Monday, October 4, 2010

Two Way Traffic

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."


Disabled NYC said...

Occasionally, it's useful to be the 300 pound gorilla. I sometimes order General Admission tickets to concerts instead of going to the wheelchair section, and a few times security guards have tried to kick me out, thinking I shouldn't be allowed in with the rest of the public. I repeat "I'm not going anywhere, I paid for my ticket like everybody else," until they realize there's no way they can force me to move. Only once has a guard gone for a supervisor, yelling "There's no way you're allowed in GA!", while I explained to the very nervous guards left with me that the wheelchair section was provided as a convenience to wheelchair users, but to require me to stay there would be segregation. The first guard returned shamefaced and quietly said "You can stay.", so he must have gotten some version of my speech from the supervisor.

(And then the head of the band's security team came up and politely asked if I would like to move to the VIP section next to the stage where it was less crowded. Well, ok! Since you put it that way...)

Ruth said...

That's a great story. Yep, I hear what you're saying about being the 300 pound gorilla being useful sometimes!

Dirty Butter said...

A great comment. But it doesn't change the fact that it's been several years I guess since I read your blog, but you are still having to fight for the same things you did back then. How sad.

As a Southerner, I'd like to think you don't live in our neck of the woods. I just can't imagine people around here behaving this way. They might think it, but I just can't see anyone actually being brazen enough to tell you to move out of the way!

Thomas Nelson said...

A few years ago I had a front row ticket to a Tom Petty concert at a venue in San Francisco. I had a great view of the stage...until people stood up. When I tried to move forward instead of helping me get to the front the security guards pushed me back. Sensitivity training perhaps?