please don't

I've been swimming in the mornings lately. Nice brisk athletic swims for about 45 min/day. I love the swimming part but I loathe exiting and entering the gym proper. There's something about a one-legged woman on crutches that just sticks out like a sore thumb in a space devoted to 'fit-ness.'

Yesterday there was this huge-mongous mass of preteen boys and their parents at the gym registering for some kind of basketball camp. No kidding, there were at least 200 people milling around in the doorways to the Rec Center. I tried to crutch through the crowd rather nonchalantly, but it wasn't easy to have the crowd parting before me like the Red Sea of Stares. Conversations silencing as I pretended not to notice how many people were gaping.

When I went through my second set of doors somone's mother made this HUGE show of rushing over to the glass doors to open them for me. Making it much more awkward for me to get through, actually, then if she'd let me open them myself.

I seriously considered backing up and going through a different door. Or taking a moment to tell her that I didn't appreciate the way she made me feel when she did that.

Instead I just refused to verbally or visually acknowledge her actions. I just walked through the doors looking forward to the solitude of the water--where there would be no doors.

When I came home there was someone loading a moving van who had parked his vehicle across all of the disabled parking spaces in front of my apartment. I parked not too far away and then slowly crutched past the loading gate for the truck (which nearly completely blocked the sidewalk to my place). I made eye contact with him and didn't smile or respond when he said 'hi' to me.


Bored in Vernal said...

Sometimes people need to know when they are being jerks! How about, "Thanks, but I really do prefer to open my own doors." or "Is there anything I can do to help you get loaded more quickly so you can vacate the handicapped spaces?"

That failing, (because there are so many insensitive people in this world), keep swimming. I love how the water surrounds you until you are in your own world, and the rhythmic motions tend to soothe.

Greg (Accessible Hunter) said...

I can't stand it when people park in accessible parking! I have a full-size van with a side lift, when people park in the stripe zone it makes it almost impossible for me in my power chair. I hope you have a great day!

John White said...

Interesting that the two incidents you mention are ones in which too much attention and not enough attention was paid.

You don't do performance pieces when people stare? You know, act super-feeble, almost fall over on the crutches, then do something super-acrobatic?

jana said...

The point, John, is that people with disabilities need able-bodied folks to respect the appropriate accommodations (e.g. disabled parking spaces) far more than we need egregious acts of charity (like door opening).

Wearing my leg w/o skin is a type of 'performance' piece for me--it's a way of showing that I am okay with my difference. I have a much harder time feeling that same 'okay-ness' when I'm not wearing my prosthesis. It's probably just me, but I feel the public reaction is much stronger (and consequently, much harder to deal with) than when I'm wearing 2 feet.

John White said...

Oh I got your point. Is it horrible that you think of very direct reactions to extreme charity (going through another door), and I think of ultra passive-aggressiveness? My other reaction was "Just park in a way that blocks the van in."

Anonymous said...

What did she think you were doing at the gym in the first place?!? I hope she had some second thoughts later about how she might have felt to you and what she was modeling to her child, but perhaps not. I too had to pass that line of children and parents and found it uncomfortable too, though I did not also have oversolicitous behavior and stares to deal with. The constant job of education that you take on is a noble one and I deeply appreciate your doing it with such indefatigable and honest presence. It seems to me that it must be an exhausting pain in the butt at times. Sorry to hear about this.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I hold doors open for everyone: men, women, children, dogs. It never occurred to me that it would offend anyone. I'd die of shame if I made someone feel worse by trying to be nice.

Anonymous said...

Look, I'm sorry, but I feel I need to point out - sometimes we "able-bodied" people (I don't like that term btw) just don't know what to do and I'm sure her actions weren't meant as anything other than a helpful gesture. I for one don't ever want to come across as patronising for opening a door for a disabled person (or an elderly person, child or pregnant woman, for that matter) but I seriously don't want to stand by and possibly watch someone struggle or even hurt themselves, and maybe have them thinking what an asshole I am for 'not bothering' to help. I hate when people rush along in their own little worlds and don't pay attention to other people, don't help, don't acknowledge each other...it's so cold.

If I went to hold a door open for you and you simply said 'thanks but I'm trying to learn how to do it myself' or something, that would be much more informative for me than silence or a glare that makes me think I've done something wrong. It's not an 'act of charity' - that makes me sound like I'd pity you and that's so not the case - it's just paying attention to another human being and trying to care, because sometimes we all need it.

My boyfriend suffers from an incurable bone disorder that has left him with some problems...he can currently walk (not long distances though), drive, shop etc, but it might not always be that way. There are some things he needs help with but he's good at letting me know, and it's a learning curve for both of us. He has several major surgeries coming up soon and he's going to need a lot more help, which I know he has a problem with but we've talked about it and hopefully we can both find a routine in which we're comfortable while he heals.

Just because I'm 'able-bodied' (and I don't like that term especially) doesn't mean I'm any more capable, able or strong than anyone else on this earth.