photo © 2008 Jo Jakeman | more info (via: Wylio)
Yesterday, I finally talked my boys into cutting their hair. They both had wicked fros going on, which required a ton of work. I thought it would nice, if for the summer, if they had easy to manage hair, and since their hair grow so quickly, by the time September rolled around, they would be well on their way back to their customary fros. I called the hairdresser and made an appointment, and thought nothing of it. We walked to the salon laughing about what designs they would get cut into their hair. When we arrived at the salon, Destruction held the door open for me, and I rolled through with my scooter. When I was almost in the salon, the hairdresser who would be cutting their hair said, "we normally don't allow these scooters in here but since you are already half way in, you can come in".
I looked at her and said, "this scooter functions as my legs, so if it cannot come in, then I cannot come in." A man getting his hair cut at the time pipped up adding, "you should really just put up a sign saying no scooters allowed." Before I could respond to him, the man that owned the salon told me the reason they were concerned about my scooter, is because a woman had come in, using a mobility scooter awhile back, had damaged the door, costing him over four hundred dollars to fix. The owner and the customer then got into a conversation about how he should have sued the woman for damaging his door. Really people?
What neither of them took into account was that the doorway that they were so concerned about was extremely narrow. Taking it very slowly, I just managed to negotiate it without damage to myself, my scooter, or the door. The entire problem could be solved by making the entrance way more accessible, but their solution was to simply ban disabled people from the building. Downtown Niagara Falls is already highly inaccessible. I cannot enter most of the buildings without aid, because they do not have automatic door openers, and the one business that was kind enough to install a doorbell, so I wouldn't have to wave my arms frantically to get attention, has since moved. Even though I have made countless complaints with the local LCBO (government owned liquor stores), about the fact that the entrance is inaccessible, it has also failed to make any changes.
The lack of access says that we are not allowed to take up space. I also feel it necessary to point out specifically to the libertarians, that this is one issue that capitalism has not solved. It is clearly costing these businesses money, but they would rather hold onto their able bodied privilege, than provide access to people who have money to spend. As they were discussing whether or not to put up a sign announcing no scooters allowed, it very much reminded me of Jim Crow. The very idea that one could publicly discuss and or announce, an intention to discriminate, speaks loudly of how under valued the disabled are in my community.
Almost each time I go out with my scooter I face an issue of disableism. Sometimes it is a complete lack of access, and at other times it is ableist commentary. The best place to buy fruit, vegetables and meat in the city is Lococo's. I was in there recently buying groceries for my family, when the woman behind me was searched. Coincidentally, she was also in a scooter, but unlike me, hers was visibly old and her clothing marked her as decidedly poor. When she was finished being searched by the cashier, the cashier walked away saying scooter users are the worst and should not be allowed in. I over heard her, and immediately confronted her, asking her loudly to repeat what she said about scooter users. My thought was that if she was bold enough to say it under her breathe, she should be bold enough to announce her bigotry to the rest of the people in the store.
We went outside were she told me that the woman that she had searched had been banned from several grocery stores ,and that she did not believe that she was truly disabled, because she sometimes walked. First off, if the woman was stealing food, it is because she is hungry. I understand that they have a business to run, however, the government only pays out 1000 per month to live on if you are on a disability pension. Try paying rent and then attempting to eat on that. I also pointed out that her scooter had nothing to do with her alleged theft. There are plenty of people that steal, and stealing is certainly not the preserve of disabled people. I then went on to inform her that her decision that the woman was not disabled was highly ableist. Just because someone is feeling well enough to walk sometimes, and is unable to do at other times, does not in any way negate their disability.
One of the issues I have found with disability, is that "regular" able bodied people, feel as though they have the right to act as gatekeepers. If our bodies do not match with their version of disability, they are ready to declare us fakers and abusers of the system. I wonder if they realize the hoops one has to jump through to get government disability? Furthermore, living off 12,000 dollars a year is far from living high on the hog; what it is, is living below the poverty line. In many ways, I am extremely fortunate, because thanks to having a good job before becoming disabled, I receive a great disability pension, but many are not in the same situation as myself. Not only do I receive a good pension, I have a partner who is employed full time, and earns a decent wage. Not all disabled people are impoverished, but a good percentage are -- simply because they are unable to work, and the pension offered by the government is substandard. All of this amounts to increasing the amount of open bigotry and hostility that we face.
What I have come to learn, is that disableism, like every other ism is absolutely institutionalized. There is purposeful impoverishment from the government, a lack of access, which means a lack of jobs, as well as difficulty getting basic services, limited transportation opportunities, and erasure from the media. All of this informs the social opinions of society, thus supporting the idea that disabled people are to be understood as "other," who drain from society, rather than contributing. Each time I confront disableism, I am forced into defending myself, but even as I do so, I know that nothing will change, because disableism is woven into the very fabric of our society.