Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Disability and Finding Your Voice

I was not born differently abled.  After contracting Sarcoidosis and Fibromyalgia, my body was changed irrevocably.   It has been a learning process.  Not only did I have to learn my new limitations, I had to deal with disbleism for the first time in my life.  As a person who had previously lived with two areas of marginalisation, by inhabiting the body of  Black woman, it would be easy to assume that marginalization would be something that I could easily deal with.  That assumption would be wrong. 

Being differently abled is not like my other identities.  People make unique assumptions, that I was neither prepared or equipped to deal with. I was also very heavily engaged in the process of grieving for the life that I had lost. I further had to unpack the ways in which I personally still carried many ableist ideas.  Speaking up about disability did not come naturally to me at all.  In fact, it is still something that I very much struggle to do.

image This weekend when I went to the liquor store to buy a bottle of wine, I was shocked to find that while they had automatic doors, the space to navigate was so small that it was virtually impossible to get out, once you had gotten in.  A man had to stand behind me and realign my scooter for me to get out.  It was completely humiliating and the liquor stores are owned and operated by the government.  If the government cannot run an establishment that is fully accessible, what hope is there that other venues will consider the needs of the differently abled?

To say that I am angry is an understatement.  I pay my taxes and I am entitled to have the same services as any other Canadian.  This thought stayed with me for the last few days, as I once again began to ponder why it is that the needs of the differently abled are so ignored in this country.  I find myself envying the AMA. There are so many stores that I cannot enter.  The sidewalks are narrow and so horribly cracked, that I worry that something will happen to the wheels of my scooter.  There are curbs that aren’t even turned down.  It’s as though my right to lead an active public life is unimportant.  The invisibility of the differently abled is purposeful.  When you create barriers to access, it means that we cannot participate.

Last night as I was headed to the dojo to pick Destruction up from karate, I noticed two women walking abreast of each other pushing strollers.  I decided to pull to the right thinking they could walk single file and pass me.  I was on one of the few sidewalks that would allow this to happen.  As these women walked passed me they yelled at me and told me that I should be on the road.  Seriously WTF. When I ride on the road I am risking my life as cars treat me like I am another vehicle and people scream at me to get on the sidewalk.  When I am on the sidewalk people scream at me to be on  the road.

Technically, by law I can be on either the sidewalk or the road.  On busy roads, I always use the sidewalk and after dark I also always use the sidewalk.  I am tired of having to justify my choices to people.  I turned to the woman and said, “thanks for telling me where I am supposed to be, ableist much?'”  This is actually the first time I have had the courage to speak back to someone.  The point of her instruction was to inform me that I was in the way.  This is part of the purposeful erasure of disabled bodies.  We are always in the way because our very existence challenges the right of those who walk around with able bodied privilege.

I will have to struggle to continue to have the courage to speak out.  I know that I do not have the luxury of silence, when everywhere I go my body is seen as an affront.   I should not have to be impressed when stores like Shoppers Drug Mart ensure accessibility for their patrons, this should be the norm.  Walmart has scooters for patrons to use but the clothing area is so cramped, it is impossible to manoeuvre enough to by a damn sweater. Half hearted efforts at accessibility inform and support the attitude of that woman.  It is not too much work to ensure that we can participate and a refusal to make a change is a refusal to see the worth of the disabled.