Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Ramp

Years ago, when I first became a wheelchair user, Heathrow airport was a frightening place to fly into. We'd have asked for assistance to get from the gate to luggage and out and many times we sat up to 40 minutes waiting for that help to arrive. The terminal has long corridors and long ramps, very long ramps, which made it difficult even for those pushing me. 

Heathrow was one of the reasons I decided to increase my upper body strength and decrease my need for assistance. I didn't want the long waits and I didn't want the angry service I received after help would arrive and see me, at my weight, in my chair. It was unpleasant and sometimes a little scary. So, I began trying to increase the strength in my arms and shoulders, I worked on my pushing technique, I disallowed Joe from helping me, unless I asked, even when I was struggling.

A long while later, I do have the upper body strength to push myself around and I've got a new lighter chair which makes distances in terminals or malls almost irrelevant. It's nice to feel that I was able to make some changes and work some muscles that would change my experience of the chair.

So on our flight back from London I had been shopping in duty free when Joe came and told me that our gate was now on the board and we had to go a very long way. At a normal walking pace they predicted a 15 minute walk. Ok, let's go. We found the path and were on our way. Joe was walking quickly and I slowed to keep pace with him.

That is, until we came to a very long down ramp, I said goodbye and flew down the ramp. I wanted the speed of the descent to carry me some of the way back up the ramp on the other side. It did, but then I had to take over. Joe was still way behind me but I kept going, I know my pace was very much slowed by the incline that I was attempting. I was feeling good about it, yeah it was long, but I'd done longer. And steeper. 

I felt my body working, I'd switched my push to a climbing push and I was slowly but steadily making my way up the ramp. I was breathing hard, this was real work, not gym work, real work. I was about half way up when it happened. I hadn't paid attention, I was focused just on getting up the ramp. Someone came from behind and grabbed my chair and began to push. I felt immediately out of control of the chair and I called out for him to stop. He told me he didn't mind. "WELL I DO!" I responded and he let go mumbled an apology and took off.

We got to the gate and boarded the plane. Once again, Heathrow was taken from me. He pushed me about three feet, that's all, but he took the whole challenge away from me. He's now part of my story. I don't want him in my story.

I want to author the story of my own victories and failures. I don't want random strangers to become part of my personal narrative. I'll never be able to tell this story wiithout him. I had wanted to do this, especially the big ramp, on my own. I had wanted to remind myself that I have the strength to take on what I never could have considered a year or so ago.

But he's in my story.

My story is no longer mine.

The assaultive nature of having one's chair grabbed is one thing. The theft of narrative is another.

I don't know which is worse.


Unknown said...

I’m really angry that this was taken away from you Dave. I was reading your blog with excitement that you were going to conquer Heathrow and when that person took it away from you my heart sank and my stomach flipped. I was so disappointed that you didn’t get your victory that you’d worked so hard for. Why do people do that? Why do they interfere with things that have nothing to do with them? I know how I’m feeling about this but I can’t imagine how devastated you must have felt.

Lauralee said...

I do not understand why it seems to be so hard for people to offer help - with their words, not their hands.

My experiences are on a much smaller scale as my challenges are not visible, but still ruin my day every time it happens.

I HATE it when people insist on holding doors for me after I've said "thanks, but please go on ahead; I'm slow"

Most won't, and then I feel obligated to try to hurry, and then I've used up some of the energy I need to start my class off the way I wanted to.

No one ever listens; they all claim not to mind. But I mind. And honestly most of them do mind; It's right there in their body language.

Hmmm... I wonder. Maybe instead of trying to speed up, I should slow down. They might ~get it~ better.

LittleOne said...

Some people are only trying to be helpful, they have no understanding of how they have affected your story until they read about it. I'm sure it has got something to do with what you said at your Glasgow conference about how non disabled people may feel some guilt towards the way disabled people have been treated in the past. Some people feel social responsibility and others don't give two hoots. This was a person who saw your struggle and was just trying to help their fellow human. Like you said in one of your books in connection with seeing loneliness others see the struggle and deny it...others help! Getting pissed off only serves to maybe stop that person helping the next fellow human who may actually have appreciated the helping hand.

