Monday, October 17, 2005
I recently moved to a new city for a job. Since I was new to the city, I obviously didn't know the city bus routes very well, so I got myself hooked up to the adapted transport right away and used that through the winter. When the weather started getting nicer, and the snow started disappearing, I decided to look more into the city bus routes, and found that a lot of the city buses were wheelchair accessible. There was one bus that would go almost directly from my house to my place of work.
There was a problem, however. Directly outside my place of work was a bus stop that had no ramp to get on the curb, so I couldn't get to it. I had to go to the next bus stop, a block or so away. Now this posed a problem because all my colleagues waited at the closer bus stop which I couldn't get to without help. For 4 months I waited at my bus stop, and got on the bus after they were already on and seated, usually in the back. Sometimes I would go down to the bus stop with them and they would help me onto the sidewalk, but this made me feel extremely awkward. I consider myself friends with one of them, but not so much the others. I really hate to ask for help as I feel I'm inconveniencing others. The curb is rather high and so it's awkward to get me up onto it. Also, when on the bus, they can't always find a place to sit near where I have to be, so they end up standing, which again makes me feel awkward.
Most of the time we didn't leave together, as our offices are not all together (well, theirs' are, mine wasn't near theirs) so I would go by myself to the other bus stop. When I saw that they were on and sitting together near the back, I couldn't help but feel left out, although I know it wasn't their intention. It really bothered me that I couldn't just get to and sit wherever I wanted. For a couple weeks I was replacing someone who was away on vacation. Their office was located near the others'. Since they were not used to going with me to the bus, they would all leave together still and I would go to my bus stop as usual. This really started to bother me coz I was right there when they left. I finally decided to speak to my friend and asked her if she would mind if I came with them. She said no, of course not and that she'd see if I were ready on her way out. She said it was good I brought it to her attention coz sometimes when you don't have to deal with something, you don't notice it. I felt much better about this, you wouldn't believe how it was bothering me. I had trouble sleeping coz I didn't know how to deal with this. I felt that it would be too imposing to include myself when it meant they had to help me. Anyway, it turned out very well and I included myself sometimes, and they included me other times. Sometimes I had to stay later, or they did, and we didn't go at the same time, and that was fine.
During this time I decided to try and see if I could get a ramp put onto that curb corner. It took a while to finally get in touch with the guy in charge of that, and when I finally spoke with him he said "It is accessible". I said "no, it's not". He said "yes, it is". After going on like that for a while, he pulled out a map and showed me where it was accessible. It WAS accessible!! However, the way to get there was a little roundabout, so it was something that neither I, nor my colleagues, had noticed. So finally, I was able to go down on my own and just show up at the stop! After 4 months of worrying, planning, asking help of others, etc...!!! The ironic thing is that now that that happened, work is slow and my coverage is not needed for the time being, and in a month or so I'll have to start taking adapted transport again due to the snow, but at least if I'm ever there for a long period of time or get a permanent position, I'll know I can take the bus!
Anyone ever have that kind of experience? It's so hard to explain it to someone who hasn't been through something similar. It may sound small, but it's such a huge issue. Just consider that wheelchair users often have to use back doors, sit with only one companion so you can't go to a concert with a group, sit separated from your companion, have poor or no choice of where to sit, be excluded from certain activities because of lack of access (like being invited to people's houses because they have steps), face ignorance, stupidity, prejudice, ableism, have people not consider you a potential romantic partner, wife, mother, assume you can't have kids, can't travel, hold jobs, be educated, get around. I am used to my life and I am pretty independent. I do pretty much everything myself, but I can't do it all. Yet I still face all these things and that is the hardest thing of all. I have a friend who is also disabled and she is big on philosophy and social policy. She said to me once "you're not disabled, it's the world around you that is disabled." It took me a while to get my head around that, but she is right. It is the sidewalk that is disabled for not having the ramp. It is not I who should adapt to my environment, the environment needs to adapt for me and others with disabilities and abilities and differences in general. This relates to all sorts of differences; people who are too short, too tall, don't speak the official languages, don't speak at all. All sorts. But I, as many other people with disabilities, have been brought up to believe that it is I who must adapt to the able-bodied world. And it leaves me with a humungous burden and feeling of inadequacy. I must be flawed, broken, unwanted because I can't do things the way others do and I must always remind others that things must be done differently because I am there.