Monday, May 22, 2017

"I'm tired," I Said

We arrived at a hotel, after two calls to confirm our accessible room, to be given a room that was not accessible. You can picture all that ensues, I just can't write that story again. We eventually find another hotel, load the car and drive over. We'd arrived late at the first hotel, after a full days work and a six hour drive, now it was 2 hours later and we were checking in to a different hotel that happened to have an accessible room.

That weekend some time I had to write the obligatory letter of complaint, sent to the company as well as the actual hotel where this happened. I tried to explain both the situation and what the situation had meant to me. I received an apology letter that I felt, as I said in my reply, was generic and that, while recognizing the situation, didn't seem to recognize the effect on me as a disabled traveler.

This all ends in a phone call between myself and the manager. We spoke and she said something that really angers me in these situations and I'd like to hear your opinions on this. She said, "I understand how you feel." I stated clearly that she could not and did not. In fact I ranted. I'd had enough of this kind of bullshit approach to empathy. "I'm tired," I said "of non-disabled people telling me that they understand how I feel when they simply can't, they don't know what it is to be offered a room that you can't poo in, they don't know what it's like to be suddenly, unexpectedly homeless, they don't know what it is to be on display in a lobby as others check in looking at you with pity and slight superiority because they can sleep in any fucking room in the hotel and you can only use the three or four that were granted you for us, they don't know what it is to have used up all your energy just getting there and not knowing where to pull more from to try and find another place, drive to another place, hope that the other place got accessibility right, they don't know that trust from a disabled traveler is different and deeper than it is for a non-disabled traveler, they don't know that our trust given is absolute and when it's broken it hurts, they don't know that disabled travelers move about the world in fear of arrival, in fear that their bodies will make them suddenly, like I was, homeless. You don't understand."

"I understand how you feel."

I do not understand what it feels like to be a person of colour being pulled over by the police.

I do not understand what it is to be a woman walking alone at night.

I do not.

I can only understand my responsibilities in the face of a world that devalues others and my responsibility to change what is in my sphere of influence, starting with my own attitudes and my own actions.

We hung up from the call each angry at the other. She had to control hers, it was her job to stay cool, and she did. I didn't have to control mine, except to not personally attack her and to stay focused on what happened and why it was important. But the "I understand..." statement pushed a button in me that unleashed a torrent that I couldn't stop or control.

Can the non-disabled 'understand' what it is to be disabled and not have access available? I'm curious, what do you think?


Jenni said...

I thought I understood disability access before I got sick, because I was a trained accessibility auditor, I'd had a friend at uni who used a wheelchair, and I was disabled because I had epilepsy.

Now I'm a wheelchair user I look back and I think understood about physical access, but not about the privilege of being able to 'pass' as non-disabled. I didn't know about the social stigma of being obviously disabled, the way people look down on you, view you as 'less than' etc.

So I think she could potentially have understood about the physical problems inaccessible rooms bring, but perhaps only the social and emotional impact if she's had direct experience of this herself or with a close loved one. To be fair I don't know her, so maybe she has?

Unknown said...

As a wheelchair user I do understand how tou felt arriving at the hotel. Why are there so few rooms available to us in hotels anyway?

Liz Miller said...

I can't really understand how you feel, but I can share your words.

Ron Arnold said...

Early in my career, I worked with a woman with Down Syndrome in a sheltered workshop. She had a lot of difficulties with transitions and often had angry outbursts when things didn't go the way she expected them to. She lived in a group home, but her parents were were very involved with her care. They came to every meeting and discussion we had had regarding their daughter.

One day I had a chance to talk with them myself. They told me the heart wrenching story of their decision to put her in a State Hospital when she was very young. After the story I said "I understand how you feel." I IMMEDIATELY recognized the magnitude of utter bullshit in that statement and then apologized for my assumption. I told them I had no idea what that must have been like. (It was one of those startling epiphanies that happen every once in a while.)

From that day forward, we worked together even better than before and even though I went on to different agencies and different parts of human services, when we'd see each other - we'd have a nice chat. They liked me. (I liked them too - they were good folks.) I think it had something to do with me honoring their difficult experience as something their 'own.' Those folks have all since passed away, but it is one lesson I remember VERY clearly.

Sometimes - I have no fucking idea.

Unknown said...

The lived experience of anything is different for each person who lives it. But that group has a greater shared understanding than the group of people who have never had the experience.
I can't understand or know what it feels like to have a mobility impairment, Dave. I do think I've learned a little bit of what can be like, having learned from you in this blog.
And sometimes a 'rant' is what you need to make your point....and your statements don't contain a personal attack on her or her employer....but an emphatic example of the impact of THEIR error on your life!!
I think customer service training does give corporate employees a script to follow...and limits employee flexibility in responding...not an excuse but maybe a factor in her insensitive statements.

Val Surbey said...

To the unknown commenter, you really don't have any idea of the impact of what happened in this case had on Dave; anymore than I do. A "rant" isn't necessarily self satisfying unless the hotel changes whatever policies it implemented which resulted in there not being an available appropriate room as had been requested.

ABEhrhardt said...

I HEAR you. But even I, who have severe mobility impairments, still cannot understand - because I can still move about on my own in a hotel room, can manage by hanging onto the furniture, can fold the walker away and make it short distances.

But I am disabled, and I HEAR you being dissed by the hotel and the employee - and realize people like you are groundbreakers, even when they don't want to be. Especially if that hotel and that employee change as a result. Hope they do. If not, at least they can't pretend they 'get it' any more.

SammE said...

I don't believe I can possibly understand. My own disabilities are not physical, and I'm sure many cannot understand how it is to be me! I do have some knowledge of things that can cause problems for a wheelchair user, from having a young friend who uses one, and from reading here. I've learned from him and his family, and you've given me a lot of insight into things that affect your life, and I thank you for that. I think that each of us sees the world differently, and experiences it in our own way, in our own mind, in our own body, disabled or not. I think that is just the way it is. But the understanding among us, or lack thereof, is what worries me. More understanding is so so needed. samm

Unknown said...

I decided some years ago tha "I understand how you feel" is one of the most useless statements in the English language. Even if, by some trick of the universe, we had exactly the same disability/-ies, with exactly the same symptoms, there are so many other things that factor in to how we feel about any given situation, from how many times each of us personally dealt with similar situations all the way to how we may have seen our caregivers deal with similar situations when we were wee children.

When I was still dealing with clients, I could say "I understand that you're angry, and I can appreciate why." But to say "I understand how you feel" is - at best - a useless platitude and thoroughly insulting.

JohnMoxon1 said...

Hi Dave
I understand - I really do. I use a power chair (quad since 1970) and my wife and I arrived in London in 2008 after flying from Australia (5 hours late) and having been up for 38 hours.
Arriving at the hotel we were informed that our room was "disabled" - literally as the toilet was broken.
"We'll find you another hotel" went down like a lead balloon and my wife, bursting into tears, said "NO!! Find us a room here." So, they kicked someone who didn't need an accessible room into another one and we got theirs.
Question. Did that happen because the hotel could identify with my able bodied wife and her stress, or with my dire need?