The ramp up to the museum was long, tortuously steep with many sharp corners. Plants, huge plants, grew on either side of the bottom part of the ramp and narrowed the passageway significantly. It was impossible to push without grabbing on to branches and pulling leaves off. But we made it to the top. Joe breathing hard, me with sore shoulders. When we got in and were greeted in the reception area, I said, 'That's quite the ramp you've got out there.' I was smiling and my tone was light. I didn't want a confrontation. I didn't want a discussion. I just wanted to indicate that the ramp was a difficult one.
She looked at me, not with hostility exactly, but with, maybe, forbearance, and said, 'You should be grateful we've got a ramp at all.'
I said, still not wanting a confrontation, 'I refuse to be grateful for what others take for granted.'
She said, 'I see,' but I knew she didn't.
There is an emerging pattern in my interactions with the 'outer world' in the last few months. A pattern that I've experienced before and that, because of that, I should have recognized immediately. Let me give you another example.
We were staying at a kind of resort hotel. I was to speak at a conference there the next day. The resort was spread out over several acres with various forms of hostelry, cottages, bungalows, small clusters of rooms, all gathered around a main building with reception and a restaurant. The one disabled room, that in itself tells you a lot, was down a steep hill from the main building. The room itself was accessible but the means to get to it was barely so. The car was parked on a gravel parking lot, there was no paved path from the disabled parking to the sidewalk and no cut curb from the gravel to the sidewalk. OK. We managed. With great difficulty.
Joe informed me that we were going to also have difficulty in the morning because the restaurant itself was not accessible, and the way from the restaurant to the lecture hall was impossibly steep and far too dangerous to get there manually. We drove around, found the hall, figured a way to get me into it and then headed to the room. By now we'd been in the car for hours and were very tired.
Once in the room, we called over for room service. We placed the order. Then five minutes later we got called back from an embarrassed receptionist to tell us that the restaurant was closed that day. Now we are in a room that I'm not leaving again until it's time to go and lecture. Joe has cracked open a beer and is half way through it. Now we are told that we can't get food. I demanded to speak to someone.
I spoke to a manager and outlined our difficulties. Including not being able to get into the restaurant, the one that was now closed, for breakfast and the inaccessibility of the entire venue. He said that if I could get myself to the lecture hall in the morning he'd have a staff bring me breakfast from the restaurant. He also said that he would arrange for us to get a pizza if we'd like. The resort was far, far, far, from any town and the restaurant was closed, I didn't know how he'd manage but I thanked him for it and placed the order.
Then he wanted to talk about my needs for the lecture the next day. I don't PowerPoint. I don't overhead. I don't use anything but a microphone. I said, 'I'm fairly low maintenance.' He said, keeping anger under control, 'It doesn't seem that way to me.' I told him that I was astonished that he seemed to think that the desire to be able to get into my room, get into his restaurant, get into the lecture hall and get fed in a resort was exceptional. The discussion devolved from there. Let me just say that we checked the pizza over very carefully looking for evidence of spit.
Why do people think that wanting the same thing as other people means wanting 'special rights'. I never understood why people believed that gay people wanted 'special rights' or black people wanted 'special rights' ... when all that was ever asked for was what the majority expected as their due. Now here I am a disabled guy being told that access should be subject to my gratitude. That I am difficult because I want to eat breakfast in the restaurant of the hotel I'm staying in. The irony is that it takes 'special effort' to accommodate me by having a staff provide 'special service' by bringing me breakfast in the lecture hall - that's all true, but my 'special need' is caused by their denial of 'typical expectations.' What other person in the hotel was denied access to the restaurant in the first place.
A museum volunteer wants me to be grateful for access that is dangerous, difficult and demanding.
A manager wants me to understand that basic expectations for people without disabilities are exceptional demands for those with them.
I'm supposed to be thrilled with the barest minimum, the crumb from Christ's table, while those with value and privilege sniff and roll their eyes at the mere idea of providing 'special rights' for 'demanding minorities'.
What I see as privilege, they see as fair due.
What I see as basic rights, they see as unfair demands.
You know what?
I know why some are angry.
My winning the freedom to love limits their freedom to hate.
My winning the freedom of access limits their freedom to exclude.
My winning the freedom to participate limits their freedom to discriminate.
And that's OK by me.
So, until the battles are all won, I need three things.
And the restraint not to tell people to 'f#ck off' several times a day.