Saturday, July 05, 2014

The Shaded Side of Prejudice: A Question for You

I was stopped by a young woman, with a physical disability, who was looking for directions to Dundas Square. I've always liked giving directions, it seems like such an easy way to show my pride in my city and it allows me to add to its reputation as a wonderful place to visit. So, I took my time and explained her options. She could continue on, directly south, or she could turn back and take the subway directly there.

She was shocked at the idea that she could take the subway, she had automatically ruled this out as a possiblity because she assumed it would be inaccessible. She turned to go towards the subway, and was now heading the same way I was. So I rode along side of her and I shared a bit of her excitement in her first subway ride. I know the subway around here fairly well and told her that the subway wasn't completely accessible but the two stops she needed were.

I suppose I showed off a bit by telling her what to do when she got off at Dundas, where the elevator up to the street was, and where she would cross over to the square. She chatted with me a bit about her trip to the city and that she was having fun. Toronto was more accessible, she said, that her home city. Too, she found the downtown core exciting and she felt entirely safe as a woman alone. I was beginning to swell with civic pride.


The only problem, she said, was that she noticed that Torontonians stare at her a lot. Back home, she said, people tend not to look at people with disabilities and while that has it's own problems, it feels somewhat safer and much more anonymous than the open and overt stares of the people of Toronto. She confided in me that one of the reasons that she stopped me, to ask me for directions was that she wanted someone who would look at her but not stare at her. This cities stares, she said, were more than curiousity and only a little less than hostility. When she gets home, she looks forward to invisibility again.

By the time we got to the subway, I had decided to take her right there, we'd had a really nice chat and I'd enjoyed her company. I wished her a good vacation and she wished me a good day.

I have written here often about the stares and hostile glances I get as a person of difference when out in public. I often, like she did, want a break from stares and glares - long for someone to look at me rather than stare at me. There is a difference.

But I'm not sure I want to trade that for invisibility, people not seeing me, not registering my presence. I'm curious. How do you all feel about those two polar opposites? Me, I'd rather be seen - in any manner, than to be made not to exist, excised from sight and mind. Although, writing this, I can see there is a seductive call to just slide into the shaded side of prejudice and hide there for awhile.



Belly (Liz McLennan) said...

There have been times when I've loved and prized my "invisibility" in a big place. While living in T.O. I loved heading to work via subway and being swallowed up by the masses - it made me feel safe.

Until it didn't and then suddenly, those masses made me feel overwhelmed and panicky. I fled the place where no one knew me and head instead, for the spaces where people did.

That doesn't really answer your question, does it? I think I'd answer differently about invisibility or being seen, depending on so many other things. Maybe, given time, she'll come to want to be seen, wherever she goes. Or the stares will cease or lessen as she becomes a part of someone else's familiar, as they become part of hers? Maybe?

Anonymous said...

I agree, Dave. A break yes, invisability-no!

theknapper said...

I'm not sure there's a right answer here.....its what makes a person feel safer and what capacity/desire they have to live with either consequence.

CL said...

I'm a woman, and I live in a neighborhood where threatening catcalls are very common. Even when nothing is said, I get a lot of stares. Groups of men will just lock their eyes on me while I pass.

I would love to be invisible. I try to dress frumpy to make myself more invisible, and it doesn't work. I'm a feminist and feel strongly about a woman's right to walk alone in public, even in "those neighborhoods," and be left alone. But I don't feel like I'm advancing the cause by doing it. When men stare and make comments, it just makes me feel terrible. The thought of being able to walk a mile in my neighborhood with nobody seeing me at all, is very appealing.

But my experience is different because I don't have to worry about access, and I'm not typically ignored when I do want to be seen.

I just never want to be "seen" on the street, when I'm going from A to B. The urban experience of walking everywhere on crowded streets can be fun, but it also wears be down that I can't just go to the store without putting on armour and preparing myself for strangers to stare at me, and to interrupt my day for various reasons (cat calls, asking for money, etc).

Anonymous said...

