Monday, January 17, 2011


I was sent to get seats in the theatre as Joe and Tessa got treats. I'm good at getting seats because I've got a degree of assertiveness. I'll pause as you reel in shock ... There are only three wheelchair spaces in the theatre and I know that when Tessa and I are together we need to be on the 'two' side. That means enter to the right. I pulled in and noticed two things immediately.

First, one space was free and the other space was filled by a couple of grocery bags that had been placed there in front of a woman sitting in the row above. Second, the wheelchair badge seat was taken by a guy who was hunkered in and eating popcorn. Great.

I asked the woman if she could move her groceries, maybe to the seat next to her so that the wheelchair space would be free for someone in a scooter. The woman's eyes lit in anger and inconvenience, she snapped something that I couldn't hear. But she moved the groceries. One down.

Then I backed into place right beside the guy in the disabled seat. It has a big blue badge on it complete with the skinny wheelchair guy. I turned to him and he was watching the pre-movie show with great intensity. I said, 'I wonder if you would mind moving over a seat so that the fellow with me can sit here. I added that sometimes I need help during the movie. (Which I do, with footrests and wheelchair bags and the such.) He nodded stiffly. When he muttered I heard him, because he wanted me to. Apparently that is his favourite seat to sit in at the movies.

Now, here's the thing. I don't like asking people to do stuff. But there are, count them, Three, that's one, two, three spaces in a theatre that sits a couple of hundred, where I can sit. He has 200 choices I have, um, count them, one, two, three. I'd like to sit further back. No option. I'd like to sit more in the middle. No option. But, believe it or not, I'm just glad I can go to the movie and that there is space for my chair.

These other folks seem to be really pissed that I limited their choices from 203 to 200. Poor dears. Seems they were comfortable with reducing my options to ... well ... none ... and they thought that fair. Right.

The rest of the day was full of nice people doing nice things - but I've now done the math and it takes 33.72 acts of kindness to diminish one act of disability targeted nastiness. It's not fair but there you have it. I came home from a movie I liked and having tea at my favourite spot and shopping in a store that is purposely accessible ... and all that's good because two acts of nastiness are smaller in my mind, but they still dominate my memories of the day.

I wonder what kind of story these two will tell of their day. Of the selfish disabled guy who wanted space in a theatre. I wonder what conversation will result. And I wonder if that conversation will lead to change.

I can tell you that I've got an internal conversation going on. I'm wanting to go on a diet. I want my soul to have a balanced diet. I want it to need less kindness in order to sweeten my daily cup. I don't want to swallow bitter brew. Maybe drop the need down to one to one ... but I think I'll have to start with 32.01. Start small, right?


Meredith said...

My lovely boyfriend uses a wheelchair and he transfers out to sit in the chair next to his wheelchair. We were on our first date and there were four seats next to the wheelchair spot. A couple was seated in the two center ones. It took a good few minutes before we could convince them to move down because we really did need two seats next to each other. In other words, you are not alone! People are so selfish.

Anonymous said...

Hear you -- our family of 6, one in a wheelchair, has never once sat all together at a movie.

And gotta love those sighs and mutters if you ever politely ask someone to move.

Carl Thompson said...

Nice blog!

This has happened to me before, but instead of confronting them I usually just sit in the aisle - if the ushers complain that I'm a fire hazard, I simply tell them there are no seats available for me. It should be their job to police the seats.

And on the subject of being a fire hazard, I've always had the view that if there were a fire, do they think people in a wheelchair would just sit there stunned and not move? I know I will definitely be the first to turn my chair around and get out of there if there was a fire! Doesn't seem like I'm a fire hazard to me!


Sher said...

I don't understand the difference between non-wheelchair users using wheelchair seats in a movie theatre and people not affected by disability parking in the designated spots. Cars without proper parking permits get ticketed or towed when parking in the spots reserved for persons affected by disabilities. Why is it not as important in theatres, etc? I'm not saying ticket people, although I'm not always opposed to enforced consideration as a starting point, but at least have people understand that these seats are reserved for people who need them. Theatre management could easily direct their staff to ensure that these seats are available. Glad you enjoyed your movie.

