Monday, December 04, 2017

Coming Out ... Going Out: An International Day of Disabled Persons Post

It was International Day of Disabled Persons yesterday and I wanted to do something to celebrate. I decided that what I would do that day, to make a difference, was simply: go out. For people with disabilities to come out, we simply need to go out. Existing in a public space is enough to challenge stereotypes and attack prejudice. To be different loudly, one need not say a single word.

We chose a mall that was a bit of a drive for us.I wanted to lap the mall so that I could both exercise my body while exercising the minds of those closed to the idea of disabled people being out and belonging in public space.

All the disabled parking spaces were taken so Joe dropped me off at the front of the mall, right beside a fairly steep and fairly long ramp. I got out, had Joe pull the car away so I could back up to give me space to build some momentum and then up the ramp I went. One fellow offered help but respectfully responded to my 'No, I'm good.'

I went through the large sliding doors with two young teens. One of them turned to me and said, "You should really be wearing a jacket." WHAT?? Disability is still seen as a diminisher by some. I said, "I'm old enough to be your grandfather, would you speak to him that way? And by the way, I'm a stranger, don't talk to strangers." So I begin my International Day of Disabled Persons by being chastised by a child for not wearing a sweater.

Then, the lap began. I've been pushing long distances for a while now and can really get up some speed. I was enjoying the physical movement. I was enjoying whipping around slow walking people and surprising them. I left them in my dust. It's International Day of Disabled Persons and I'M HERE, I'M OUT AND I BELONG. You may think this silly, but I don't.

Disabled people are in a continuous battle to claim public space and to claim belonging. Because we are diminished we are also dismissed as full human beings, with our own agency and with our own lives to live. I believe that every time one of us is anywhere 'they' are, we are agents of change.

Non-disabled people will never know what it's like to go out into the public realm and know, with certainty, that you will be constantly reminded of outsider status. Staring. Pointing. Giggling and then, of course, there are the weird kind of social interactions that come from people trying their hardest, and with great effort, to be kind. Like a young teen advising an adult man in a wheelchair about his clothing.

So I spent just over an hour lapping a large mall and purposely, intentionally, being OUT while I was out.

That's what I did on the International Day of Disabled Persons and that's what I do pretty much every day. Because I have to. This is my community, and I will claim it and claim it and claim it again, and I'll keep doing so until it's ours.

It's what we do, as disabled people, to make change.

There is an everydayness to the struggle for equality for people with disabilities and differences.

I saw lots of other people with disabilities in the mall we went to, simply going about their business, I saw people watching them in the same way they watch me. We are our own Public Service Announcement ... and people pay attention.

Which is why...

We will win.


clairesmum said...

Disability pride - way to go, Dave!!

Shannon said...

I like to go places where I am unexpected. An exercise place would be one of those. I l also like to sit at a bar (even if it's too high and there is no lowered section, which there usually is not). They usually try to sit me at a table but that makes it hard to get into conversations with people. Maybe one day people won't think we're courageous for leaving the house.

Andrea Shettle, MSW said...

Sorry this is off track from Dave's post, but in reaction to the second part of Shannon's comment: I have never understood why so many bars have only high seating and not regular seating. Even some of us who can get up that high without disability-related difficulties do not like those seats! There must be people who like them because sometimes if I am dining alone, I am asked which kind of seating I prefer as if they anticipate that I could indicate either way. But I am certainly not one of them.

I and the organization I work at have sometimes needed to plan social outings for ourselves, or for us plus colleagues at like-minded organizations, etc., and it is such an ongoing challenge to find a place that will be truly accessible for everyone. We often have to ask if they can seat us in the dining area, as this is more likely to be inclusive of wheelchair users in a way that enables everyone to be literally sitting at the same level. But then when we ask if they can please serve the bar menu even though we are moved to the dining area, some of them balk and want to serve only the dinner menu, which may not be suitable for a "happy hour" social event when people may be coming and going as their work schedules permit. Then there are places that are too dark for sighted deaf and hard of hearing people to communicate with anyone--because regardless of whether they sign or lip read, they still need to SEE people to communicate with them. Some places are too noisy for people with sensory integration issues and so on. So a location that may work perfectly for, say, wheelchair users may be terrible for deaf and hard of hearing people or vice versa.

It is so rare for people to stop and think about how people with disabilities can be accommodated at their place of business, or whatever they're responsible for. And when they think of us at all, they often think only of one or two specific disabilities, which may still exclude people with other types of disabilities. No wonder people think we need to be courageous just to leave the house--we have to be, if not courageous, then at least patient, persistent, and resourceful advocates in persuading business owners and others in accommodating our needs whether individually or as a group.

Shannon said...

The high table thing is very trendy, that's why there is so much of it. When people think of disability, they most often think of wheelchair users, and may think, well not many people use them, we don't have to worry about a lot of wheelchair users coming in our place of business. Other disabilities may not be given much thought at all. Those high tables are not only a problem for wheelchair users, they are not great for very short people, or anyone who some mobility problem that makes it hard to climb up to a higher seat. I once went in a place where that was the only type of seating to be had on the first floor and the 2nd was not accessible. The waitress was embarrassed and she asked the manager to talk to me but he never did. It's kind of a pet peeve of mine. When I go in a place I don't want to go sit at some table in the corner, and I want to sit at the bar if I'm just having a drink. I'm checking out different places to see what happens when I just go over and attempt to sit there. One place highly discouraged me from doing so. I read a New York Times article recently where a wheelchair user was talking about this issue and a lot of comments were telling her well you just can't expect the same experience in a bar as other people. Another thing is gyms - sometimes there is equipment I can use but often not, or very limited. Got a gym in my apartment building, but no hand bike. They do have a wheelchair lift for the pool though.