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    Monday, May 01, 2006

    Blog Against Disablism Day

    Blogging Against Disablism Day

    Goldfish is hosting and also gives us rundown on the language of disability, which is nice for us normatively-abled folks to know.

    I want to blog about disability specifically in my home, New York City. As a starting point, I wanted to link to and quote Jean Ryan's recent piece in Ragged Edge which both disturbed me and rang familiar:

    I rode subways for 25 years until I became disabled and a wheelchair user. There is no subway elevator within six miles of me, and none planned until 2020. The elevators that are on the subways are unreliable.

    I ride NYC Transit express buses between Brooklyn and Manhattan. During non-rush hour they run only once an hour. We have problems with poorly trained New York City Transit and MTA bus drivers. We have poorly maintained equipment. And we have angry passengers.

    Finding an available, accessible
    taxi is like an Elvis sighting.

    A few weeks ago the driver of the X28 bus refused to let me board, because I could not safely board backwards on the lift. Although New York City Transit policy says we can board either forward or backward, this bus driver wouldn't allow me to board forwards.

    When I insisted, he called a supervisor, and we waited.

    The other passengers got off to get on another bus.

    As they came out, they formed a line. Their eyes were full of hate. Many cursed me: "You selfish b----!"

    I was crying.

    They blamed me for the driver's refusal to let me on. I was making them late to work.

    "You people should not take the bus!" one shouted at me. "You should take Access-a-Ride!"

    Taking one trip on Access-A-Ride costs taxpayers over $50 a trip. It's for people who cannot take the bus or subway.

    Another yelled, "Take a taxi!"

    Taxis are expensive. As of today, only 25 out of 12,787 of yellow taxis are wheelchair accessible. I saw my first accessible taxi a few weeks ago in Manhattan after more than a year of looking, but it wasn't available. Finding an available, accessible taxi is like an Elvis sighting.


    They didn't think I had a right to take the bus, but I do. We all do. It is our civil right, one we had to fight for, and evidently still do.

    I was late to work, too. I finally became the only passenger on the bus, as I waited with the driver for the supervisor. That took 30 minutes.

    When the supervisor arrived, the driver was ordered to let me on the bus going forward on the lift.

    It sometimes takes 4 to 7 minutes to get a wheelchair user onto the bus. When it takes longer for us to board -- because of a mechanical problem or because of poor driver training -- we, not the transit authorities, are unfairly blamed for the delay. Some drivers and passengers say we should be left on the sidewalk to wait for the next bus.

    People with disabilities experience discrimination daily. We often can't get accessible housing and jobs. We often can't get the equipment we need or get it repaired quickly. Doctors' offices, dentists' offices are inaccessible. We cannot get into public meetings.

    We try to get into office buildings but only doors that are unlocked are the revolving ones.

    Restaurants and stores often have a step at the entrance. Sometimes it is new step, newly added along with new flooring.

    I'm still going to ride the bus. I will not be a disabled person stuck at home behind closed doors so others don't have to be inconvenienced.


    At first, I was shocked by what I read. Then, I thought about it for a second and remembered how, even if no one said anything, I have watched people on NYC buses get irritated and impatient when the bus driver activated the wheelchair lift. I have heard people sigh and cross arms and look at their watches.

    There is an expectation that people with disabilities should basically just "stay out of everyone else's way," which implies that the normatively-abled are more important and "real people" and people with disabilities are simply a nuisance. And this is very similar to the way that we treat children. Children are considered a nuisance that society must accomodate, but only to an extent, as they are not yet "real people". They may get our patronizing smiles and pity, but they also get our sighs of impatience. I think this comes from the notion that children aren't "contributing" to society yet, meaning, they are not employed. Though many people with disabilities are indeed employed (and many people with disabilities are also not employed), I think the assumption is that, whether they are or not, they are a burden to society, rather than contributing members and participants, regardless of the details of their lives.

    This is reflected in the reluctance to enforce provisions in the Americans With Disabilities Act, the argument being that such provisions are prohibitive to the growth of business. Part and parcel of this argument is the certainty that people with disabilities are not consumers, are not viably engaged with the economy, are a demographic so wholly separate from that of the rest of the adult population. When our culture and public policy recognize people with disabilities as full-fledged members of communities and constituencies (not just the "disabled" constituency), these "accomodations" will no longer seem like "burdens" but like a way of extending to everyone the rights to full participation in public space and projects and the "private" market.

    9 Comments:

    Blogger Gimpy Mumpy said...

    Your comparisons to how we as a society treat children is right on the mark.
    Often I can pass for "normal" until I pull out my cane and have to walk, then suddenly people change how they treat me. They treat me like a child. And more than once it has made me ask, why do we treat children that way??

    9:46 PM  
    Blogger EL said...

    Good point, gimpy mumpy. (And welcome to My Amusement Park, by the way!) Why do we treat children that way?

    9:00 AM  
    Anonymous Brooklynite said...

    Wow. Great stuff,both the original piece and your response.

    And I agree with Gimpy Mumpy --- there's all-too-common mindset that assumes that "people with physical disabilities = people with cognitive disabilities = children." And yeah, that mindset reveals a profound ignorance not only about people with physical disabilities, but also people with cognitive disabilities and kids.

    10:19 AM  
    Blogger EL said...

    Thanks, Brooklynite. Glad to have you here!

    12:16 PM  
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