Thursday, October 17, 2013


I was in a store, crowded with after work shoppers. I normally try to go either earlier or later but, today, I had no option. I spent my time, gently and carefully and respectfully, making my way through other shoppers. I said:

Please may I get by...

Would you mind if I slipped behind you...

I need to get just over there, if you wouldn't mind moving your shopping cart, that would be great...

I smiled.

And smiled.


I said thank you

thank you so very much

thanks I appreciate your help

As a result of this obsequiousness, I managed to get what I needed in my shopping bag and hand turned to head out. I noticed the woman first. She was coming into a crowded store quickly. Because I'm lower down, sitting in the wheelchair and all, I didn't see until people parted allowing her through, that she was pushing a monster baby stroller. It was freaking huge.

I watched in awe as people simply let her pass. They said:

Here, let me get out of you way...

Oh, hold on, let me move my cart for you...

Why don't you come by here, there's lots of room...

And they SMILED

She went through the store as if she had the RIGHT OF ACCESS. People seemed to welcome her presence into the place.

I had thought this was about SPACE. About my needing extra space, my needing the cooperation and the assistance of others to make a little more SPACE. I understood that as I needed something from the other shoppers that I needed to proceed, as much as possible in a mannerly and thankful manner.

But it isn't about SPACE.

It's about who's allowed to have SPACE.

Because, trust me, Mom with the stroller wouldn't have noticed a crowded store because she was welcomed into the crowd, she was made part of it, she held membership. And. Membership has it's privileges.

I left the store, with my purchases, and with a new understanding of my place in the world.


Louise said...

I'm really sorry you had this experience. I hope that at least sometimes you have the chance to be in the store with people who will smile at YOU and move out of your way.....

Dave Hingsburger said...

Louise, most people I ask, move, some see me coming and move, I have to ask a lot for space though, I do so politely and mostly get polite responses. But I feel very much like I am intruding and I sense an expectation of gratitude to something given at request. It was very different watching the pram cut through the crowd like butter. I didn't mean to imply anything more than how space was alloted.

Jayne Wales said...

Yes agree. I'm always looking to help mums with pushchairs, not dads funnily enough, because I've been there. It's a recognition. So I think that may throw some light on why because its lack of empathy.

Glee said...

It's about ABLEISM Dave. I am a smallish woman in an average power wheelchair and they STILL don't make enough room. It's just pure ableism.

When I ask, they move to make a space 18 inches wide. I just look at the space and look back in their eyes with a "der" look on my face and then back at the space. They look at the space they have kindly *given* me and shuffle aside a little more. I repeat until I have enough room. Sometimes if I am feeling super sarcastic I look at the space, look up at them and say "You reckon??!!".

And then there is the damn reverse in which people YANK their children or spouse out of the way by a mile while exclaiming "LOOK OUT FOR THE WHEELCHAIR!!!"

It's just Ableism. Which goes by the other guise of hate of some type. Let's face it, ugly as it is. And they have no excuse, just as they have no excuse for sexism, racism or homophobia.

For too long we have tolerated this and still tolerate this. But we need a united front in the rejection of ableism to get rid of it. While it is only a few of us then we will be pointed out as the "bitter twisted cripples" as opposed to the "sweet disabled people who are sooo grateful and lovely". Too many of us are too oppressed or frightened to rock the boat.

When the new generations of feisty aware crips and non crips come on things will gradually change. But people will have to die and then their kids and their kids will have to die before ableism is a thing of the past. Gotta gradually breed out the defect that causes ableism!!!!

Connie said...

Is any of it related to your comment, Dave, about "sitting lower"? You have a view of world from one height; people walking around have a view from a different height. Mostly, of course, I think it's just that some people are very good at thinking only they have rights. Until people have personal experience, some have trouble understanding others' needs.

Anonymous said...

