Friday, April 03, 2015


Photo description: Picture of the upper part of a face, a hand reaches out with an eraser and erases the forehead area as if erasing memories. Credit:

It's been busy.

I've missed the last couple days, even though I attempted to write something both days, because I've been overwhelmed with things that need doing and things that called for my attention. I had a kind of misguided belief when I was younger that things would get easier and a bit slower as I got older. But in many ways the last couple years have been the most productive of my working career. I see 'accomplishments' differently now and I have much different goals for myself. Even so, I never anticipated being this busy - all the damn time.

Enough with whining.

I'm writing about this because of a question I was asked after the busyness of my day yesterday. I was asked if there were ever times that I simply forgot that I was disabled. The question jarred me a bit because it kind of implies a negativity about the state of being disabled. Like, I can't imagine someone asking 'do you ever forget that you are a man?'  I said that I thought it was an odd question, and said why, but I answered it.


I do.

But I only forget that I have a disability when three things happen at the same time:

1) I am in a place that is completely accessible to me. At my office, which was designed to be accessible long before I started there, I can move about freely without any thought at all about how I am going to do something. There are wide doors, door pushers, accessible washrooms. The floor isn't carpeted, in the hallways, which makes rolling easy. I was given the option, like all office staff are, to design the layout of the space I'm in regarding placement of furniture. (The same is true at home, but it's my home, that's a given. Unfortunately, for workplaces, it isn't.)

2) The attitude of the management and of the staff of a place are welcoming. I'm not going to use the words 'tolerant' or 'accepting' because those imply some kind of gift that we disabled are given. I don't want a 'gift,' I want to be able to expect respect. On the day that I was asked this question, I was at work. I know that because I am a director there, a certain amount of respect goes with the title. But, as a disabled person, I find that no matter what other label you wear in life, the fact that you have a disability means that withering, pitying, boorish, assholely behaviour can fly at you at any moment. However, I can honestly say that where I work, I simply work. I don't have to engage in constant education. I don't ever feel, that's ever, that my colleagues treat me differently than they do other, non-disabled, co-workers. This does not mean that the don't 'see' the disability, how I hate that bullshit, but that they don't 'value' the disability differently. Moreover, many of those I work with are 'askable.' For those who don't know what that means, let me explain. Askability is the state of being able to give help, when requested, in ways that do not demean or diminish another. Further, it means that after the help is given, nothing is owed. So a welcoming attitude matters.

3) I'm engrossed or involved in something that takes me out of myself. I'm lucky to have a job I love, live with someone I love, and have leisure activities that I love doing. All this means that I am often, in my life, completely involved in what's outside of me. I don't mean that I'm not connected to who I am, I mean who I am is connected with something that enthrals me. I'm not saying this right, but it's the best I can do.

When these three things are in place, I forget I have a disability. And. Unless what I'm doing is directly related to the fact that I'm gay or I'm male, I forget that I'm those things too. I simply 'am.'

So, I can say that I go hours and hours without thinking I have a disability or a difference. This disappears immediately upon going out into the community - my weight and my wheelchair are seldom met with welcoming attitudes. But then, if I'm with someone welcoming and askable, if I'm not facing barriers and I'm engrossed in something - like a conversation with Joe in a local parkette - I forget then too.

So, that's a longer version of that answer I gave to an odd question.


Anonymous said...

We live with lots of labels - "sibling, child, parent, employee, neighbour, member, etc." And most of the time we aren't aware of those labels. The times they come to forefront are those times when someone either reminds us of them, when someone challenges us about them and/or when someone uses a label to denigrate or shame us.

Bottom line, we can choose those labels with which we want to be identified - and refuse to be discounted by those who try to depreciate our value. It's a constant challenge for me - and I suspect for many others . . .

Just thinking

Antonia Lederhos Chandler said...

Dave: You wrote,
"I'm not going to use the words 'tolerant' or 'accepting' because those imply some kind of gift that we disabled are given. I don't want a 'gift,' I want to be able to expect respect."

Me, too.

Colleen said...

You forget you are disabled in environments that don't have physical and attitudinal barriers.

B. said...

I know this. I just am (forget the disabled bit). At the time there's no special feeling about it though. It's when the other person can't get past it and reminds me one way or another. Actually this doesn't feel too bad, in fact it's like "oh yeah, that (the absence of the disabled label) was nice while it lasted".

That's a good one - askable. That's an everyone term. Thanks, Dave.

Maggie said...

Like asking me if I forget I can walk. I only remember about walking when I'm doing it -- or when I want to and can't.

It's only the artificial barriers that remind any of us of any specific ability or dis-ability. The step that's too high for me, the doorway that's too narrow for your chair. The smirk on some asshole's face.

Thanks for this -- you've clarified some more stuff for me.