MobilityDiva said...

If you truly want to help theb ask. Putting one’s hands on someone or their mobility device without permission is not ok and can be scary or cause an injury . If this man had asked Dave if he could help him and than listened to dave’s Answer it would have all been different but instead of asking the man took over and then tried to justify his actions by saying he didn’t mind, It’s not good to insist on helping some one who has told you the don’r need help. See the difference?

LittleOne said...

Yes, Laura, I do see the difference. The main idea I was trying to convey is that people want to help. I'm sure able bodied people should not interfere with mobility devices or another person with mobility differences. I am hoping you will see how people that are naturally caring and helpful may be deterred in the future by such an abrupt response.(I can only go on the capital letter response that Dave replied to the man).

Dave Hingsburger said...

I don't feel it's my job to educate everyone and I do respond viscerally when I'm grabbed and shoved without warning. I am human. I do hope my response makes him think. Realize the context here, I was pushing myself up the hill, I was intent on what I was doing, I was in no way looking for or otherwise indicating I wanted help. I see this behaviour as not helpful but assaultive. I understand your concern that he may be reticent in the future but your concern is my hope. I hope that he thinks about what happened and realizes that he didn't see permission. One other thing, I was working physically very hard and I didn't have much in the way of breath to stop and explain that he needs to ask.

MobilityDiva said...

It isn’t our responsibility to educate everyone and I wasn’t in any way saying you should stop and explain. The general feeling in society that I should have to educate everyone is one of the things that exhausts me most about life with a disability. As to the commenter above if the person in dave’s story thinks only that he will never help again... then well so be it. Because then he is only seeing the interaction from his POV. I’m all for offering help in the society. we could all be kinder and more helpful but people who help without asking sometimes can cause injury even though that wasn’t the intention. The other thing is in my experience thie just helping without really asking if help is needed is something that only happens to those of us in the disababilites. People don’t walk up to able bodied people and just start to assist with out asking. So even though I believe most people have the best of intentions it sometimes makes things harder. I didn’t mean to sound obnoxious which I did. 😊

ABEhrhardt said...

YOU conquered Heathrow, INCLUDING the extra obstacle that person added to the chore. Do NOT let what was an attack take the victory from you.

Girl on wheels said...

LittleOne, It is not Dave’s responsibility if that man never helps anyone else again, that is entirely that man’s choice. Unless you have suddenly been grabbed from behind and moved against your will, you do not understand how utterly terrifying it is. How powerless you feel. How large a threat that person’s ‘help’ feels like. Never mind the fact that most able bodied people don’t have a bloody clue how to push a wheelchair, so he could have injured Dave or himself. I appreciate help if it’s offered, but weirdly enough I never get offers of help when I actually need it! I only ever get ‘help’ when it suits the narrative of the able bodied person who decides to force their help on me. Which tells me that it’s absolutely nothing to do with being caring and everything to do with that person wanting to insert themselves into my story as a hero. We are only asking to be treated like everyone else, so if you wouldn’t start pushing a walking person up a ramp if they were going slowly or it looked like they were struggling, then please don’t do it to a wheelchair user without asking first. Pretty simple really. Also if someone’s ego is so fragile that hearing what Dave said means they never help another disabled person again, then I think the disabled community will take a collective sigh of relief. We really do not need assistance from people like that.

LittleOne said...

Girl on wheels. This is like a religious person trying to have a discussion with a non religious person. It just doesn't work. Able bodied people will try to help disabled people but they are not helping at all. If I see someone struggling I will help that is in most people's nature. It has nothing to do with being a hero in anyone's story although that is how you choose to interpret the situation. I get that you should ask first but who's to say we would not be met by the same missed off response just for even suggesting that someone needed help! Able bodied people do need to be educated about disability and all things we are NOT supposed to do. One lady said she felt rushed if someone held a door! Who better to spread information and stop these types of horrible incidents happening to others. Dave can't have been the only person to experience this! We are all about getting mental health out in the open and discussed why not disability? If you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem. Or will we say it is society that is the problem. I say it is lack of education!