Monday, August 03, 2015

Well?

We had finished lunch in the cafeteria at the ROM. On our way out, heading up to see the exhibits, I had to go the long way round through the cafeteria because the side way was blocked. Sadie joined me and said, "I'm going to push your wheelchair Dave." She loves doing this, she takes hold of the back handles of my power chair and pretends to push me as I drive along slowly. I can't go anywhere near maximum speed because her little legs wouldn't be able to keep up.

I have seen our reflection in downtown store windows and, for what it's worth, I think it's really, really cute. I see a big man in a big wheelchair with a little girl in little flip flops tiny hands on handles pushing the chair with all her might. I love the contrasts and, forgive me for being soppy, I love the love in the image. Foolishly, perhaps, I thought others would see the same, or similar, things.

I guess not.

We were nearly out of the restaurant, easing by the end of long, very long, line ups of people waiting to be served. A woman approached. I saw her coming. My size and my disability give people permission, in some bizarre way, to approach me to say nasty things. I only had a second to brace myself before she was upon me, she spat out, "Just what do you think you are teaching that child."

Now this was a new one on me.

I should be more used to this, it's not uncommon. And I am, but her comment through me. I had no idea what she was talking about or what she was upset about. Her question made no sense to me. Was she upset about my weight and that any child who is in relationship to me will suddenly get fat? Was she upset about my wheelchair and that it's for lazy fat people so the child will get lazy? I had no idea. Usually I understand whatever bigoted question comes my way, but this one, no idea. So I stayed silent.

"Well?" she said staring hard at me. "What do you think you are teaching this child?"

She pressed in on me while I just kept on going, "WELL?"

Sadie, hearing her question and hearing that I did not answer, stuck her head out from behind and said "How to be helpful and kind.

She was startled by Sadie's answer. I looked at her and said, "Yeah, what she said."

The line in front of me blocking my way to the exit eased and suddenly we were through and the lady with the startled face, turned and walked back into her life of judgement and prejudice. I hope she was shaken, just a little bit, by the little girl who pushes a really big chair.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

The Other Ramp

There's a restaurant slash bar that's opened near us that Joe and I have been going to for a while. We were excited to see it, even in the renovation stages, because we could both see that the entrance was free and clear. We decided that we'd give it a try once the renovations were done.

One day while passing, we paused to see if there was an announcement of an opening day. The renovations looked nearly done. As we paused we were noticed by a man standing to the left of the door having a cigarette. He said, "You should come by tomorrow, we are open then." I was surprised by the warmth in his voice and even more by the fact that he spoke directly to me, not to Joe standing beside me. I said that we would drop by in the next couple of days, that we couldn't come the next day. I wanted to see how the whole thing worked for me in my chair.

When we dropped in, we found the place comfortable and welcoming and we had a great time. They have a juke box and that can keep me entertained for hours. I love juke boxes. They didn't have a lot of veggie options but promised that they were getting a veggie burger in shortly. They did just that and  the new menu has even more options.

That's the set up for the story.

Here's the story:

A few days ago we were dropping into the restaurant for dinner. A fellow in a manual wheelchair coming down the street, quickly waved at me. I paused to wait for him. He asked me about the accessibility of the restaurant. I said, "Oh, yes, it has two doors but the entrance is flat."  He said, "Yes, I can see that I can get in, but is it accessible?" It took me a second to understand what he was asking.

He was asking about welcome.

An atmosphere of welcome is an integral part of what accessibility means. Getting in, is one part. Being in ... and being welcome ... is another. I hadn't thought of it that clearly until he asked the question.

I understood why he asked me, a fellow disabled person, that question. Only someone in the disability community would be able to assess 'welcome'. Only someone who has a disability understands what it feels like when disability is 'unwelcome.'

I said, "The doors are flat and the attitudes are ramped."

He said, "Good, looks like a good place to go for a beer then."

I nodded and went in.

And was welcomed.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Just Seen

She was shy, fighting back tears, and desperately trying to understand what was being said to her. She didn't notice me waiting. Neither did he. I could see that she was being trained to operate the cash register, I could hear that English was her second language and one that she was still just beginning to learn. Her teacher, the man who usually ran the kiosk, was brusque and impatient in his teaching methods. Finally, he noticed me, greeted me, I made my purchase. She noticed me too, I saw the kind of 'fear of difference' look on her face that we, who are different, see all the time. She noticed me noticing and looked away quickly.

