Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Photo description: Police officer giving a person in a wheelchair a ticket. Officer resting his foot on the foot rest of the wheelchair.
 It was Sunday, traffic on Yonge Street was a little heavier than we expected, but we waited for the right moment. We had been shopping at a little grocery store on the east side of Yonge and were heading home. To do this legally we would have had to go up a block, cross at the lights and come back a block and then head west. Our decision was to wait until it was safe and then zip across the street. Jaywalking for one, jayrolling for the other.

When the break came, Joe was able to zip straight across and up the curb onto the sidewalk. I had to go a much longer distance because the corner we were at didn't have a corner directly opposite, so it made my ride a long diagonal. Longer, shmonger, I am faster in my chair than Joe is on two feet.

As I was approaching the corner, a woman was walking southbound. She called out to me, "You shouldn't be doing that, it's dangerous."

Now, here's the thing.

I don't understand why she's talking to me at all. I don't understand what mechanism in her mind made it OK for her to enter into my life and make commentary about it at all. this has flustered me and confused me from the moment I became disabled. What about me, what about the wheelchair, gives people this kind of permission. I don't understand.

I said to her, "Why are you commenting on me and, " pointing at Joe, "not him." I wanted her to understand, though I begin to doubt that people can see what they see as caring as prejudice instead. She said, "Because he knows what he's doing."

Now, here's the thing.

This is the core of a very big problem. Very. Big. I think that there is an assumption that people with disabilities, of any stripe, are in desperate need of parenting on a constant and continual basis. An assumption that advice and helpful commentary are what's needed in a situation because disabled people are never, really, quite an adult. Never really quite independent. Never really quite aware of the rules and the dangers of every day life.

I think this attitude permeates society.

Accepting the adulthood of people with disabilities would mean having to accept us as having voices that need listening to, experiences that are real and lives that have meaning. None of that is convenient to the present push to have us seen as less worthy: of support; of health care; of life itself.

My voice, saying that my life in a wheelchair is a vibrant one, can't be discounted as easily if I capable of, say, deciding to cross the street on my own.


Glee said...

Oh Yes!

Liz said...

Oh, man. That would drive me bananas, all that assuming and outright rudeness.

Anonymous said...

The assumption is that if you are in a wheelchair, there must be something wrong with your BRAIN.

It never occurs to people that mobility and thinking ARE NOT RELATED.

The corollary, that if someone is doing something obviously unintelligent, they should also be in a wheelchair, shows how silly this is.


AnyBeth said...

++Note for the pic: Might be forced perspective. I think the officer is resting his foot on the curb, not any part of the chair. Check out the angle from his belt down, especially that you can see his right pant leg behind his left at the top.++

Ah, yes. Because obviously you can't know what you're doing just as well. /sarcasm
It's not uncommon for strangers to think I over-estimate my physical abilities. Sometimes even when, if they thought a bit, they'd understand that I'm probably more capable of the task than if I were able-bodied. Like wondering whether someone alone and in a manual wheelchair has enough arm-strength to lift four liters in two hands. And me in a walker with icy ground. Oh I better watch out! So many people get so worried when I go out and it's slick. But the walker means I have at least 5 points of stability at all times, a lot less risky, and I'm used to constantly re-adjusting for balance (because my brain can't keep track of "up"), so it's not really that much different. It's the able-bodied folk that don't know what they're doing for ice: I have to think about it all the time!

clairesmum said...

there's a line from a song...'the rest of us are just temporarily able-bodied" that sticks in my head..don't know the song title.....
and the knowledge that sometimes you just can't fix stupid!!
take care, Dave...

Ruti Regan said...


Having a perfect brain and adulthood are also not related.

I have at least two and quite possibly three or four things wrong with my brain. I'm sometimes inaccurately perceived as having an intellectual disability based on affect, particularly when I'm not speaking much.

When people think that I have a low IQ, they tend not to treat me very well.

The problem isn't that they're making a mistake about my IQ. The problem is that they act like my right to have a perspective and make decisions for myself is subject to their approval.

No one deserves to be treated that way.

Personhood isn't something that has to be earned through IQ, or having a perfect brain, or having a perfect body. We're all people.

AnyBeth said...

That bugged me, too. My mobility problems are, in fact, caused by something wrong in my brain that was caused by at least a couple of things wrong outside of it. I have dozens of things wrong with my brain, including several that cause various cognitive difficulties of variable intensity. Some things almost always cause no trouble at all... other things almost always cause at least some trouble. I can talk at length about many subjects, but I'll almost always go deer-in-the-headlights when asked to choose between two arbitrary options. But it seems people get these ideas that I can either do everything or nothing. It almost never works that way for anyone. How would they feel if they were judged to be equally adept or inept at all subjects? (You have trouble with fractions? Who's here to help you shop as you can't possibly handle the money?) I bet they'd be offended and get frustrated.
I've had a lot of people suggest I was lesser because of my cognitive disabilities. (Technically, they've all said they weren't talking about me, just people like me. Riiight, because I'm not at all like me, yeah?) No. However it is I am, I am me, I am a person, and I have value. I do not think my inherent value changes based on my abilities whether physical or mental.

wheeliecrone said...

That story rings a bell with me, Dave. I have never understood why complete strangers feel that it is appropriate to comment on my driving, on my hair colour, on any damn thing about me, just because I am a woman. And now that I am a woman who uses a wheelchair, it is really open season apparently. I particularly am tired of comments about how well I drive my motorised wheelchair - why after fourteen years of use, all day, every day, would I NOT be able to drive my chair?

It is the assumption that I am inferior and unable to operate my own life, because I am a female and have a disability, that really irritates me.