Thursday, February 05, 2015

A Moment In Winter


Yesterday's post about the woman making a comment about feeling sorry for people in wheelchairs during her 'person on the street' interview. If you remember I wrote that she was just generally talking about weather, two people in motorized wheelchairs motored by and she made a quick comment about 'feeling sorry for them.'

My blog was intended to be just about that moment. The moment she saw them and switched to the 'feeling sorry' statement. Even though at that moment, and that moment alone, those people in those chairs were easily navigating the sidewalk.

I wanted the post to be about that.

Several emails later, and in the comment section itself, people were concerned that I was under representing, in that post, the real difficulties of winter for people with disabilities. For those in manual chairs. For those facing curb cuts that haven't been plowed. For those who have to push others over slippery surfaces. Everyone, well more accurately - most, people were very nice.

One of the difficulties in writing a disability blog is that there are always so many ways to approach a story and there are so many differences within the disability community. The fact that I have a big chair with big tires which make it easier (not easy) to navigate snowy sidewalks and plow through snow banks built up at curb cuts doesn't mean that others have the same ease. I know this because I have plowed the way for many people in smaller power chairs.

But, I was writing about a moment. Just a moment. In that moment those two people were not having difficulty. In that moment the speaker simply saw disability, saw wheelchairs and went naturally to pity and feeling sorry for. That's all I wanted to talk about.

In order to write a blog that people will read, I try to stay focused on a single event and not go into a larger context. I want my blog to be readable - quick read, point made - go about your day. This is why I didn't go into winter and the difficulties that come with it. It wasn't about winter, which I've written about before, it was about the turn, the notice, the pity.

Some also feel that I'm angry all the time and these things ruin my day and they worry about my mental health. I assure you, I wrote the blog, then went about my day, having, yesterday, a pretty good day. I'm not filled with anger,I can be angered in a moment, but that's it. In this situation I wasn't so much angered as 'WTFed' ... if that isn't a feeling on the feeling chart it should be. Anyways, worry not, I'm OK and I don't see something like that and scream at the screen 'YOU'VE RUINED EVERYTHING!' Because, they haven't.

Anyways, I wrote everyone back who sent emails, thanking them for their feedback, and said I'd write something here. I apologize if the manner in which I wrote the post didn't make it clear what I was doing - but just so you know that's what I was attempting and a better writer would have captured that moment better. However, you're stuck with me. Thanks for you concern, and your letters, and your comments!!!


clairesmum said...

Your blog..your words. Your writing style is very effective, and describes situations in ways that do move your readers. Yesterday's blog made me think "do I say that - in my head or out loud- when I see someone in a WC in snow?" and I had to think on it. I try not to use those general the phrase is overused and vague. For me the feeling is of concern - knowing the increased safety risks for anyone NOT inside a vehicle when moving around on busy streets with lots of snow. Automobile drivers have become less attentive to their surroundings, and accidents happen so easily. It's not pity, not a thinly disguised feeling of disgust or superiority. Thanks for giving me a chance to think about this issue and my words.

Maggie said...

Dave, Thanks for this generous and thoughtful response to your Commenting Public.

Me, I appreciated the post you wrote yesterday. Nothing to add, so I didn't comment, but your response matches my own.

Amazing to me how many people think the correct, appropriate, civilized response to difference is to point out lack. Appalling to me how many people still assume that 'confined to a wheelchair' (a yucky phrase) is worse than 'struggling painfully to barely walk' -- and that either condition means anything more than 'I wish there was a convenient ramp instead of stairs.'

When we had our brief big-snow experience recently, the first resident out and about from my building was the man in the power chair -- with cute little chains on his 8" knobby tires -- while we walkie-talkies were very cautiously slip-sliding our way down the sidewalk.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. I don't see any need for you to apologise.
I hope for honest and open dialogue like this...
A tells her story.
B says really? That's not how it is for my. My experience is like this.
A says oh right.
A doesn't say 'sorry'.
Is it necessary that when taking the role of spokesperson, witness, reporter for an identity we hold, that our own personal experiences and feelings have to take a back seat to speaking for the grouping?
I hope not.
When I bear witness for my people, I hope my existence as an individual, as me, is not de legitimised, erased by this role, especially not amongst my people.
Taking on a role of advocacy can be a precarious and lonely place at times, whilst also being affirming, life enhancing, and at time, my salvation.
I speak from personal experience, albeit not as a disabled person.
Your post has brought this in to focus for me in a helpful way.

Unknown said...

I totally understood what you were saying. I did start reading comments yesterday, then got busy and didn't finish. But I did see one along the lines of what you addressed here. I was shaking my head because I thought it was way beyond what you were talking about. It was a moment. If she had said something like - "well, those two are getting around nicely, but I have some concerns about others using wheelchairs navigating some of the sidewalks I've seen today" - then she would have been bringing up a legitimate issue. She was just doing the pity thing. Ick.

SammE said...

Ahhhhhh!!!! Above me is a comment about a power chair having chains on its tires! I was wondering about that yesterday in my comment. :) Super good idea! samm

Andrea S. said...

Off topic from this post, but I came across an article that I found partly heart breaking and partly inspiring.

Heart breaking that the Mom was so determined to not have to raise a Down Syndrome baby that she divorced the Dad. Heart breaking that the doctors seemed to just assume neither parent would want to claim or keep the baby.

But inspiring that the baby is only two weeks old and the Dad is already turning into Disability Rights Advocate Daddy -- he's working with local disability organizations in his country (I think they live in Armenia, though the Dad is originally from New Zealand) to share his story so that parents will be more aware about children with special needs.

I know I don't comment here as much as I used to -- I usually end up expending so much of my commenting energy these days in Twitter (@AShettle) (and sometimes Facebook) and especially in my Tumblr blog site that I'm afraid I tend to get "commented" out if that makes sense. But I do still read even when silent!

Kristine said...

I've obviously been reading your blog for a long time now, because before I'd finished reading yesterday's entry, I already knew what the issue would be in the comments. :)

For the record, though it's not the point, my chair does terribly in snow. However, when I was a kid, our church parking lot would turn into a massive sheet of black ice a few times every year. For everyone else, it was treacherous. But I had sooooo much fun sliding and skidding around on such a wheelchair-friendly skating rink!

Back to the point--I wish I could believe that this woman was only concerned about the wheelchair users' safety and accessibility issues they might run into later. But I know perfectly well that there are people, many people, who have a Pavlovian pity response to disability, regardless of context. It always confuses me when I see a smiling, happy kid in a wheelchair, and while I'm having the same "aww, cute!" response that you'd have to any child, somebody else comments, "poor thing." Huh? What invisible rainclouds are they seeing?

B. said...

I come looking for your blog pretty much everyday and enjoy the moments/occurrences you write about, particularly the ones I recognize. As I have said it's fun to know I am not alone in these experiences. You often present something I haven't thought of before - way good fun. I also generally enjoy the comments (there must be winter tires for wheelchairs, right?). Thanks, Dave.