Monday, May 7, 2007

Close encounters of the first kind

Yesterday I was in Target. It was really crowded. As I went from aisle to aisle, I kept encountering close quarters and a few obstacles.

And each encounter was different. Most people are polite and we navigate with a sense of mutual cooperation. I roll around their shopping cart to get to the products so I can see them; I pass by toddlers staring with wide eyes at my wheelchair; I defer to older people on canes who are barely able to stand. (Sometimes I feel like giving them a ride.)

I've learned over the years that each encounter is going to be different and, in a way, I start all over with each one . It's a first. I can act in one way with one person and get a positive reaction and the same behavior or words has an entirely different result with another person - sometimes negative.

Isn't that true for everyone, someone might ask? To a point, but it's different with a disabilty. The assumptions and attitudes that people bring to the interaction are what makes it different, not the fact that I'm visibly disabled. Peoples' perception of disability is a factor. There is no inherent reason for me to "be in the world" in a different way than I was when I was able bodied. But having navigated through life as a temporarily able bodied person and now as a person with a disability, I know that it's different.

When I was able bodied no one ever said to me "Oh, you're so lucky you can get out." No one said to the person with me "She needs to sign this" or "What will she order?" No one asked me to get out of a line because I was "in the way". No one told me I shouldn't be out alone.

On the other hand, I have been extended courtesies and receive positive treatment much of the time. I navigate in a wheelchair rather than on foot but that in and of itself is not necessarily better or worse, a realization that may surprise some people. When there is access, leading a full life in a wheelchair is no big deal.

It's simply different than it used to be, positive or not, in these first encounters. There are opportunities to teach people about disability and being around pwd. I learn better ways of handling situations. And I've become better at discerning when, where and how some behaviors need to be either ignored or just put into perspective. Sometimes this is the biggest energy saver I can practice in my life.

I learned that in Aisle 10 of a Walmart years ago.


Wheelchair Dancer said...

A lesson I still need to learn...


Anonymous said...

I've noticed that meeting people for the first time is very difficult even at parties now that I have a visible disability. It's like a forced interaction between us which was different when my MS wasn't as visible (I wasn't on a walker or in a wheelchair). Too bad we have to learn to ignore this kind of stuff. It's a drag at least for me.