I think attitudes towards giant Cadillac-sized strollers/pushchairs are much less tolerant in the States. I think they are viewed as intrusive because they are unnecessarily large and many times commandeered with an entitled attitude. So I don't think the mum in your story would have been met with smiles and the proverbial parting of the Red Sea, here.

I don't think you would have fared any better or worse, Dave. And that's not a positive statement, for many reasons.


Moose said...

I don't think its the strollers themselves.

I think in (too) many people's minds, it is about the babies. Babies are small humans which must be protected and 'aww'ed over. Disabled people, on the other hand, seem to be thought of as broken things in the way and that should just go home.

Anonymous said...

My baby has Down syndrome and for now we get smiles and space and I feel like royalty.
I'm watching for when that will change, as I'm pretty sure it will.

Rickismom said...

very enlightening

Anonymous said...

Dave, without dismissing your pain nor the obvious difficulty in being seen, have you considered part of the "problem" is because you are indeed lower down. The giant (annoying) stroller has a walking operator who is at eye level. People are connecting at eye level. You are sensitive to the space you take up - but you deserve every inch.

Anonymous said...

Hello Dave,
I didn't realize how differently people in wheelchairs vs strollers get treated. Education is a wonderful thing.
I loved your book do? be? do? I am presently in college in Cranbrook and writing a paper on it. It's great! Thank you for opening my eyes.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave. I know all too well about your situation and I am so sorry about it. Sadly, I think I agree with Moose about the perceived protection of babies vs peeps in wheelchairs. I have a young boy (almost 11 Yrs) who is in a wheelchair. Since he was a baby most people have been extremely kind and the sea of people has almost always parted. BUT, just as "Anonymous" ponders the possibility of a change in attitude toward our sweet little ones, I've noticed as my son gets older-- there are indeed changes. I could go on about this (!!), but I will stop here with a final thought:

People fear what they do not know. MOST people out there don't have a clue about disability, immobility, equipment that may be needed, medical supplies, medicines, etc. And LEAST of all-- no clue about how to relate to or build relationships with what they fear the most. And that is-- persons who do not look like them, talk, walk or eat like them, etc. There is no reference point.

Make your presence known!! (sorry for the rant) :-)

Extranjera said...

Loving GLEE"s comment above. Wondering how to become a feisty aware non crip. Currently I'm stuck at advocate and an ally (I think, and sincerely hope I'm at least there).

Glee said...

Keep at it Extranjera. Keep reading this blog. Have a look at my blog that I don't write anymore. And always, always Question Assumptions.

I know that we must call a spade a spade and put Ableism right on up there next to Sexism, Racism and Homophobia. There are others.

I believe that it has become hard for white people to say that black people are lesser than them. Or for men to say that women are inferior to them. It is easier cos it is just gender and skin colour.

But with us crips the story is different. The "Able" people can point to us and say - "you can't walk or see or understand LIKE ME so you must be inferior. It's obvious! You are not normal."

What they fail to see is that they have never built the world or their attitudes to INCLUDE us with equal opportunity. When it comes to our access to equal opportunity it suddenly costs too much. Never mind what it costs to accommodate sighted people's need for lighting or the hearing people's need for hundreds of noise emitting devices, or chairs sitting around empty most of the time everywhere, trains, waiting rooms, theatres, public transport, aeroplanes, offices, schools. Because that’s NORMAL. But when we need a wheelchair, the only chair we will use in public, it is suddenly too expensive and I will have to go on the waiting list.

I said to the train driver who was putting out the ramp for me to get on the train. "They should get automatic ramps" He "Oh no that would cost too much" Me " Well get rid of the seats! They cost thousands upon thousands. I bring my own chair so get them to bring their own chair!!!" He giggled as if I was talking nonsense.

That is Ableism. That is why we don't function well with our "impairments". And what IS normal? Who got to decide what normal is anyway? The people in control, the men over the women, the white people over the black people, and the “normal” people (who had physically built the world to include only themselves) over the abnormal people.

Pfffft. Filthy business really. But we shall overcome :)