Sadly, handicapped remain invisible to many
The column below originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on September 15, 2017. Its author, Nitza Agam, shared it with me because “it is not often our voices are heard, and after this exchange with a rude person, I felt I had to make it known and provide a glimpse for others about daily kinds of experiences.”
I couldn’t agree more Nitza. Thank you for having the courage to speak your mind and share your experiences. People with disabilities will continue to be marginalized until we realize that no matter how we came to disability, we’re in this together. Able-bodied people will never fully understand what our lives are like unless we make a concerted effort to get out of our comfort zone and engage them in a respectful dialogue. This column is the perfect conversation starter.
It is best to remember that able-bodied people have choices that disabled people do not.
It began with loud banging on the door. It ended in a dispute in the theater lobby. The problem had nothing to do with the venue, but with a lack of accessibility to a restroom for the disabled that shared an entrance with a crowded women’s restroom.
My husband already had to humble himself to get in line to the only accessible bathroom. Of course, women used it readily, ignoring the handicap sign on the door and blocking access for those who, like my husband, needed it.
Because he is shy, I asserted his priority and brought him to the front of the line. I am not sure how people seem to be able to ignore a 400-pound wheelchair with my husband in it, but they do, whether it is in a public museum, a movie theater or a department store. They stand in front of him, blocking his view or his ability to enter or exit. If he tries to find another spot, someone will again stand in front of him.
So, there we were, finally granted access to the restroom when the banging began; loud, incessant banging, not a polite, cordial knocking.
When we exited, and my husband attempted to maneuver his chair into the crowded line, I informed the woman who had been banging on the door, that it was quite rude to do so. She retorted that she was making sure someone was actually using the restroom. Eventually, we took our dispute to the lobby, and I asked the manager to join us. That was when the woman decided to leave.
I write this not to pinpoint a specific argument or situation, but to provide a peek into the window of the ongoing invisibility of the disabled and the frequent lack of awareness.
You may be traveling in a city with no accessible cabs, which leaves you stranded or unable to sightsee. It may be that a disabled restroom simply does not exist in a restaurant, or the steps of an entrance lack a ramp, leaving you unable to enter. Often, you will hear the claim, “Well, we are accessible; there is only one step.” For someone in a wheelchair, that one step is tantamount to climbing Mount Everest.
Try finding an accessible restroom in an airport, realizing that it is a great distance from the gate and that you may miss your flight if you need to use it before embarking. Try speaking to an airline representative when he or she decides at the last minute to move your seat away from the restroom, which is likely inaccessible anyway.
Instead of others banging on an accessible bathroom door, or able-bodied people using accessible restrooms, it is best to remember that able-bodied people have choices that, sadly, disabled people do not have.
Please don’t treat them as invisible. They are the ones that need to be banging on the door. There are so many of those doors. Let them in.