Monday, July 16, 2018

A Man At Work

Just as we were finishing our lunch and I was popping the last of the burrito into my mouth, an employee came into wipe down the tables. He was quiet and unobtrusive and I didn't notice, either by his behaviour or the behaviour of others, that he had Down Syndrome. He just quietly and efficiently went from table to table to table.

Most of the customers seemed like regulars and took absolutely no notice of him. I can't emphasize the degree of welcome and acceptance that comes with anonymity in carrying out acts of everyday life. He was just doing his job. They just let him do his job. Several nodded to him, he nodded back, but that's as far as it went.

Then into the food court comes a young woman, with her boyfriend, who noticed him big time. Suddenly he was surrounded by patronizing, childish tones about what a good job he was doing and about how proud they were of him. He looked mortified ... not pleased to be centered out at all ... mortified. When the woman went to hug him he stopped her.

"No," he said, "I'm at work, you are a stranger."

She pressed on and he said, "No, I am a man. I am not a child."

They were, predictably offended. They told him that they were just being nice.

He said, and shock ran through my soul, "It doesn't feel nice, it feels disrespectful."

Then they were gone. During this whole thing, several in the food court turned to watch, it seemed like they all had his back, but they didn't interfere, they let him handle what came his way.

One of the women in the food court, one he had nodded to, fist bumped him on the way out.

Then he went back to his job.

Quietly.

Efficiently.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

My Burrito

While in Atlanta Joe and I went to a shopping mall. We wanted to see if we could pick up a few gifts to take home for the kids. As we wandered around we decided to head to the food court for lunch. We got there and there were only three or four vendors.

Joe decided on Chinese because they had a picture of a tofu dish that looked good. I had decided on a burrito that I would get from a different vendor. I waited with Joe as he placed his order. When he was done, the woman behind the counter said,, "That's two orders?"

Joe said, "No, it's just for me."

She became visibly upset, "What about him?"

Stunned by the question, he said nothing for a second and she launched in again. "What about him, doesn't he want an order too?"

I spoke up now and said that no I didn't want an order, I was going somewhere else to get something else.

When I spoke she literally seemed to jump out of her skin. Her eyes widened. It was like she'd seen either a ghost or a puppet speak unaided. Then, "So, that's two orders?" she said turning back to Joe and trying to understand what one person and one non-person would want for lunch.

I just gave up and told Joe I was going to go order my burrito, I rolled over the the Mexican place and placed my order with no difficulty at all. The guy let me choose without question or comment what I wanted wrapped inside. It was easy.

In his presence I felt fully human again.

I wonder if people realize that disabled people do have feelings and sensibilities in relationship to what happens around us. I can leave a situation feeling like my humanity, my personness, has been diminished or I can leave a situation feeling my humanity has been affirmed.

And yes.

Someone listening to me, without commentary, as I choose what I want in a burrito is enough to make me feel like a welcomed fellow human.

Disabled people don't ask for much.

But it seems hard for many to get the word 'people' after 'disabled.'

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Another Jump

Yesterday, a little later in the afternoon, we decided to pop into a grocery store to pick up some fruit. As to the heat, well, I've decided that I have to be a really good person and follow my faith because I surely would not cope with hell. I noticed a car pull by us driven by a man about 20 years our senior. His wife, around the same age as her husband, sat beside him. Their windows were up tight and you knew that the air conditioner was running full blast.

We found parking at a disabled bay and turned in. I saw the old guy pull his car up right in front of the store. Then he opened his door and got out. I thought, smiling to myself, that he was getting out to open the door for his wife and then he'd go park the car. He rounded the back of the car and headed into the store. I had to admit to disappointment. 

His wife opened her door and got her feet out but sat, in the blasting heat, with her feet on the pavement. She didn't seem rushed or hurried. Then her husband came out with a grocery cart. He walked up to her, turned the cart around, then helped her stand. She was using the grocery cart as a walker to steady herself. She kissed him on the cheek and then he came back round the car and got in and drove to park.

She walked slowly and steadily, holding on to the cart for support, into the grocery store.

