Tuesday, May 11, 2010

No Handicapped Persons

Last Saturday was my little man’s birthday party.  Our original plan was to take him and ten of closets brats friends go kart racing at Niagara Go Karts, and then finishing with a round of mini golf.   We called ahead of time and were not given any restrictions; however, when we arrived the signage clearly stated that access was not as open as we originally thought. 

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Not Allowed To Ride

  1. pregnant women
  2. persons with neck or back injuries 
  3. persons under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  4. infants under 3’
  5. Handicapped person are not permitted to drive, but may ride free as a passenge[r]

What exactly is a handicapped person, and who gets to decide whose body fits that description? That particular day I left my home with a cane instead of my scooter, because I knew that I would not be on my feet for a long period of time.  I stood there wondering if I had to submit my body for inspection because of the way that the sign had been written.

This reminded me of the way in which people with invisible disabilities are often attacked, because they don’t match someone’s mental image of what constitutes disabled.  The myth that the differently abled all look a like or think a like despite the diversity of our community is something that we must constantly battle.

Was this sign designed for someone’s whose body did not conform, or for someone whose mind did not conform?   How would they know if it was someone’s mind when these disabilities are often not readily apparent.  In the end, it became apparent that the owners of the company expected us to confess the ways in which our bodies are different, and then wait for them to decide if we are acceptable enough to drive their go karts.

This is the kind of insensitivity that the differently abled face everyday, it is just seldom that a sign exists announcing that we are not welcome.  Usually the barriers to access are things like stairs and no ramp, no Braille on elevator buttons or bathrooms that are too small to enter, but because these accommodations are not something able bodied people regularly use, they do not notice their absence.

As I stood with the parents contemplating the sign last Saturday, everyone noticed the height and age limitations, but no one commented on the fact that the sign said no handicapped.  It did not occur to them how this may be discriminatory or even how this policy would be enforced because they were all able bodied. Ignoring obvious discrimination serves to allow us to continue the undeserved privilege that we have become accustomed to, and this is why many ignore what is right in front of them.  When you fail to speak out when doing so will cost you nothing, you have decided that discrimination and your privilege is more important than the human value of another.