Monday, May 10, 2010

To all you mothers, in every sense of the word

Even when it's Mother's Day, the ableists are out. They are folks who, among other things, are bound and determined to treat people with disabilities badly because they think they can.

I felt sorry for my mother when we ran into a waitress who acted as if I wasn't capable of ordering my own meal yesterday. I watched as her eyes filled with tears when I was insulted in front of her.

I pushed back. That's what advocates do, even on Mother's Day. Maybe particularly on Mother's Day. I believe I did it for all the mothers out there, in every sense of the word.

After a few exchanges, it became clear that not only was I capable of ordering my own meal, I was capable of a lot more. There was push back, of course, and I pointed out that some thought I was an uppity cripple when I refused to allow myself to be insulted. Mouths dropped open, people almost swooned at my open use of the word. You see, folks like this think it and act on it and don't know how to react when you just put it out there.

The way I see it is if I want to use the word, that's a lot different than someone using it as a taunt.

Cripple is fine as a word
When used crip to crip
But not as a taunt
Or a slam
Then cripple just ripples
Hate and disdain
Of me – as I am.

Copyright 2009 A Different Light

And people don't have to call you a name to treat you badly. Actions speak louder than words.

When I was done, my mother smiled at me.

So did the guy whose wife pushed him into the restaurant and parked him at a table caddy corner to ours. He was a middle aged man and he looked frightened, although the restaurant was practically empty. I spotted him as a newbie, someone who recently acquired a disability.

His head was down at first. He stared at the table, not wanting to be there. I heard his wife say "You need to get out." Turns out she's a nurse. He kept staring at that table, boring holes into it.

After the little incident with the waitress, the guy at the adjacent table was no longer staring at the table. He was smiling at me, his head held high.

I noticed that when the waitress went to take the order over at his table, she didn't treat the guy in the wheelchair as if he was stupid.

That's the great thing about pushing back. Maybe we don't change what people think, but we can start by calling them out when they act inappropriately. It isn't often when I do this that I see the ripple effect where the next guy in the wheelchair is treated a bit better or encounters less of a hassle. But this time it worked, at least for one more customer.

So Happy Mother's day to everyone, to those who advocate for us and with us and encourage us to advocate for ourselves. And to all those mothers who think advocates are uppity cripples, well Happy Mother's Day to you too.

Just don't expect any of us to take your ableist crap, even on Mother's Day.


Disabled NYC said...

I am pleased to report that I had the opposite experience at a restaurant this Mother's Day.

I'd had a bad experience at this restaurant about 10 years ago, also on Mother's Day. I'd called ahead to see if it was wheelchair accessible, was told yes, then arrived to find six steps to get in. "It's ok, we'll carry you in!" promised a manager. "Oh no, you won't!" I answered, and explained just how heavy and delicate motorized wheelchairs are. They managed to rearrange things and get a plank so I could enter through the kitchen (upon which I loudly announced that at least the kitchen was clean). Then, even after that very public negotiation, the waitress asked my mother what I'd like to eat. "Please tell the waitress I'd like the duck with Jack Daniels sauce..."

This Mother's Day, however, went much more smoothly. The restaurant had a newly-built wheelchair ramp, and I noticed I wasn't the only customer with mobility impairments; indeed, there was a good turn out. (I guess the restaurant figured out that elderly ladies with walkers make up a significant part of the population being honored on Mother's Day?) The waitress needed no prompting to talk directly to me, and even propped up the open dessert menu for me after noticing that was how I handled reading the dinner menu. Much better.

Of course, it's entirely possible someone in my party called ahead to warn them about me. But I like to think conditions are slowly improving, one restaurant at a time. It's only through going to restaurants and educating the staff that progress will be made.

Terri said...

This makes me so angry--and I am so glad for your advocacy (and energized by it, feel like I need to go bust down some barriers!)

Yay you taking care of the mothers--in every sense of the word!

FridaWrites said...

I'm glad you spoke up. And good for you for speaking up. I certainly wouldn't have wanted to watch my own daughter sit there and take it.

Greg (Accessible Hunter) said...

you rock Ruth !