I felt a bit ashamed for how quickly I judged him. I had in mind what I thought he should do, or would do, but I had no idea what he needed to to. They had worked out together a solution that works for them. He hadn't callously left her behind, he made it possible for them to be together and do things together.

See that conclusion floating in sea waters down amongst sharp rocks? Hear how it calls to me? Why the hell do I keep jumping?

Monday, July 09, 2018

4 scenes: 1 day

One:

We have rented a car that only a few months ago I would not have been able to get in. It's much taller and therefore it's a lot more difficult for me, but the thing is, difficult is okay today if yesterday was impossible. So I'm getting into the car and I get advice.

"I think you shouldn't have bought that car, it's too high for you."

Two:

I'm pushing into a movie theatre from a spot far, far away. All the disabled spots are taken, the lot is nearly full. Joe had offered to drop me off near the door but I thought I could use the exercise and we were in the middle of a conversation I wanted to finish. I'm pushing my way towards the theatre. It's hot. It's wet. It's like nature has draped a hot, wet, shawl around my shoulders. I'm sweating. I get some advice.

"I don't think you should be doing that, a man your size, it's too hot."

Three:

We stop at a grocery store to pick up some things for the trip. I've wandered away from Joe who is buying dish soap. I see something I want and I put it into the bag on the back of my wheelchair. I heard running, I get some advice.

"I don't think you should be doing that, shoplifting raises the cost of stuff for all of us. Put that back or I'll call the manager."

Four:

We go to dinner at a pub across the parking lot from where we are staying. We order, chat, eat, chat, then pay the bill and get ready to leave. Joe goes ahead of me and holds the door, a man bursts out and pushes Joe away, telling Joe that he'll hold the door. Joe is shocked and befuddled. As I go by he gives me advice.

"I don't think you should be out by yourself, what would you do if you needed help?"

Living with a disability = Living at the blunt end of other people's opinions.

Seriously.

Shut up.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

What He Said: A Moment To Remember

We don't know the Atlanta airport at all. Thus we ended up stumbling around a bit trying to find our way. We wanted to get to the car and get going because we had a long drive ahead of us. Finally we were pointed in the right direction and found ourselves the first in line for an inaccessible bus that was heading to the rental car centre. We asked the driver about accessibility and he told us to just wait for a second and he sprinted off coming back with a very friendly and helpful woman.

She told us that she had called for one of the accessible buses and that it would be there in about five minutes. She explained that the older buses were not accessible but the new ones were. I was skeptical, not having much luck with buses in the past. But sure enough it showed up and pulled over to the curb. The driver opened the door, asked us to stay back, and then she engaged the ramp which folded down enabling us to board. This was all still theoretical to me because I was wary of the turning space and then the ability to maneuver my chair into it's assigned space.

They offered to help me up and respected me when I said that I wanted to do it on my own. With the folded out ramp continuing to a ramp inside, there were two differing slopes, the first grade was easy the second much harder. I gave the chair a strong push going up the steeper grade and felt it tip back slightly, felt the anti-tip bars engage and in a second I was under control again. I made the turn in, rolled down to my seat and backed in without a problem.

It was great.

My first good experience on a bus as a wheelchair user.

Here's the interesting part and I hoped you kept reading because this post isn't really about that entry onto the bus, it's about getting off the bus. We arrived and the ramp was engaged and I easily slipped into place and got off the bus. There was a crowd of people there waiting to board. The driver asked them to wait and then hopped into the bus and pushed whatever button that causes the ramp to disengage and turn back into a step.

While she was doing this and the ramp was moving she couldn't hear the non disabled people, all with their luggage on wheels calling for her to leave the ramp down. One man, a tired looking, sweaty from travel, businessman was almost frantic. He wanted the ramp down. But it was put away and people were getting on, all having to lift luggage of some kind. He got to the door and said, nicely, that he could have used the ramp.

Others around agreed.

He looked at me and said, "You guys fought for this, but everyone can benefit, so thanks."

Okay.

That was the first time that a non disabled person has ever even hinted at an understanding that, first, we fought for access, and second, that access is universal.