But being invisible is always a choice for people without visible disabilities. Maybe she was speaking to her lack of choice - rather than her preferring to be "invisible."

Interesting conversation!!!

Anonymous said...

I HAVE to be seen. For my own physical safety - I'm a very slow walker without my walker, and drivers get very impatient.

Because of low energy, I don't go out much, so it's a bit of a moot point, but I wish I didn't have to worry about NOT being able to get out of the way of an idiot when I cross a street or a parking lot.

I'm opinionated and proactive, so I make it a point to engage people pleasantly, which also forces them to acknowledge my existence. It's a chore - but somebody has to do it. A lot of 'Normals' don't get better by themselves. It takes an effort, or illness, or illness or disability in a loved one. Except for a few sunny individuals like your well brought up Sadie and Ruby, many people as unempathetic. Empathy takes energy and time.


Anonymous said...

I'm autistic and have mental health disabilities. I will be getting a service dog in a few weeks. The presence of my dog will make my invisible disabilities visible.

In some ways this will make things harder -- people will want to ask about my dog. However, it may make things easier in some circumstances by making people aware up front that I am disabled. My needs have been ignored and swept under the rug many times due to the fact that people can't readily see them and thus assume I have no accessibility needs.

I agree with those who have said that it's a personal choice. There are situations where invisibility can be an advantage, and there are situations where it can be a disadvantage.

-- Littlewolf

Kelly said...

Littlewolf, I have a service dog and it doesn't make people aware up front that I am disabled. Instead, they often assume I am training him for a disabled person. I get asked about that all the time. People still assume I have no accessibility needs. They do, however, see my dog and frequently ask me if I am training him for a blind person, ask to pet him, pet him without asking, pet him even if I say no, bark at him, meow at him, howl at him and otherwise try to distract him from his job.

B. said...

I haven't thought about this much since I was very young and Mom told me they were looking at me because I was attractive. Yup, I knew she was being kind.

I guess when I'm out I am fairly focused on doing my thing so I don't much notice and, like Alicia (enjoyed your comments), I engage people when I can. 'Normals' have actually improved in acceptance in the last 4 decades.

Anonymous said...

It is an individual choice, but if I could choose, I would pick invisibility. I rather be slightly ignored then singled out for sure. Somehow being invisible makes me feel more normal. I'm ignored like everyone else :-).

Anonymous said...

I'm 60 now which makes me somewhat invisible, but I agree, that disabled or not, women are often subject to a kind of notice that men don't usually have to deal with.

Mary said...

I don't want to be invisible but I cherish being unremarkable.

The cafes I most enjoy going to are the ones where I place my order at the counter and the person who takes my order can see I'm using a chair or other mobility aid and says "would you like it brought over to you?" but in exactly the same tone as they've said "small, medium or large?" And I can reply "yes please," or "no thanks, I've got it," and either of those responses will be equally acceptable.

The cafes where I and my needs are (or are treated as) invisible, where it's assumed I'll manage or that if I can't it's nothing to do with them, are less welcoming.

But worst are the ones where the staff seem to get excited about being able to show off about how wonderful they are, ushering me to exactly where they want me to sit, unnecessarily moving not just one chair but half the furniture in the room as they do so, trying to take my order at the table when the drinks menu and that day's cake selection are only displayed at the counter, telling me about the last "wheelchair" they had in... those are the moments I wish for invisibility again.

Anonymous said...

I have a friend who always tries to avoid going to the bathroom at a certain restaurant she goes to frequently. No, the problem is not accessibility. The bathroom IS wheelchair accessible. The issue is, every single time she even looks like she may be heading toward the bathroom, staff immediately come running over to ask if she needs help, even though she has already told them all on previous visits that she doesn't need help in the bathroom. And although she understands they're "just trying to help", it still gets tiresome fending off the same people every time she visits the restaurant. This being why she now avoids the bathroom at that restaurant.

clairesmum said...

I think being visible but unremarkable sounds just right. Tho I would choose invisibility over negative attention. PTSD sx flare when I feel overexposed in a public and unpredictable place such as sidewalk or subway. Good discussion.