The next time I went to the kiosk, it's where I buy lottery tickets, or as Joe likes to say, our retirement strategy, so I'm there weekly. She had the same kind of shocked and fearful expression, her English was halting but noticeably better than the week before, she served me, I thanked her. She looked at me again, this time with a bit of curiosity.

It's been over a year now of going to the kiosk and buying tickets. Now, it's different, she chats with me when I buy the tickets and she smiles genuinely when the talk gets silly about what we'd each do with the money from a win. I know, when I go there, I can anticipate welcome.

I saw her yesterday, I was going by the kiosk quickly, aiming to meet Joe downstairs. She saw me and waved and smiled broadly. That was the first time I saw how beautiful she was. She was standing tall, confidently, behind the counter, her gaze was direct and her smile was unrestrained. This was a far cry from the shy young woman who I first saw on her first training day.

I'm writing about her and our first encounter because of how I reacted that first day. The stuff that moved inside me when I saw that her first glance at me, even in the midst of the emotional struggles she was having as she struggled to learn to use the register, was one of fear and, of course, judgement. I moved from the empathy I felt for her as I knew what it was like to be overwhelmed when trying to learn something to the antipathy I felt towards her for the invalidating look she gave me. I had thought to myself, "I can get lottery tickets anywhere, I don't need to go here."

But then I decided several things: I shouldn't have to change my patterns because of someone else's reaction to me; she was in emotional stress and this may have effected the lens through which she saw me; if I decided not to shop in places where this happened, I'd never shop. And then finally, I thought, "give her a break" and that's what I did.

She's grown and changed. She sees me as a full person. There is no hint of prejudice or fear or judgement in how we deal with each other.

I've grown and changed. I'm learning that sometimes my reaction to one thing isn't a reaction to one thing, its a reaction built upon that thing happening over and over and over again. I need to be careful to see one person as simply one person - not as a representative of a whole pile of other people in other circumstances who have done the same thing. I know, now, that it's not be job to educate the community, but even so, I do it by being disabled, being fat, being gay and living in the world - it comes with the territory, get over it.

All this to say, it was nice to see her yesterday.

And it was nice to be just seen.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Plugged In To The Past

Joe has been spending the past few days getting ready to expunge a lot of paper from our apartment. We are clogged with paper. We have files with paper gone yellow and brittle with age. When Joe gets busy with a project, the side effect is that I do too. Over the last few days he's been setting piles down beside me with the unspoken but clearly understood expectation that I will sort through each big pile and turn them into smaller keep and not keep piles. I have been complying because, well, I don't really have any other option.

There are some benefits to doing this kind of thing. I just went through a pile and I found two things. I want to write about each thing separately. Today I want to show you this:


I was brought up short when I found this in the stack of papers that was set beside me this morning. It shook me a little bit, actually, more than a little bit.

As you know I've taken a bit of a leave from blogging as I've been incredibly busy and I got really tired from travel and wedding and other demands on my time. During this time, I've been thinking a lot about the work that I do and the work that I've done. I've been thinking about things that people of my age begin to think about. Life. Choices. Regrets, Celebrations.

In the middle of all that, I get this piece of paper.

It was a gift when given to me.

It's a gift now.

I had just finished doing a workshop for people with intellectual disabilities on rights and responsibility and voice. It had been a really moving experience for me, and, as they always are, it was fun. Several people came to speak to me after the class and thanked me for the workshop. One fellow, sat where he was and was frantically drawing this picture. He brought it to me and shyly handed to me. He said that it showed what he learned from the workshop.

He explained that he listened, got great ideas, got plugged in to his own voice and that he knew he had a responsibility to speak out.

I told him that I loved the picture.

And I did.

And I do.

It's not getting shredded. It's staying here, with me, to remind me again of why I lived the life that I lived and why I made the choices I made and that though I had regrets there have been a lot of celebrations.

I suppose we all go through times when we need to ponder. When the letters that form the word 'listen' rearrange themselves into the word 'silent.' I am still going through that period. It's not a comfortable place to be, but I think I'm well into the journey I need to take. I need to be able to embrace the next part of my life by understanding what came before.

