So there’s this thing that happens when people are friends with or work/volunteer in some capacity with variously disabled folks. Something about how, even with the introduction of a totally new experience, things are supposed to stay precisely as they have before that person came along.
i’ve experienced this many times, this being in the way / messing things up / “changing the vibe” simply by being myself, disabled, in the specific and general ways i am disabled, even though people have invited me into a space / said that a space welcomes me.
Let’s say you work in a bustling office. Up until my gimped arrival in the space, people ran around wildly with packages and boxes, files and coffees. Because i’m on wheels for example, i gotta watch out more than usual (because holy shit do ENabled people ever get pissy when you run into them or get in their way!), and so do the people on foot. Some of them are fine with a slightly slower pace, but others balk at the change. It’s simply unacceptable for them to have to both welcome me as a disabled worker, and also do anything beyond that that may have even the slightest impact on how they exist in the space. Why should they have to change anything when it was all going so well / timely before?
Or let’s say you put on a film night. Where before you had little awareness of folks on wheels (and/or requiring other accommodations like needing to be at the front so we can lip read to supplement our hearing, or to access ASL, or because that’s where the scent free “section” is, or for any number of reasons), and just laid the space out however you felt like it; now, you’re being more thoughtful about the layout because you want folks using various wheeled and non-wheeled mobility devices to be comfortable, not separated off from others, and also have a clear bathroom and fire escape route for everyone. So some changes to seating arrangements need to be made, but it’s nothing you cant brainstorm. You’re doing it! But some folks dislike the “vibe” of the new set-up, or don’t like that they can’t sit on the floor anywhere they please, and so on. Why should they be put out because i want to be in the space too? So do you bow to pressure from the bulk of the folks there who are paying enough to make the event feasible, and put things back? Or do you say “fuck that, get a pillow and go sprawl in the corner if you want, asshole”?
Or take bike lanes for example. i use the bike lanes in my mobility scooter. While most folks seem to be ok or at least indifferent to it, there are those who have yelled at me for it. They don’t think i should be there, they don’t think anyone but speedy bicyclists should be there; or they are open to the idea but not the reality of having disability scooters etc on the paths -which usually means there will be someone going much slower than many bicyclists. It certainly must be very inconvenient to have to swerve around us! So folks would prefer if scooters were on the sidewalks i guess, but it gets awkward when i get screamed at for riding there, too.
These are just a few minor examples, others run from the mundane to the ridiculous, and i’ve pretty much experienced the gamut.
It’s one thing to invite a disabled person into your life, your building, your workplace, your home, your event, your bed; and it’s another thing to actually welcome us. When you welcome us, you welcome all of the things that go along with “us” – including things which may be inconvenient for you, may be different than what you’re used to; it may mean something that took 20 minutes before now takes 25, or 40; or may mean you need to choose a different path to get through a space; it may simply mean adapting a very simple change to your schedule, it may mean having to scrap something altogether – my god! Yeah, get in line, buddy.
If you can’t deal with the fact that it takes me longer to do something than it takes you to do something, you’re actually not welcoming me. If you insist on your timeline being the One True Timeline Against Which Time & Meaning Itself Must Be Judged, you are actually not welcoming me. If you think the layout of your event can remain the same as it was before fatties and Deaf folks and folks with kids and attendants and anyone in a wheelchair accessed it, you’re actually not welcoming us. When you prioritize your need to avoid even the slightest tiniest inconvenience at my expense, you’re actually not welcoming me, and you’re also not preparing yourself for the bigger, more tricky changes that are inevitable. You are paying (however well intended) lip service to inclusion, which is no inclusion i want to be part of.
Often, people like the idea of “inclusion” if folks with disabilities, they really do from the heart, but don’t understand that it may very well mean a change is needed, and that we usually have a great deal of experience compromising and changing our own schedules and habits to suit your able bodied world. It would be nice if able bodied folks more often took the time and effort to recognize that when you invite us, you will need to do some adjusting, that things will simply not be as they have always been. That’s just the way things go. And you never know, you may even like the change! Or maybe you won’t.
But one thing is for sure: shit is gonna change, for you or for someone you care about or value right now, and when that happens you are so gonna kick yourself in the ass for not practicing this stuff sooner, i promise.