I was at a rummage sale over the weekend that was held inside a parking garage. The entire first floor was full of tables with items for sale. Around the tables were the signs usually seen in a parking garage: right turn only, slow, and two way traffic. And, of course, there were speed bumps.
I passed by a table full of kitchen items and my power chair rose up and down. A nearby four or five year old squealed in delight, so I did it again.
"Can I do that, Mommy?" she asked.
Her mother turned, saw me and hustled the kid away. Spoil sport.
It was very crowded, so I had to have fun surreptitiously. After all, nothing like getting in someone's way while I'm having fun, for crying out loud. It's bad enough if I'm in their way by necessity, like while I'm searching for a colander.
That's because the concept of two way traffic really doesn't apply to wheelchairs yet in some folks' minds. I can tell because when I'm near a table looking at items, I'm asked to move out of their way. And when I find a spot away from the table to wait for the person I'm with, I'm asked to move from there too because I'm "in the way".
I'd suggest that in some instances, finding a place to put a two hundred pound power chair that isn't in the way would require a hoist to lift it to the ceiling. Nevertheless, it appears that I'm supposed to make its size, length and presence disappear.
As my nephew succinctly put it after I was asked for the umpteenth time to move "Where are you supposed to go?"
I'm sure people have thoughts on that.
I don't believe it's just the physical layout of places that causes all of this. Crowded conditions highlight the fact that people on foot and people using wheelchairs move differently. Our lanes of traffic, so to speak, don't always get recognized as such. This happens even when it's not so crowded.
People with disabilities are still fighting for our place in society. That literally means that sometimes you have to stand (or sit) your ground. When aisles are wide enough and people still complain, consider that perhaps it's not that so much that your wheelchair is in their way, but that they perceive it as such because it challenges their idea of moving around in the world. If poor planning results in spaces not being large enough for your wheelchair, consider mentioning this to those running the event. Know your rights under the ADA. For example, under the Amendments to the ADA, wheelchairs are allowed in all areas open to pedestrian use. Be brief, succinct and civil, but speak up. Do it for the next person in a wheelchair until more people understand and follow the law.
After seventeen years of making a commitment to show up, I know there are times that going out for fun turns out to be an exercise in advocacy. Even when the aisles are wide enough and there shouldn't be an issue, I've learned that there are still narrow attitudes out there that haven't changed.
And where are we supposed to go? As I told my nephew "Everywhere that everyone else does."