This little piece of paper helped.

And I wanted to share it with you.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Blog Update

First I need to apologize for not posting for the last week without notification to the many faithful readers of this blog. I am being pulled in many directions, right now, for my time and energy, I'm afraid in that tussle, time for updating Rolling Around in My Head has simply not been there. I don't anticipate being able to get back to writing regularly for a few weeks yet. So, see you in early August.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

My Head and My Heart Thank the Man Who Was Not Frank

We had parked just outside the hotel and I descended the ramp and made my way to the door. It's an older hotel and it doesn't have automatic doors. There was no one around to ask for help so I simply waited until Joe was ready to join me. Once in, I mentioned to the fellow behind the desk that there were no door openers. He nodded and said that the hotel was due for some renovations and that the door opener was on the list. OK, my mandatory 'by the way' conversation was out of the way.

After check in, I gave Joe the keys and asked if he wanted to join me shopping at a large store nearby. He was done with shopping, as we did some half way through the trip just as an excuse to get out of the van. I said I'd zip off and then meet him back at the room. He said he'd be at least ten minutes unloading the car. I laughed. I don't shop for 10 minutes.

So I went, along the side of the road, then across the road then down the large parking lot towards the store. I had a couple of particular things in mind, found approximations of them, bought them, and headed back. On my way back I worried that there wouldn't be anyone around to help me in. The wait for someone could be long. But when I rounded the corner I saw several people gathered around the door talking, having a few beer and smoking.

I rolled up, all jolly hockey sticks, and said, "Glad you are all here, could someone get the door for me?"

"For fuck's sake," said a bearded and bellied guy, "Don't they have a door button thing?"

:"No," I said, that's why I was glad to see you all."

He grabbed the door and opened it for me, quicker than his size or steadiness would have predicted. Another fellow said, "I'll go get the inside door." Perfect.

As I was going by the second guy, he reached out to give my head a pat, the first guy stopped him short by saying, "Geesssuss Frank keep your hands off him. He's a grown man in a wheelchair not a pet,"

I shouted out 'Thanks,' to the guy behind, but I don't think he heard me over Frank protesting that he was only being friendly. I didn't hear the conversation which continued on as I turned to head to the room.

But, my head, literally and my heart figuratively owe a debt to the man who spoke up.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Tunnel

Photo Description: building underconstruction onf the south east corner of Yonge and Bloor, pedestrian walkways (tunnels) run round the building.
The top part of the route between where we live and where we bank is under construction, on both sides of the street. For the longest while it was just the east side of the street, so we always made sure to travel the west side of the street. Now, construction is impossible to avoid.

To keep all us pedestrians safe, they've crafted wooden tunnels that we need to go through. They look rickety and like they'd never actually stop something heavy that falls from a great height, but they're there and we're supposed to feel secure. I don't think, honestly, about security when I go through them. I just think, 'shit they are narrow.'

All sorts of weird things happen when I go through the tunnels. There is more than adequate room for me to pass on one side and someone else pass on the other. But somehow many people lose their ability to measure space when I come towards them in the wheelchair. They fling themselves against the opposite walk, or put on scaredy-cat faces as they go by as if they are in huge danger. There's room, more than adequate room, but they are freaked out.

Needless to say, I don't like going through the tunnels but, also needless to say, I have to, that is if I'm going to be able to do my banking.

We are travelling again today and so yesterday, after work, Joe and I headed up to the bank. I was in the wooden tunnel and there were two young men coming towards me. They were walking side by side, chatting. They saw me and as they got close one tucked in just a little behind the other. There's nearly enough for two people to pass on that side. (See, I said there was adequate room.) And because he'd moved for me, I said, "Thanks." He said, "It's OK mate, no thanks necessary, you've got as much right to be here as we do." I almost steered into the side of the tunnel.

That's a response I'd not anticipated because I'd never had it.

His voice was casual, as if making this observation was so obvious that it was like a small joke.

On the way back from the bank, as I headed into the tunnel, I heard is voice in my mind, "It's OK, you've got a right to be here." It's amazing the power of positive words. They stay, they stick, they shore up courage, and determination, and belonging.

Because after all, though it's not a joke, I do have a right to be there.