Wednesday, November 18, 2009

But Accessibility is too Expensive

image Last night I froze watching my oldest child play hockey.  It is part of the duty of a Canadian mother to tolerate this little ritual.  Destruction got his second assist and though they lost the game, he played well.  As I stood there, my body wracked in complete pain, I decided that it was time to make management aware of exactly how inaccessible their arena was.

If one is a wheelchair user, it is impossible to see over the rink to actually watch the game.  There are no play by plays and therefore; if one is blind, accessing the game in any form is impossible.  Due to Sarcoidosis and Fibromyalgia, I have limited mobility.  This means that I have the option to stand for over an hour in pain to view the game, or struggle to sit in the stands that were not built with a modicum of comfort in mind.  I have tried alternating between standing in pain and then missing a few minutes of the game to rest in my scooter and standing for the whole time in order not to miss the game.

Due to the weather and being forced to stand, the pain was so terrible I was literally weeping silently.  I walked into the office and asked to speak to someone in charge.  I explained the issue and suggested that they install a platform, which would allow scooter and wheelchair users to watch the game.  Like any other parent, I paid for my child to have this experience and it is completely unfair, that I should be forced to suffer, so that I can participate. 

The woman gave me a depreciating smile and informed of the cost involved.  Of course they will look into it and maybe in the spring they can do something.  Isn’t that lovely.  You will note, that she made certain to point out that I was asking her to spend money.  This is always the excuse given when the disabled demand that accommodations be made so that we can participate.  Shame on me for not having a normal body, which can tolerate standing for an hour outside on a cold Ontario fall evening. 

This facility is just over five years old.  They put a ramp on the pro shop to ensure that a differently abled person can access a bathroom and buy their equipment but actual participation was not thought of in the least little bit. Why should I care about the expense that they are now incurring because they did not think about the differently abled to begin with?  Had we been the least bit of concern, the rink would have been built to accommodate everyone.

When my son finished his game, I tried to hide my tears knowing that if he saw me in pain, it would diminish his desire to play the game. Unfortunately, he saw the pain written all over my face and I watched his exuberance turn to sadness.  As the weather gets colder, I will have to stop watching his games.  I simply cannot tolerate the pain that the cold causes and standing on my feet.  By building an arena that is inaccessible, they chose to purposefully exclude the differently abled.  This is how we are erased.  Each time I stand through a game, pushing myself to the very limit, I am enforcing the super crip mythology.Rise above comes at a cost and only the differently abled must pay the fee.

At the end of the game, as I looked around at the faces of the other parents, all that I could see was contentment.  They had just watched their son or daughter take part in a traditional right of passage for Canadians.  It had cost them nothing but the money for equipment and enrolment, whereas; for me it would mean a night of sleeplessness, despite pain killers because I had pushed my body one step to far.

If the exclusion was limited to this one place, it would still be terrible but bearable. Unfortunately, this is not the case.  Though I can enter the dojo where my son takes karate, if I need to go to the bathroom I must go two doors down to a  donut shop which is completely accessible.  When I take my scooter into the Dojo, the other parents make me aware of how inconvenient it is, that I am taking up so much space.  One even had the nerve to suggest I just park my scooter outside. 

There are stores I cannot enter unless I leave my scooter outdoors.  Accessible buses do not run on all of the routes, forcing me to ride my scooter to and from destinations.  When I take my scooter, drivers are upset if I am on the road and pedestrians treat it is an affront that I would dare to use the same side walk as them.  How am I to win?  The idea is for people like me to simply disappear.  If we didn’t take up space and demand to live our lives, then the able bodied would not have to make any kind of concession at all.  

It is either rise above and suffer in silence, or stay home.  Simply because one is able to stand for an hour in the freezing cold, does not mean that everyone can.  It is the everyday small exclusions  over time that erase the differently abled.  Must I scream I am here to be seen?