What a nice guy. We got together with Mike, Merissa and Ruby yesterday for a movie and then were heading off to have lunch and exchange Christmas gifts. I had just bought tickets to the movie and a young man appeared at my elbow. He was the manager of the theatre and was quickly explaining to me that the elevator was broken down and we'd have to use the service elevator at the back of the building. Mike, Merrissa and the baby headed up the escalator and Joe and I along with the manager headed out doors and around the building.
As we walked the manager explained that the elevator had been down for several days as they were waiting for a part. He said that both he and the Paramount were distressed at the problems this was causing for disabled patrons. He didn't like the idea that people with disabilities had to use an entrance so far away and, ultimately so unpleasant - we passed several trash bins and the smell of the elevator was a tad strong.
What really struck me about all this was that the manner of this guy was so respectful. He 'got' that people with disabilities shouldn't have to use back entrances and be separated from their group. I assured him that this was no big deal, that we were able to get in to the theatre and that we appreciated his concern. Then, that all over, we all just chatted as we travelled the long distance around the block and to the back. Part of me wondered if he had a family member or a friend with a disability. He was so casual with his interactions. No smarmy helpfulness or condesending chit chat. Just a normal converstation.
Accessibility isn't just a ramp, it's an attitude. It's a way of being. Some buildings need to be restructured in the same way that some personalities need to be renovated. Can you ramp a tone of voice? Can you put a gradual incline on a glance? Yeah, you can. It's possible to be helpful without being hurtful. It's possible to be giving a hand up without putting someone down. It's possible to smile without pity and to hold a door without holding judgement. (That's for you Frances.)
Problem with all this is that sometimes I know, in my work with people with intellectual disabilities is that sometimes my own attitude is a barrier. That I have to remember, remember, remember, that when helping is my job that pity isn't my product. That it's possible to interact with care but without discrimination.
When the movie was over the manager appeared to take us back downstairs and asked if we enjoyed the movie. We did. But in fact what I really enjoyed was meeting someone who seemed to know instinctively how to simply BE accessible.