Sunday, August 26, 2007


It's a part of Toronto that we rarely go. Neither of us likes it much and neither of us feels as if we fit in. It's where the rich gather to shop and eat and stroll along the sidewalk. We went there on my inspiration. There's a new store there that we both like and I'd see an ad on the internet for something I wanted to pick up that was exclusive to that chain. So we went for a Saturday adventure.

I've only been there once since I've been in a wheelchair and we ended up having to dump me on the sidewalk before Joe parked because the parkade does not have an elevator and it would have been very difficult to manage the huge ramps. That's OK, I love people watching, so as Joe parked I pushed myself off to the side and then simply waited.

We shopped, we wandered a bit and then it was time to go home. I told Joe to head on down to get the car and I'd push myself on several meters to where it looked safe for him to pull over and get me loaded back into the car. It felt like a leisurely day so I just slowly pushed myself along. I wouldn't say that the glances at me were hostile but they weren't very nice. I felt like a charity case that had crashed a charity ball. You know the idea of us is one thing but the reality of us is another.

I guess I felt in the way. Intruding. At one point it got a little crowded and I had to slow down. I heard a kind of harrumph behind me and, it upsets me even as I write this, a guy much younger, much thinner and much richer than I, took hold of the grips on my wheelchair and started to push me. Without a by your leave or anything, he just started to push me. At first I panicked, I didn't know what was happening. Then when I realized, I grabbed hold of my wheels to break my movement.

I turned to him, angrily, I wish now I'd said, "Unhand me you cad!" but I didn't I said, less poetically, "Hey, let go of me!!!" He just kept trying to push me hard. I held hard on to my wheels. "You're in everyone's way, I'm just helping you."


He knew I was serious and now people were staring. He at least had the good grace to blush. "Don't you touch me again,"I said defiantly.

"I did not (he didn't contract his words) touch you," he was defensive and angry.

"Touching my chair is touching me."

"That is (really he didn't contract his words) just silly. I would think you would be grateful for the assistance."

"Well, I'm not! Don't ever do that to someone in a chair. It's assault."

By the time Joe got there with the car I was where I'd planned, but I was still quite angered by the intrusion into my space.

It was only later that the idea of being 'in the way' was also offensive but I'd had enough of offense by then and had to get on with my day.

Consider me Chairman Dave, don't touch without permission. Don't help without asking. Do that and we'll get along fine.


lina said...

Really, really - someone thought it was ok to just come along and push you - push you, push your chair - push you - and it's ok because you are in a wheelchair? Wonder what else Mr. Does not Contract would think to be ok?
I can't even imagine where you were - or what part of the world this man lives in to think that his behaviour was anything less then abusive (at best!).
Hope the shopping trip was otherwise worth it!

Unknown said...

I'm from Toronto as well, so I can just picture the part of the city where you were shopping. AND the spoilt so-and-so who felt he had the right to just move you "out of the way". The arrogance and the sense of entitlement displayed by that man is astonishing, and I am glad that you upbraided him.

Anonymous said...

that is shocking! I can understand "catching" someone in an emergency but in such circumstances is terrible. Too shocked to say much more.

Anonymous said...

my friends in manual wheelchairs get that all the time!! (when they do that to me, they just look silly since it's a POWERchair.)

so rude.

Anonymous said...

oh and another thing. i hate it when people think crips don't appreciate things like that out of "pride" (the negative kind). yes some elements of pride but it's basic human dignity and respect. that totally crosses the line.

Anonymous said...

This research could lead us to think that some assistive devices *do* actually become at least neurologically or psychologically considered part of the person regularly using them...

completely tangential, but maybe interesting...

Elizabeth McClung said...

an infuriating experience, you are an autonomous being and should be treated as such. Why is it that people can "get" that a hearing aid is someone's ears and you don't rip it out because it is annoying you but not that a wheelchair is someone's mobility.

I have had this happen as well and been so frustrated. Hey, sometimes when I am going downhill, people walking are slower and in my way. I don't however, go up behind them, grab them and force them into a jog because the pace suits me before discarding them somewhere. A little quid pro quo please.

Anonymous said...

