Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Door Arm-y

I'm not sure what it is about the bump that makes it one that is really difficult for me to negotiate. To be sure, I get over these kinds of things in other places, in other doors. But the one here, in the entrance to my own apartment building, it's just brutal. I've been lifting weights since February 1st, I can push myself uphill, I can get myself up and over the small bumps that accompany almost every curb, but the threshold of that front door simply doesn't want to let me in.

I've developed the only technique that works, because that's what people with disabilities do, we encounter barriers and figure out how to manage them. That technique is to hold the handrails on both of the front doors, tilt my chair to a 45 degree angle, then act all Olympic bobsled rider at the top of the run. Back and forth a couple of time then a huge push through, the chair careens towards the threshold and pops over. Works almost every time, when it doesn't I almost throw myself out of the chair. Because of that Joe watches me do this with a mixture of humour and horror. Humour because he finds everything funny, horror at the idea of getting me off the floor and back into the chair.

We manage, that's the message here. But we manage when I do this the way I need to do this. I've written before about the problem I have when people want to hold the door for me and the difficulty I have in getting the door back so I can use it. When they hold the door open, I quite literally, can't get in. For the most part people in the building have learned to listen to me when I request something, rarely, or ask them, politely, to not help.

But couple days ago I found myself in the middle of a kindness fight between two men and one woman all determine to hold the door open for me. One fellow came out, saw me rushed to get the door, before I could stop him another guy came by saying to the first guy, 'I've got it.' The both held on a second later a young woman was coming in and reached from behind and said to the two guys, 'you guys go ahead, I'm on my way in.' For a second they all just held the door in silence. A kindness competition was going on, and me, sitting under all these arms.

In that silence I found opportunity, 'I need the door so I can use the handrail to get in.' A choir, 'No, it's OK.' I looked to Joe who also saw the absurdity of the situation and had started laughing. They glanced at him, and though his laughter he explained how I got through the door, unable to speak most words he mimed them while ha ha ha-ing through the explanation. I looked up at them they looked down at me. Then we all just laughed. They let go of the door, I grabbed the bar, I already had the other one in my hand and I pushed back and forth a couple times and then shot into the lobby to their applause.

The oddest entry into my building I've had yet.

Life in a wheelchair - expect the unexpected.

Life in a wheelchair - develop a sense of humour.

Life in a wheelchair - there are moments when taking a bow is appropriate. 

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Situation Ain't Me

"I'd curious, do you blame God, or genetics or your own poor health habits for your present situation?"

I was reading an article on the stabbings of disabled people in Japan, an act of domestic terrorism, and a hate crime targeting those of us with disabilities. The article was written by a person with a disability, you could tell that simply because the terms 'hate crime' and 'domestic terrorism' were used. I still have not seen those terms used in mainstream media written by a non-disabled person. I DID see an article in the Japan times using the term 'mercy killings.' So there we have the great divide, those of us in the disability community and those who simply see us, to greater and lesser degrees, as burdens of one kind or another.

I read comments here on my blog and on my Facebook page with great interest and curiosity, I like seeing how this community of readers and those with whom we have agreed to call ourselves 'friends' on Facebook react. In both places, there are wonderful people who discuss, disagree and sometimes debate issues and topics that I raise. But, reading comments in other forums is a very different thing.

For example, I posted a video of one of the mother's who's son died in the Orlando massacre at the Pulse nightclub as she spoke at the Democratic National Convention. I went to the comments and was shocked at the hate and the vitriol aimed at her. People even claimed that the massacre never actually happened but was staged by the anti-gun people. Mostly the called her the 'B' word, mostly they accused her of simply being a bad actress paid for the performance. Mostly they assaulted her in any way, using any argument they could. I get very cold when I read these kinds of remarks.

The same was true when I read the remarks of a disabled writer writing about a disabled issue and bringing in a disability lens. I was shocked. The attack on the writer was astonishing. Oddly they'd attack him, verbally victimize him and then challenge him on playing the victim card. Wow. But one of the comments that struck me was the one I opened with.

"I'd curious, do you blame God, or genetics or your own poor health habits for your present situation?"

Hmmm.

 The reader simply didn't get the situation. The situation, as in the case of the murders in Japan, which was the topic discussed, isn't disability. The situation is the atmosphere of prejudice, ableism and disphobia in which people live. The situation is the lack of access not only to buildings, to justice and to simple respect, not the disability at all. The 'situation' that transgender people find themselves in, when confronted by a gang of bigots with weapons on a street, isn't the fact that the person is transgendered, it's the fact that there are people with weapons on the street.