I'm still in a bit of shock from the remark, and don't really know what to make of it.

But then, sometimes I think it's okay to just enjoy the moment.

So, that's what I'm doing, here in the hotel, hours later.

Friday, July 06, 2018

They Never Mentioned

We had gone over to the mall to have a very late lunch at the food court. The mall was packed, it being a cool spot in a very hot day. I was lined up to get my salad, yeah it depresses me too, when I noticed another wheelchair user in a different line up. He was young, maybe 28, and he was with his young daughter who kept him very busy. She was on his lap, then swinging on his wheel, then getting behind to push when the line was moving. To her, dad and his wheelchair, were simply part of her world. Oh. My. And when she looked at him, you could tell, she loved her father. Oh. My. And when he looked at her, you could tell, he loved her.

We found a table just as dad and daughter arrived at the front of the line. Then I saw him turn his head and look down past us and his eyes lit up and a smile broke his face into sunshine and then into view came his wife and two other daughters. She kissed him, his wife, when she arrived and then they ordered. Each of the kids, freshly squeezed, by their dad, played while they waited. Once the food ready, he placed the tray on his lap and wheeled himself over to a table following a child determined to pick where they would sit.

It was so lovely to see him and his family just being out and being family.

But, then, we are never 'just out' are we?

I was not the only one who noticed. The whole food court noticed. And stared. I know, I know,I should talk, but I promise you I just glanced. Conversations turned away from the weather, and you know how hard it is to get Canadians to talk of much else, to him and his children and his wife. It was like they'd never seen a family together before.

Questions about the wife swirled in the air. Why would she 'waste her life' or 'put up with the burden' or 'have to take care of 4, not 3, children? No one mentioned love.

No one mentioned love.

They mentioned his disability. They mentioned their irresponsibility for having children. They mentioned money, whose the taxpayers or their hard earned cash. They mentioned the poor children who would never get to really play with their father.They mentioned a lot.

But they never mentioned love.

They never mentioned seeing his eyes light up and his face shine at the sight of his wife and children.

They never mentioned the kiss.

The kiss.

I wonder if he knew, they knew, that they were having lunch and confronting bigotry at the same time. I hope not. Not right then. Not right in that moment. They have a right to simply be in their world with each other and barricade themselves from the attitudes of others.

The never mentioned ...

... love

... and that kiss.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Threatening the Cashier

So, after having my cherries tossed, by a stranger, onto the conveyor belt, I felt annoyed. Why do people presume to enter into my life? But that line of thought was knocked out of my head by the customers ahead of me. One of them, a woman of about 30, was shouting at the cashier, a woman in her late 60's. The cashier had asked them if they wanted help getting the groceries to their car. This is a standard question, we get asked it all the time. We simply say 'no thanks' and we're done with it.

But the younger woman took great offence to being offered and began shouting at the cashier, threatening to report her to the manager, threatening to get her fired, threatening a 'well deserved smack in the face.' The cashier looked shocked, at first, and then just really tired. When the woman had left, I saw that the cashier was really upset so I said, 'if you don't mind, I'd like to say something, but I can just shut up if you'd like.' She waved her hand, I think still too emotional to speak, I said, 'You didn't deserve to be spoken to that way, you did nothing wrong. I saw the whole thing. You did nothing wrong. I'm sorry that happened to you.'

She smiled and said thanks, she then tried to explain to me that she just was offering like she offers everyone, and by the way did we want help? We laughed and I asked if I should speak to someone. She thanked me but didn't want to put me to the bother. Just then a store manager walked by and I called over to her. She came quizzically, preparing for the worst. I just explained what I had seen, explained the explosion and the threats made. I testified.

I testified that the clerk had kept her dignity throughout the attack.

I testified that the clerk hadn't done anything to warrant the reaction.

I also stated that I didn't intervene in any way because I already thought it was too explosive and, as a wheelchair user, was trapped, with no escape.

The manager thanked me for speaking up.

The clerk was moved that someone did something.

It wasn't much.

But it helped.

I think because, I asked her first.