Saturday, 1 May 2010

You've come a long way, baby

Today is Blogging Against Disablism Day.  I'm not really sure what to write about today and I've been thinking about it a lot, on and off, all day.

The other night I was at an event and I got talking to an older lady.  It's to do with a project we're both working on and we'd said we were both interested in doing a certain part of it.  There were people from all over this area there but it turns out she lives in the same town as me.  In fact I don't think she's too far from me although she's not right on my doorstep and I'm not 100% sure exactly where she is.

So we were chatting a bit and she asked how far I get around in my powerchair.  I said about going all round town and going on the train in it to Reading, Oxford, Birmingham etc.  Her surprise at that was obvious - it seems she thought I'd be stuck pretty close to home (although she didn't say so in as many words) and she said I'd have to come up to her for a cup of tea.

My first thought about that was that chances are due to access it's not going to happen (old houses where she is I think).  Then I was I wondered a bit that she had seemed surprised that I get out so much.  I didn't get a chance to think about it too much because the problems with the taxi then occurred.  (Off topic update on that, I complained and have heard back they are taking it very seriously and will speak with the driver.)

But it's a long time since anyone's been surprised by the fact I go places.  In fact, I'm not sure I remember that happening before.  It problem has but not in recent memory.  I get surprise about living alone, about sailing and other things that I get up to.  Sometimes people tell me that the going off on trains thing is big to them.  Not something like going out of the house and getting around in my own town.  It's a little thing to me, it really is.

I tell everyone that I do these things "with a disability" because I don't exactly have a choice in the matter.  It comes down to the fact that I want to do these things and to do them I have to do them that way.  The choice is do it or don't do it.  Nothing more than that.  And it usually ends up being more than worth it.  Not always, but often enough to keep me happy and keep me trying.  I didn't tell this lady that because it was just an offhand comment she made which showed her surprise and then she was busy inviting me for tea.  It's such a little thing though that I don't think my usual spiel would have been used there.  Mostly because I was surprised by her surprise.

I probably would leave this entry here and have it as a bit of a gripe about people's attitudes to disability.  Then I mentioned her surprise to my mum.

My mum and I get on really well but at times I think that she doesn't quite get the fight against Disablism and Disphobia.  I get frustrated sometimes if she's so OK about things that make me mad.  Then sometimes her different perspective makes me think about things differently and that's ok.

So I told my mum about this lady being surprised that I get out and about in my powerchair (and in my manual too but we didn't talk about that).  And she pointed out that when this lady was young probably a person like me would have lived in a home (institution).  They wouldn't have had the opportunities that I've got and that will come to me in the future.

This lady's point of view is shaped (as all of ours are) by what we experience when we are younger and growing up.  I know I can make assumptions based on things I thought I knew because to me they are "normal" and find them to be wrong.  It can be quite a hard thing to realise and sometimes it's difficult to admit you're wrong (I'm not trying to say that this lady in anyway needs to apologise to me or admit that).

The other thing that my Mum's comment made me realise was how far we've come.  I can see how far things have come in my lifetime and the changes that have happened.  They're huge.  But I never thought about looking further back before.  And that really changes things.  As well as making that tiny little bit of surprise make a lot more sense.

The only problem is, however, that I don't think we've come anywhere near far enough.  And that's why days like today are so important.

4 comments:

Kate said...

Great post. I get people saying to me "aren't you brave coming on the train on your own". Doing stuff like that is the norm to me but obviously not to them.

Kate

OhWheely . . said...

Yeah I get that too but it doesn't seem to me to be restricted only to the elderly.
My local buses tell me that I'm the only regular wheelchair user they see. Maybe it's just us?

seahorse said...

Good on your for just getting on with things. When I got my powerchair I overdid it on public transport, such was my urge to get out and about. I found the freedom intoxicating. But yes, I get similar reactions.

Stephanie said...

I agree that we haven't come far enough. With technological advances (like your powerchair and this mode of communication) the disability community has made tremendous gains, both socially and otherwise, compared to fifty years ago.

It's impressive, but...
--the technological advancements that are designed (exclusively or not) to benefit the majority far outstrip those that don't
--the accommodations we're capable of but do not enact outstrip those we do
--and the resources devoted to solving these problems seem minimal in comparison to the resources spent on non-marginalized special interest groups (at least in the US).

We've come a long way, but there's a lot more that could be done now.

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