May 2, 2007


Last night, I made a serious faux pass: I forgot to consider audience I was talking to, and in doing so pretty much ended the whole conversation. I had gotten so comfortable talking online to other members of the crip community, I goofed.

I was in an IM conversation with one of my friends who went away for school. The conversation meandered, from why my wheelchair was named Camel, to how he would want a 'chair with some kind of villain fighting acid spitting device, to how I was so anti-attachment I was trying to take the wheel locks off, to how I needed to learn how get off the floor and into the chair first before I could take that leap. He commented, "See, I wouldn't have thought of learning that in advance."

"That's kind of funny," I replied, "because I didn't think of it until..." and then I proceeded to casually tell him this story:

I was going to work one day. The mortgage company I worked for had a second floor suite. The elevator was a little jerky, and on my way up somehow I fell over backwards. I honestly don't know what precipitated the fall, as I hit my head in succession on the elevator door and then the floor and briefly lost conciousness. I woke up a minute or two later with my knees on my head, a pounding headache, and a realization I didn't know what to do. I had never learned to do a floor-to-chair transfer. I somehow hit the "open door" button and pushed Camel out into the hallway, then crawled out after him. The hallway down to the suite loomed, looking longer than ever before. I grit my teeth and started crawling it, pushing Camel alongside. A few people came out of their offices along the hallway, looked at me, looked away, and then rushed for the stairs. I finally made it to the suite, and my coworkers got me off the floor and back into Camel.

His only two replies were, "Wait, no one helped you get to your suite?" and after my affirmative reply, "That's terrible." And so a very pleasant 45 minute conversation was brought to a screeching halt. He sent me a funny link later, but we couldn't really get the chat going again.

The experience I described certainly was a negative one, overall. It was pretty humiliating and made me question my ability to work outside my home for a little while there. However, it was a fairly typical type of experience for an american PWD. Many like it are described in this thread. These things aren't shocking to us, they're common and shared experiences. I could list more like it, if I had reason to. It happens, its the kind of shared experience that binds disability culture together. The circumstances might be different, especially for someone who's impairment is mental instead of physical, but the feeling of being less than a person in that moment is the same.

Previous to joining the online crip community, I didn't feel comfortable in any context talking about it, though. I talked to my friends about matters of love, about shared hobbies and social drama. But I never talked to them about what it felt like to have one's chronic illness disbelieved, to be accused by family of faking needing a wheelchair, or anything of the sort.

This was a first for me. It was the first time I mentioned a seriously negative disability-related experience to an AB friend who isn't family for all intents and purposes. I feel a little guilty about it, about making things awkward between us. But on the other hand, I wonder if that doesn't need to happen more often. Do ABs really think that this stuff doesn't happen all the time? Are they that sheltered from it? Would education help? I don't have the answers, but now at least I have the questions.


Shiloh said...

Hi, just wanted to say thanks for leaving a comment. I'm sorry my layout is a bit hard to read. I worried about that, and I see your point. Next layout, I'll do better at making it easy to read.

Ruth said...

This is a tough call. I've had both positive/negative responses to honestly sharing about my life with a disability from AB's. Some expect us to deal with it in a heroic way and their responses reflect that if we stray . At the same time realistically if I take the risk of putting my experience out there I no longer assume I'll get a positive response - I only take the risk if I'm "up for" the reality that I'm risking a negative one. Great post, thanks.

Liz said...

ABs I talk to can't even fathom that people say amazing rude clueless things that they say. Like the "do you have sex" question!