“So exactly how much movement do you have in your legs? I always wonder when I see…” <gesture at wheelchair>
HONESTLY. These anecdotes could be hilarious if it wasn’t actually my life we were talking about. Okay they’re still a little bit amusing, in a dark way, but mainly in a “what actually just happened” kind of mind.
In this situation, just like in A Cripple Day Out – “I thought there was a separate line for people like you” and more! , the person involved was a complete stranger, only this time they actually moved closer to me to ask me this question. It can’t even be given the excuse of being next to each other and putting foot in mouth. It was simply just someone living in such an alien mindset that this seemed an acceptable way to spend their journey.
I had been having a very pleasant afternoon, having been out for coffee, cake and book reading time at a chain cafe that has opened locally; finally a cafe with good coffee and clear disabled access without having to go into the center of town. We had both had a lovely time reading our books, reading together, chatting about out books, me crocheting and enjoying a little bit of luxury with our cakes, curled up in comfortable seats. And then we got on the bus home, and this occurred.
For me the most frustrating part was that I was in front of Little Crafter, so felt unable to tell them exactly where they could get to on that bus, and was resigned instead to answer these questions. There is also the sad truth of being female in the world we live in (plus having PTSD), where you live constantly scared of a man taking an aggressive move towards you if you – metaphorically – slap them down when inappropriate. It’s a tough situation, when you’re feeling annoyed but vulnerable, furious but unable to challenge what is making you so indignant.
I ended up answering the questions with a polite response and attitude, hoping it would deter more interrogation, but instead the responses were as obnoxious as the first words.
OH GOD IT GETS DULL HAVING TO DEAL WITH THIS.
“Oh you can walk? Because sometimes, people just get up out of wheelchairs and that is just…!”
Now, off the top of my head I don’t know what the statistics are, but I do remember that it has been said that the majority of wheelchair users can walk small distances, or at least stand. This attitude demonstrated today encourages the myth and attitude that wheelchair users who are not paralyzed are not disabled enough, are not really disabled, do not deserve their wheelchairs. And it’s a bizarre attitude really. Human beings can walk short distances, but you wouldn’t expect them to walk to the other side of the country instead of use a car. Disablist shaming goes on so often, in so many subtle and not-so-subtle ways, that it is impossible to get away from it all.
As I mentioned above, in this situation there was also the factor of being female, and being in front of Little Crafer. I would like to think positively, and say that I may have just seemed approachable, but I think there is a more sinister subtlety to it: I seemed able to be taken advantage of. The man in question, by his own admission, had “always wondered”. But instead of just looking at me out of the corner of his eye and wondering away, he chose to walk over, sit down, and start questioning me. Because I was easy to target. Feminism and disability cross over so often. When I am safe at home, wrapped up in my blanket and wearing my hair on top of my head and with my pajamas on, then I can feel angry about it. But when in the situation, I have to think about protecting myself, and that is a sad state of affairs. Both as a woman, and as a disabled individual, I am at risk. And whether he knew it or not today, this man took advantage of these facts.