When I read this story the other day, I thought, "How awful and frustrating," but at the time I couldn't think of much to say that others weren't saying already, so I didn't post then. Because although I understand how demeaning this can be, I was viewing it as outside of my experience.

But then it occurred to me that I do have some experience with a very roughly analogous situation. As a deaf person, I am accustomed to situations where communication with non-signing hearing people naturally goes slower than communication between me and another fluently signing person. (Or communication between two other fluently speaking people, I suppose.) The trouble is, hearing people aren't used to that, so for them they view it as this big inconvenience that they have to deal with it, even if they don't complain about it directly.

So sometimes what they have done is to simply decide things or do things without including me in the decision making process. Without my even being aware that discussion is taking place about what to do about X. Sometimes I've been blindsided with suddenly being told, "Okay, we're doing X tonight" when I thought we were doing something completely different and that there was still plenty of time for me to have input in that because, as far as I knew, discussion was still open. I've occasionally lost my temper in a big way when that happens, because I feel it shows lack of respect to me to simply unilaterly make choices without my being aware of them just because it's easier and "faster" to leave me out. It's an awful feeling to be always, constantly, over and over "the last person to know." And it can also be scary because when people leave you out of the little, trivial things like the dinner plans for that evening, then you know that shows they'll be that much more likely to leave you out of the loop for the big, important things as well, including during an emergency when major life-and-death type decisions are being made. Because life-and-death decisions tend to be big emergencies when things are very chaotic and fast-moving, so there is that much more temptation for hearing people to say, "We just can't take the time to explain, it's easier if we just do or decide things ourselves and let the deaf person sort of follow along." And they might continue to say that even when there is a calm moment in the middle of the crisis when the time COULD be taken for a slower communication process. So just being out of the loop is bad enough.

But even worse have been the few occasions when hearing people will not only decide things without my participation but then tell me to do certain things based on those decisions without even bothering to take the time to explain why they suddenly need me to stand up and spin around three times and touch my nose or whatever (I'm making up a silly example, so don't take it literally. But some of the instructions I have gotten have SEEMED just as random and arbitruary and off the wall because no one bothered to explain the rationale behind them.) They do this because they think it's easier and faster for THEM to just tell me what to do then tell me why later. But it makes me feel like I'm being manipulated, like a puppet on a string -- like they just want me to obey like an automaton but can't even be bothered to give me the minimal dignity and respect that would be involved in actually EXPLAINING things to me FIRST. I'd rather just not be included at all if the only way they can be bothered to include me is on their own terms following their orders. (This particular set of circumstances has not happened in nearly so extreme a situation since I was younger, maybe teen years or childhood. But the first set of circumstances described further above -- where I'm simply "out of the loop" -- still happens today.)

Andrea (Lately devoted to the ADA Restoration Act) (On disability and poverty in developing countries)

Anonymous said...

The point of all the above being, I can see the analogy between the situation I describe (especially the more egerious second situation) and the one you have described -- both involve non-disabled people doing things that suit their OWN convenience while completely failing to see why their behavior is stomping all over the dignity of the people they're manipulating in order to do it, not to mention profoundly disrespectful.

And I agree absolutely with what Stacey says. It's not simply a matter of "pride." It's DIGNITY and RESPECT. And if you show me a person who thinks those are ordinary, prosaic words that don't have any particular import or power, then I'll show you a person who has never been denied either one. Because anyone who has been denied either knows they are as basic to the soul as water.

Sally said...

My current powerchair does not have handles, but when I am stationery, people chatting in the group I am a part of, lean an elbow on it.

Now this is strange; if I feel they are positive towards me even if they are a stranger, it feels companionable; if I feel their 'friendliness' is patronising whether they are someone known to me or a stranger, it feels a gross intrusion on my personal space.

My next identified replacement chair is a powerchair AND it has handles on the back - that should be interesting; anyone try something similar to what you describe and I could really mess it up for them - faster so they have to run, or slower so they fall over me. Should be fun !

Naomi J. said...

My recent blog post describes a similar situation. Andrea pointed me to yours. It's crazy that people think they can push chairs without asking. Your comment about 'assault' is a very thought-provoking one - that's exactly what it feels like. How to get people to realise this, I don't know!