, there are the weird kind of social interactions that come from people trying their hardest, and with great effort, to be kind. Like a young teen advising an adult man in a wheelchair about his clothing.
So I spent just over an hour lapping a large mall and purposely, intentionally, being OUT while I was out.
That's what I did on the International Day of Disabled Persons and that's what I do pretty much every day. Because I have to. This is my community, and I will claim it and claim it and claim it again, and I'll keep doing so until it's ours.
It's what we do, as disabled people, to make change.
There is an everydayness to the struggle for equality for people with disabilities and differences.
I saw lots of other people with disabilities in the mall we went to, simply going about their business, I saw people watching them in the same way they watch me. We are our own Public Service Announcement ... and people pay attention.
Which is why...
We will win.