The present situation is something that we as disabled people experience is something that I'd dearly like to discuss. But how can that conversation be had with people who think that we, ourselves, are the situation? How can we speak with people who filter our words through pity and hatred? How can we be heard above the white noise that our difference and our disability create in the minds of those who believe that the noise is cause by our discordant lives rather than their disgust at our bodies?

How?

God?

Genetics?

Health Habits?

No, buddy, you ... you are the situation.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Running Out To Do A Chore: Dialogue

Really, I'm fine.

No, I don't need someone to be with me.

No, you don't need to call anyone.

Please, could you move out of the way of my wheelchair?

Seriously, I an fully independent.

OK, yes I need help with some things, but not with being out on my own.

I'd like you to move so I can get by you.

Really, you don't need to call the police.

No, I don't have a minder.

Really, I don't need a minder.

I don't have a staff at home, I have a husband there.

Yes, I'm allowed to be gay.

No, he doesn't have to be with me when I go out.

Please get out of the way of my wheelchair.

I'm not answering that question.

If you don't move, I'm going to call the police.

There's a security guard, 'over here, over here.'

This woman has me trapped here and won't let me move because she thinks I need a minder.

No, I don't need a staff.

Yes, I have ID but why do I have to show you ID? I just need your help to get out of here.

No, I don't have a certificate that says I'm allowed to be out on my own.

I'm done, I'm calling the police, and you sir are in real trouble. Your job is to help me from a woman who has clearly trapped me, a wheelchair user, in a corner and is blocking my free access.

Dial

(Everyone leaves)

I go on, alone without assistance.

WTFF.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

That's What Matters

"That's where I had my accident," she said, pointing to a bus stop, " I got off the bus, took a couple steps and fell straight back." We, the driver and I, were a little surprised to hear her voice as she had sat quietly while he and I gabbed about disability politics and ableism - he's really into all that stuff. We then listened to her tell her story of the day she became disabled.

She didn't know that what happened would lead to her using a power wheelchair right off. It took a couple of weeks before the damage that had happened during the fall to become fully evident. She spoke of having to adapt her apartment, make sure that she could shower and do all the bathroom stuff that people do, get used to a new way of getting around. Learning the ropes of navigating the world in a wheelchair.

Clearly she had been listening to our conversation because she started talking about her experiences with prejudice as a woman, as a visible minority, and as a wheelchair user. About how people treated her when trying to access the subway, how they yelled at her and cussed her out using her gender, her race and her disability equally in their verbal attack on her.

Then quietly, she spoke of how she resisted pressures to give up her home, to move in with relatives, to be taken care of ... she would not be anyone other than who she was. Some would see her and see fragility and they would be wrong. She had a will of iron and a determination to live her life on her own terms. That's who she was before, that's who she was now.

It's odd, she reflected, to be able to point exactly at a place and exactly state a time when life changed, but she said, "my life changed, I didn't. That's what matters.

And it is, isn't it?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Japan, Hate and 12 Days

Purposely planned.

Specifically targeted.

Openly avowed.

The hate killing of disabled people in Japan is a chilling story. Let's go over a few facts, all of which are reported in the Guardian in clear detail.

1) the man turned himself in stating that 'it's better that disabled people disappear.'

2) he wrote a letter to a politician wherein he outlined the need to kill disabled people, the Guardian reported that:  "In the letter, Uematsu argued that the government should permit euthanasia for disabled people, said he would be willing to carry out such killings himself, and detailed how he would do it."

3) a direct quote from the letter:  “I envision a world where a person with multiple disabilities can be euthanized, with an agreement from the guardians, when it is difficult for the person to carry out household and social activities.”

4) he planned to kill 470 disabled people, though he also said he'd turn himself in after killing 260 disabled individuals.

5) all this was known when he was hospitalized, involuntarily.

6) a man with clearly stated goals of mass murdering people with disabilities, a man who had planned it out, who made it abundantly evident that he had a desire to eradicate disabilities from society, spent 12 days in hospital before being released. (12 days! Less than 2 weeks. I guess mass murder of people with disabilities, clearly stated and planned, isn't that much of a mental health concern. 12 days!)