Tamara said...

Maybe they told their sad story of having to move to someone who told them they were being silly and selfish and rude ... One can hope ...

Andrea S. said...

Some of the problem may be that some people seem to be intrinsically incapable of detecting the difference between someone who NEEDS a certain service (you, needing the wheelchair space) and someone who merely LIKES or prefers that certain service (them, who have 200 other options to choose from).

This doesn't only happen in a disability context. Way back as an undergrad student, I kept trying to persuade the cafeteria that it needed to offer a wider range of genuinely healthy, low fat dining options, but I kept getting dismissed with the excuse that they needed to accommodate many people's preferences not just mine--they refused to acknowledge a difference between someone complaining because they were concerned the options weren't letting them stick to a reasonably healthy pattern of eating choices and someone whining because chocolate chip pancakes were only offered once a semester and not every Sunday. (I made the mistake of trying to push for this on my own--I didn't know how to network to find other students sharing similar concerns back then)

Another factor, I think, is that too many people continue to stubbornly stick to the view that treating people with equality is somehow supposed to mean applying the exact same rules to everyone, even if it means that some people get unfairly penalized time and again: so they think "first come first serve" always means the next person to want a particular seat should just deal even if it means their choices dwindle from three to zero (instead of merely coming down to 200 from 203).

All this ... and, yes, as some of the other people writing here say, some people are just plain selfish.

Jen said...

I'm more inclined to think that it's defensive people embarrassed to be caught out being inconsiderate but they're so inconsiderate that they try to make it your problem.

Sometimes I think situations like this point out design flaws that if improved would create a better universal design. For example, the woman with her groceries... clearly there will be people who have extra space needs for reasons other than disability which could be helped by increasing the overall number of spots with empty space to accommodate those multiple purposes.

In the case of the guy in the favourite spot - it could be because it does have the best spot for sight and sound for accessibility reasons. An overall improvement in the design of the theatre to provide better sound and sight would make it better for all patrons. (Although how logistically possible this is... that's a different story.)

I often think about this when I'm in line for the bathroom, especially when traveling. I find myself wishing I didn't feel too guilty to use the larger accessible stall because it would allow me to bring in myself and my stuff that I'm obligated to not leave unattended before boarding the plane. Would having a few less stalls for sake of making them all larger really cause giant lines, because it's the rare bathroom that does ever have line issues.

tekeal said...

poor dears, indeed...

Anonymous said...

At least once we had to ask for a refund at the movies, because both (2) of the accessible spaces were full (by non-disabled people who wouldn't move. Mostly we go to a different theater now, with more accessible seats.

Part of the problem is that there are so few accessible seats. Perhaps you can aim some of your assertiveness at the management.


Kristin said...

Glad you pushed for what you had a right to but I'm sorry those ass clowns threw a wet blanket on your day.

Molly said...

I am freaking flabbergasted at people. Dave my dear, you handle these jerks with grace and dignity. I aspire to handle a-holes the way you do.

UGH. people make me SO MAD.

Anonymous said...

Dave, may I ask a question? As someone who is visibly able-bodied*, I sometimes find myself as an observer to interactions like the one you describe. If I or another onlooker spoke up during such an interaction -- since I'm here in the USA, what I would say is probably "Excuse me, Federal law requires that this space be made available to senior citizens and people with disabilities. If you aren't disabled, you need to yield this space to this gentleman/lady" -- would you find that helpful or intrusive?

If it were a situation where somebody needed physical assistance, I'd ask them directly, of course: "Would you like some help with that? Can I get that off the shelf for you?" In a case like the movie theater encounter, however, I'd be concerned that asking somebody if they'd like assistance would come off as patronizing. I really don't want to unintentionally send the message "I don't think you can handle this on your own so I as Heroic Able-Bodied Person will step in and Save The Day!" Ugh.

Trying to balance "it's important and necessary to look out for each other" with "don't be interfering and paternalistic" can be challenging.

* Temporarily able-bodied, that is.