Thursday, August 27, 2009

What’s Accessible To You?

Different bodies, need different kinds of accommodation.  It seems to me that many believe, a one size fits all solution, will work as far as making spaces more inclusive but in my experience, as a differently abled bodied person, I can often see where even having the limited mobility that I do, offers me a form of privilege that will mean a denial of service or access  to another.

This week we had to go back to school shopping for Mayhem and Destructionimage Because it was a beautiful day, I decided to meet my family there and travel  by scooter.  Imagine my chagrin, when suddenly I ran out of sidewalk, without warning because they were under repair.  If one is able  bodied, it would have been fairly easy to dodge around cars and cross the street but being on a scooter, I had to pull  into heavy traffic and make a right hand turn. 

After having my scooter for a few months, I am well aware of the ways in which people lose their patience the moment they get behind a wheel of a car and I felt fear being in so much traffic.  As I arrived on my scooter, I had no choice but to take it home after we finished.  When I again waded into traffic and into what was obviously a precarious position, no car bothered to stop for me.  Thankfully, a construction worker stopped traffic long enough for me to make a left hand turn and get to the safety of a side street.

As uncomfortable and dangerous as this was, I knew that I was lucky to be in a scooter rather than a manual wheelchair.  Can you imagine a manual wheelchair pulling into oncoming traffic?  My ability to move means that I am not always in a chair and therefore, I can still with a degree of difficulty, negotiate areas that are inhospitable to those that spend their lives in wheelchairs. 

When we went out for dinner tonight, I was able to drive my scooter right inside, only to discover that the  bathroom was down a steep flight of stairs.  When I asked at my sons dojo if they were wheel chair accessible, I was told yes, unless image you plan to use the bathroom, which is downstairs.  Each time an incident like this occurs, I realize that my limited mobility is still a privilege because though I experience pain, I still exist with the option to get up and go up or down those flight of stairs. When I visit a friend, I don’t have to think about the fact that most homes don’t have ramps in the bathroom, and are not large enough to comfortably manoeuvre a wheelchair. If I am shopping and an item is on the top shelf, I can stand and reach it, rather than searching for someone to get it for me.

When you are differently abled, the world focuses on all of the things you cannot do, versus all the things  that you can do.   In this way, if one has a closed mind, it is quite possible to ignore the ways in which one still exists with privilege relative to others.   As I negotiate the world as a differently abled person, my perspective not only allows me to see the ways in which the world was not designed for people like me but for others who need different accommodations. 

I don’t know what it is to be blind, or hearing impaired, and I cannot imagine how difficult it is to be non neuro-typical, but through conversation I can empathize and understand what it is to feel “othered”.  It is not always necessary to have the same condition as another, to see the ways in which privilege operates.  If each of us were to personalize the experience by thinking of the different ways in which we are forced to “rise above”, perhaps we would be less likely to invoke privilege upon another.