The discussion of and public endorsement of the concept of mercy killing of people with disabilities had taken root in this man with alarming ferocity. No doubt he will be spoken of as someone who has mental health issues, and maybe he does, but when you read what he says, what he says isn't far from what most people have come to believe. His statement to the police upon turning himself in that 'it's better that disabled people disappear' isn't a deranged rant by someone out of control, it's a calm statement of fact that echos the sentiment of many in society. People with disabilities know this sentiment, we hear it, we experience it and we have come to fear what it will do. Our lives are devalued, are needs seen as special and therefore burdensome, our rights are declared to be gifts rather than guarantees.

But there's more.

A specific, targeted attack aimed at eradicating a group - a mass murder of a group of people because of who they are, and no where does anyone speak of hate. No mention of this as a hate crime against people with disabilities. No. Where. I have not read every paper of course, but in my searches on the Internet the only time that 'hate crime' has been used to describe this event it's by a disabled writer on a disability blog or on a Facebook post.

Why isn't it a hate crime?

I think the answer goes deeper than 'they don't get it.' I think it's because, maybe a little, people see the logic of what he's done.

And that scares the hell out of me. 

Monday, July 25, 2016

Change

The line up for the light was long, we knew it would change over several times before we could make our turn. There was a man, hat out, walking the line of cars, asking for money. I had no change at all and was out of Tims cards, which I usually give out to people who ask for cash, as I made a mental list to pick up some more, Joe was digging in his pockets to find what change he had. When the fellow arrived at our car, Joe said, "This is all the change I've got, sorry it isn't more."He took the change and said, "Listen, man, you don't owe me anything, I'm grateful for anything you give."

Joe laughed, as he does, and wished the man a good day. He didn't leave. He smiled and said, pointing to the line up of cars behind us. "These people in these cars, they don't owe me anything either,' then he paused, 'but you know what I wish they understood?" He paused again, "I wish they understood that anyone of them could end up where I am today, I wish they understood that even if they don't want to give me money, they could still give me respect. I hate it when people act as if I'm not there, or as if just looking at me would make them dirty, if they don't want to give me money, say no, I'm good with that. Just don't make it like I don't exist."

I spoke next, "I use a wheelchair and it's the same, people either stare at me or they pretend I don't exist. It's one of the other. I get just wanting respect. I really do."

He thanked us again, "For the change and for a moment's break from being just a beggar.'

I understood what he meant.

Everyone who lives with difference does.


Sunday, July 24, 2016

Wendy on His Way

Yesterday we stopped into the pub for a quick couple of drinks before heading home. I've written about this place before, for me it represents one of the few places of real welcome out there in the community. Real welcome happens when the place itself is structured to be wheelchair accessible and where the people who are there ensure that any blockage of a passageway because of placement of chairs or other stuff in the aisles are moved and where the locals make way at a crowded bar for a couple of others. I like going here even though we don't get there as often as I'd like.

We were chatting with two guys, one who had sprained his ankle dancing the night before and one who was talking about a twisted knee, I sat there listening and said, 'I can't wait for my turn cause I'm going to win this one without breaking a sweat.' They suddenly realized what I meant and we all laughed. When my disability is fair game for a joke, I know that I'm in a good and safe place.

Just before we left a nice fellow we've known for years, Wendy, was getting ready to leave and I saw him make his way over to a walker. We hadn't seen him for a long time and were surprised to see the walker. Wendy is one of those guys who just never seem much to age and always has had a quick wit and a friendly approach. I never realized until then that I never knew his birth name, he has been nick named Wendy for all the years and years we've known him and I can't imagine calling him something like Charles or Henry. He's neither transexual or into drag, he's just a guy called Wendy. Anyways, Wendy had a walker.

He stopped to chat, as we knew he would, and he told us the story of getting the walker after having a few severe health problems this year. He laughed as he told the story of being in a coma for three weeks and how he collapsed at a New Years party ... and he made it all quite funny. As for the walker, his transition from walking freely to walking with a walker was made with such a matter-of-factness that I was startled. No complaining or carping about now needing a mobility device, instead he saw it just as simply a means to getting out and getting on with his life.

I sat in my wheelchair, talking to him in his walker, and there was a new kind of understanding between us as we spoke about the things we use to get around. 'It's part of me now,' he said, 'and it keeps me free.'

Wendy was free before and he's free now.

That's the point of mobility devices, you know. The only point that matters. The free stay free, the captive are let go. I wish people could understand that as easily as Wendy did ... but then, maybe, in his youth, he spent time with Peter Pan.