Monday, February 02, 2015

It's NOT Wheels: Shit

It was ugly.

Really ugly.

We had been wandering through the museum, sometimes ahead of, sometimes behind, a group of tourists. We both noticed that one of the men was having trouble walking and looked to be in some pain. But he came from my father's era of grit before grumble, so he just kept on. We'd see them all standing together, shoulder to shoulder, as a guide stopped a talked about various things they were seeing.

Near the end of our visit, and I think near the end of theirs, we rounded a corner and saw that the man who'd had trouble walking, was now sitting on a chair that someone had given him. He looked, for the first time, as if the pain was ebbing. But he also looked near tears. From a man like this, that's a big deal. Me, I cry, easily, and I'm OK with that, much to my father's horror.

What had upset him, upset both Joe and I as well. As soon as he sat down it was like he was cut from the herd. there was space all around him, where previously he'd been right in the thick of it. More than that, even though the chair was set to be near the front, people had stepped right in front of him, as if he wasn't there, as if he didn't need to see what was going on, as if he had dropped out of existence.

I'm used to people doing this to me in museums and galleries. I'm told by others with disabilities that it's a common phenomena. But I always thought that's because I was a stranger to them and as such my 'other' status left me irrelevant. This guy was with the group, they knew each other. They called each other by name. They travelled together in a bus.

And he was dead to them.

Maybe this is why so many people fear wheelchairs. Somewhere on their journey to needing an assistive devise of some kind, they experience the loss of status that comes with sitting down. I'd always thought that wheels were necessary to the experience.

But I was wrong.

It's not wheels.

You know what it is and I know what it is, but what is is, isn't wheels.



Shan said...

man that incident is both sad and bizarre.

You've mentioned this gallery phenomenon before, where people stand right in front of you...I'm a walkie, and I just don't understand that. So rude.

Anonymous said...

Do you know the song 'sit down' by James?

Your story brought this to mind I don't know what the people who wrote the song would say it's about, but for me it's a song of solidarity in the face of dissing.

Anonymous said...

I hate using my walker - which I need along with the AFOs (ankle-foot orthoses) that help me walk. I hate using walking poles instead. I calculate which will upset other people less - and whether I will look ridiculous striding along with walking stikcs (the AFOs don't show under my pant legs). That's because I have choices (the third one is to walk slowly and awkwardly and have people wonder why I'm so slow and awkward because, again, they can't see the AFOs.

Lately, though, I use the more convenient for me - and figure all those other people need to realize disabled people live in the world (oh, the horror!).

The previous priest at the chapel told the choir director I shouldn't cantor because I can't stand. When he left, I brought the subject up again with the choir director. I'm curious what the response will be.

Leading the congregation shouldn't be reserved to the 'visually perfect.'

I think warmly of the Lane Bryant store which found me a comfortable chair, and kept telling me how it was THEIR responsibility to make sure I was comfortable while paying for my purchases, and where a saleswoman spent a huge amount of time making sure I had lots of choices - so I didn't have to stand.


Riley said...

Dave, I have been following your blog for the past two weeks for an assignment for my college program. I have truly enjoyed hearing what you have to say about the field and hope to have that impact on others as well.

Louna said...

I remember being at a picknick and chatting with people, and telling me I needed to sit down, and they telling me they're not keeping me. So I sit down on the ground, and they all stand, and of course it's completely impossible to take part in the conversation that way. At that time I was using a walking stick, so they were all perfectly aware of the fact that I was disabled. Then I remember waiting in front of a lecture hall, and telling the acquaintance I was chatting with that I needed to sit down, and her offering to sit down on the floor with me. I hadn't started using a stick back then, she had no clue what was going on, but she just sat down and we kept on chatting while people were looking a bit strangely. And I try to think more of the time in front of the lecture hall than of the people at the picknick.

Liz said...

Sending loving thoughts out to that man, and to you.

Anonymous said...


this is something I have to consider the next time I visit a museum. I am always so fascinated by the exhibits, that my mom or someone else has to tell me to step back after a while and let other people look too.

I have to remember that there are seated people who want to see too and are fascinated too.

We live and learn every day...


Mary said...

My comment was going to start "wow, I'm so lucky that my friends are..."

And then I wondered where that sentence was going to go. I'm so lucky that my friends are... friendly to me? That my friends are nice to me? That my friends are considerate of my needs?

I'm so lucky that my friends are prepared to behave like friends. Hmmm.

Moose said...

I found out who my real friends were when I became disabled and started having serious problems walking around. The number of people who told me that I was no longer "fun" because all I did was "sit around" was disturbing.

I lost a lot of friends, but I gained a lot of faith in those who stuck around.

Angelowl011 said...

It is not the wheels. It's Stigma.I am not physically disabled but do have physical limitations. I do fight with mental illness. I am learning through college first as a CYW student and now as DSW student, that it doesn't matter what the disorder or disability is, we are looked at all the same. DIFFERENT.The teaching helps me understand and look at myself positively instead of how others see me. Even if we have limitations we are still worthy of respect for what we go through on a daily basis.