Limiting Movement

What limits my movement? My wheelchair or society?
When I became disabled, I approached the expectations of what I could do and where I could go on my previously able self. As a disabled person, I was full of ableist notions – “I can’t expect them to alter that just because I’m in a wheelchair.” I think we all know that I’ve mostly left that behind, but it’s tough. It’s tough to keep asking for things, tough to keep coming up with the solutions.

You may have read my previous posts on washrooms, and how accessibility to places to pee has been a longstanding battleground for most marginalized groups. There’s also the issue of limiting someone’s movement generally, making places that are inaccessible to some people in society, and society being okay with that.

I read this article in the New York Times today, and it really struck a chord with me. There are definitely kitchen and alleyways that I have seen that I would have preferred not to have travelled through. And it definitely makes you feel ‘welcome’ when they have to clear garbage, recycling and broken chairs out of the way for you to get in. The entrance of the restaurant is made into a welcoming place for most people, but not if you can’t wheel in through the front door. And once you get inside, what if you find a restaurant of booths or those tall chairs and tables? Yep. Everything is at nose level for me. 

I’m also struck by the term segregation. As a white person, I wouldn’t feel comfortable using that term. Being a white person means I speak from a position of white privilege. But as a black woman, Doucette makes the case strongly, and yes, I agree. It’s segregation based on limiting the movement of people; limiting their access to places that others are allowed to go to freely.

If I arrive at a restaurant and the way in for me isn’t clear, what does it say? It says more than they don’t want my business. It says I’m not welcome there. It says that people like me, who look like me, move like me, are not welcome in their space. There is a presumption, as mentioned in the article, that I shouldn’t be out alone, that I need a carer who can go inside and ask if they are accessible. What if I was on my own? What if – shock horror – two people in wheelchairs were rolling by together and just felt like dropping in for lunch?!? Why do I have to plan in advance? My movement is limited by society and not by my wheelchair.

In the recent BC Liberal platform, they made a commitment that they would “ensure all government owned or leased customer service buildings are fully accessible by 2020 (exceptions for heritage properties)”. Sounds good, eh? Not so fast. The emphasis on customer service buildings assumes that disabled people are recipients of services, but not employees. It should be all of their buildings – and it should have happened already. And excluding heritage properties? Let’s take a moment to think about that. (And yes, English Michelle is rolling her eyes at BC “heritage properties”! It feels like they were built yesterday!)

The old Michelle, the ableist Michelle would have said “well of course not heritage buildings. We don’t want to spoil things.” Stop and think about it. Once again, a portion of the population are being excluded. We are not able to have that same experience, ever. And so many building code regulations have been grandfathered so that buildings don’t have to make it accessible. My local McDonalds used that excuse for the washroom – a place you go to to eat and drink doesn’t want me to go to the washroom! McDonalds! And they had just done a major renovation, knocking down walls to put in a fireplace! In McDonalds!

In 2017 there are solutions, creative solutions, that mean there can be equity in accessibility. I was really struck by this solution to a Visitor’s Centre at Dry Falls, Washington State, so much so that I made Ian video me having a ride! I think they told me the building was built in the 50s. This solution certainly didn’t alter the “character” of the place any more than installing stairs and a hand railing does. 

I have seen many solutions – look at all of these solutions in genuinely old buildings! Sesame Access looks so creative and I would love to go on a lift that pops out from stairs like that! Open Sesame! I do hope it is signed clearly so that people in wheelchairs know it is there, and they don’t have to ask someone to ask for them.

It is genuinely possible to include everyone. The first thing that needs to change isn’t the building, it’s people’s attitudes. Creating access for me is just as much as a right as building stairs for you.

Don’t make me come after you with this look on my face – you know I will!

In my wheelchair, on a sidewalk, unable to fit between a railing from a store and the back of an overhanging pick-up truck