I really didn’t want to have to write this post. The first time I saw this photo tweeted I told myself, ‘just refresh the page, it will go away.’ I opted for the Dorothy ruby slipper solution. I’d open my eyes and I’d be back in that blessed 2016 everyone keeps talking about. (You know, the one where apparently social justice reigns supreme – at least according to all the dudes writing columns complaining about how it cramps their style.)
Alas it’s day two – or is it day three – of Trudeau carries man in wheelchair down the stairs fest and I have to say something.
I’m guessing at this point Trudeau’s political opponents are salivating ‘hey, maybe this crip bitch will knock the Trudeau love-fest down a notch or two.’
Sorry to disappoint but, in this case at least, Trudeau isn’t the problem (unless someone has evidence to suggest Trudeau and/or his staff arranged to have the man there and time the escalator break down in conjunction with his visit).
Nope – the problem isn’t him or me – it’s the rest of you. It’s a culture that gives out merit badges for ‘helping’ disabled people – usually in the most unhelpful ways. You applaud yourselves for the tiniest acts of decency.
You pat yourselves on the back and me on the head.
I should qualify – the problem wasn’t Trudeau at the time (the photo is from 2014). HOWEVER he is now Prime Minister of Canada and it is on him to NOW ensure we have national legislation that mandates accessibility.
As Andre Picard of the Globe and Mail wrote, “In Canada, we continue to treat inclusion of people with disabilities as a privilege rather than a right.”
I should also make clear, I am not speaking for anyone but myself. And my reaction is based on the context more than the content – meaning my daily life and historical, political, economic and social context influences how I perceive those tweets. Am I right to hear that tone that’s become the white noise of my life – ‘well, isn’t that special… ____insert a non-disabled person carrying an umbrella over the head of a someone using a wheelchair or someone in a wheelchair, you know – existing?
What Trudeau did was what any person able and willing to do so should do – IF – the person using the wheelchair wants the help, which one assumes in this case the guy did.
‘IF’ – that qualifier seems lost on legions of non-disabled people. I have literally had a stranger push my wheelchair from behind me while I was looking at a pair of jeans in a store window. Newsflash – people in wheelchairs window-shop too. Some version of this happens a lot. Whenever I turn around to see why I am moving and politely ask them to stop pushing me, their faces transform from looking incredibly pleased with themselves to shocked and then angry in a matter of seconds. And then there are those who ignore my wishes ‘it’s okay, I don’t mind’ they tell me. Apparently the fact that I do is irrelevant.
Still others treat me like an errant shopping cart when they perceive me to be in their way – no really – people do this.
I admit sometimes I may appear as though I need help – and honestly occasionally I might – but how can anyone think it is okay to physically move me without speaking to me and getting my consent first? Also 98% of the time, I don’t. I never mind being asked —you know, spoken to, like you would before walking up and shoving a standing person into another spot.
Maybe the ableism – yeah, I know another ism to upset your world – is louder for me because it’s relatively new.
About a decade ago I developed an auto-immune disease. While doctors debated what was happening I went from running 70K/week to using a cane, a walker and then using a power chair. Relatively recently, I managed to regain some arm strength and started using a manual chair. So yes, sometimes it is almost comical how slowly I move uphill (no words for how much I hate cross-slopes which mean I basically use one arm to climb the hill and one arm to fight gravity pulling me into the road). I live in Vancouver, British Columbia and unless you are planning on following me around everywhere – please no – I almost always prefer to tackle these things on my own.
When I first got my manual wheelchair the guy who sold it to me actually volunteered his time to help me learn how do wheelies and jump curbs. Imagine how I felt when every time we did so people would yell at him – I thought one guy was going to punch him. They were incensed that he was standing there watching me struggle.
Why not be angry at me? Why not question my judgment?
What was even more amazing was that when I tried to interject and explain he was my trainer I was completely ignored – what is the auditory equivalent of being invisible?
FYI, this guy was helping me. But I’m guessing that a photo of that kind of helping would not get retweeted even if he was Prime Minister. Maybe ask yourself why that is.
And let’s be honest, even now some people are looking at that photo and thinking ‘OMG, he touched a cripple.’ I see you – I hear you. I notice your eye avoidance, the cashiers who drop the change on the counter or who hand it to the person who is not even with me, the people who cross themselves when I pass their path, the ones who say things like ‘I would rather die than be disabled’ often while I am in earshot, the horrible incessant inspiration porn that is premised on the idea that my ability to do ordinary things is somehow extraordinary.
If you must get all excited by this photo then why not talk about how cool it might feel to be helped down the stairs by the then future leader of your country? Better yet, why not question why in this blessedly amazing 2016 there was no damn elevator and accessibility is still a maybe, sometimes thing.
Why? Because we are props. To be used, abused or tossed aside depending on ‘your’ needs.
So, maybe I’m wrong to interpret this blushing bounty of ‘perfect man – he’s handsome and nice to people with disabilities too – what more could you ask for?’ Maybe I’m wrong to think this is framing me as equivalent to a stray dog or a lost child. Maybe I’m being too sensitive. Maybe I’m an angry crip who is developing a bloody chip on her shoulder.
But you know what? If I am – it’s because of you.