Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Disability: When Accommodations Are Imperfect

During the summer if I wanted to go somewhere, I would just hop on my scooter and go.  I loved having my mobility and independence.   Now that the ground is covered in snow, even wearing multiple layers it is still quite cold.  The city is not very quick to remove the snow from sidewalks and this means I am often trapped in my home.  Due to the cold and snow, the unhusband suggested that I attempt to take the bus instead of taking my scooter directly to a location. 

image Well, the buses are not nearly as accessible as they claim to be.  If you are a wheelchair user it is fairly easy to negotiate the ramp and the narrow aisle.  If you are on a scooter, it is next to impossible to negotiate the ramp or guide your scooter to the side so that it is out of aisle.  The unhusband literally had to lift the scooter to adjust its position to get it on the bus.  Of course this meant that I had to get up to allow him to do this.  The whole time that this was going on I heard the sighs and saw the eye rolling.  Yep, its all my fault for deciding to ride the bus and didn’t I know that people had places to go.

So do you see how this works?  Create a circumstance that is supposedly accessible and then grumble grumble when it turns out that its not and you have to wait for the differently abled person to find a way to negotiate it.   I tried not to feel the eyes that looked at me with impatience and condescension.  I tried not to feel embarrassed and ashamed but it was unavoidable.  In that moment, I knew that I had made a big mistake in the eyes of the able bodied, I dared to take up space.  My being was impacting the speed at which they were able to traverse through this world and this is the point at which most people suddenly lose patience with the differently abled.

I suddenly realized why it is I have never seen a scooter user on the bus;  it is inaccessible without the aid of a strong able bodied person.  I remember when the announcement was made that the buses were going to be accessible.  There was a huge ribbon cutting ceremony and the mayor was there to make sure he got his mug in the shot, but in the moment that I realized that once again a space was not designed to include me I felt alone and I felt shame.  This is how exclusion works; it relies on shame whether or not the person who is being othered has any real reason to feel ashamed.   I will not get on a bus again.  I simply do not want to have that feeling again thus making me one less person who is willing to try and force a change that is so badly needed.  It is enough for me to know that when I get to the location that I am going to, that  I will probably face some form of disablism, without making the entire trip stressful for me.

Unlike the U.S.,  Canada does not have the equivalent for the American with Disabilities Act.  This means that businesses do not have to have ramps, automatic doors or other accommodations.  We are made to feel as though we should be grateful for the few places that make minor accommodations because they do not have to.  If the accommodations are imperfect, well that is still our problem because they tried right?   More often than not any changes that are made are surface level, just enough to allow for good publicity without granting real access.  To ask for more is to seem ungrateful even though simply demanding the space to exist can be a humiliating enough experience as it is.