Stop selling us out!

Stop selling us out!

A few times a year people will send me a link to a “mobility device” that is actually not an accepted mobility device at all. In the “about us” section there is a quote about why the owner designed it and the reason was: the person she designed it for didn’t want to “look disabled” by using approved mobility devices such as walkers and scooters.

The TL;DR of this is: you are disabled and should feel badly about looking so uncool! Here, buy my overpriced contraption that isn’t approved by any authority at all so you look a little less uncool!

I feel the same about mobility devices that I feel about the way words change over time to become pejoratives, so we keep having to change them. If people would just stop shaming others by, say, calling them the R word, using the R word would have never become problematic. I am sure intellectually and/or developmentally disabled will eventually lose some cultural runway as we turn those terms negative as well*.

But at the crux of both of these issues is this: we are “othering” people for getting old and/or losing mobility. But we fail to see that we are the problem for not normalizing getting older or becoming disabled. Given that over a quarter of the population will become at least temporarily disabled in their lifetimes, you would think it would be more accepted. For me, I feel that because I became disabled at a younger age I had less of an issue transitioning to mobility devices. But christ on a cracker: are old people ok? They get BIG MAD at even the suggestion that they aren’t young anymore and it drives me bonkers. It also seems to be a mostly Boomer issue**, judging by our parents. My FIL fell out of a tree and lay in the backyard for hours because he still insists on doing his own yardwork and my dad still gets up on his roof to remove the snow. It’s absolutely ridiculous – oh and they are both still doing it.

But time to grab an apple juice and sit cross-cross-apple-sauce on the classroom carpet (or any other accessible space that makes you feel comfy!) because it is storytime, kids!

On our recent trip to the Dominican Republic I experienced this phenomenon first hand with the world’s most irritating, entitled Boomer couples I have ever had the displeasure of encountering. So to fair Verona…I mean, Punta Cana… where we lay our scene, I will draw your attention to the following:

Instead of having a bunch of seats at the gate they had more of a security line set up where you wind around until you get to the front. As someone with a mobility device, I had a few questions. You see, at the Punta Cana airport they have a bus to take you to the tarmac so I needed to speak to the gate check clerk and see if the busses had ramps*** and what the protocol would be. This is standard protocol when you are disabled: you better get to the airport early and you better confirm time-and-time again what the process will be because chances are someone with argue/disagree and many phone calls and elaborate discussions with staff will ensue. So I went around the line to speak with the gate clerk. She told me that they did have ramps, I could get on with my scooter just fine, and then she told me to wait up front to ensure I got on the bus first before they let everyone else on. So I waited beside the counter, like I was told.

When I travel with my family, I make my kids stand so that other people can sit down. But since many people don’t realize that they live in a world with people who cannot, say, stand on a moving bus, I make my kids sit in seats and as soon as I see an elderly person or a person with limited mobility get on, I make my kids move. So as people started to pile onto the bus, I noticed an older couple coming towards us when all of the seats were full. I motioned to them to come, my kids got up and the couple was grateful for the seats.

As this was happening, I realized that a voice behind me was increasing in pitch and ferocity. It was something about it “not fair that we don’t get seats!” and “he has bad knees and I have just had a hip operation!” They had loaded from the back of the bus and my scooter was facing the front so I just didn’t see them get on. I guess one person gave her their seat because she seems to have calmed down at that point. We rode off towards the tarmac.

Once we boarded the plane, I realized that the Boomer couple were in the first row, kitty-corner, in front of me (I was in 2C). I then remembered that we had the exact seating arrangement on the way there and that I had just not noticed the couple because they were assigned seats 1E and 1 F. Seats 1A, B, C, and D were assigned to a lovely family with the parents being in the aisle seats. I suspect that the wife wasn’t a good flyer because I had noticed that they held hands across the aisle on the way there when the flight was taking off and landing.

On the way back I noticed that the Boomer husband was loudly…booming. He was complaining about his knees and how he needed more room and how awful it was that the aisle seat had been already booked when they got their seats! He was speaking generally in his wife’s direction but clearly this shame-enducing diatribe was intended for the seats around them. Then of course – gaining no tracking for his passive-aggressive moaning – he started in on the Dad in the aisle seat with his complaints. Eventually the Dad offered to switch seats with the Booming Boomer and that led to the incredibly forced, “Gosh, are you sure?! It’s just to hard on me with my knees! Wow, you are so great for offering!” Like this guy really had a choice! He then proceeded to tell every single person who lined up for the bathroom in the aisle beside him about his and his wife’s personal medical history and how it was so difficult to travel without an aisle seat. Over. And over. And over again. The entire flight. For his pièce de résistance he said, “Lady, don’t get old! I am telling you, it’s really hard to go through all of this and not being able to do things like you used to!”

My dude, I am RIGHT HERE. You watched me get on the plane.

But this brings up an important point that I alluded to at the beginning of this post: old people are constantly throwing disabled people under the bus and they either don’t realize or don’t care. Probably both since they don’t see themselves as old (not really) or as a disabled despite their clear lack of mobility.

Firstly, growing old is a gift that is often denied to many. Instead of the constant complaining, sir, practice some GD gratitude. If you’d like, I can hook you up to some perspective in form of a woman diagnosed with ALS who has four small children under 8-years-old if this is difficult for you. This isn’t to say that it isn’t ok for you to mourn the loss of your youth and mobility. Of course we are all entitled to navigate the emotionality of change! But screaming your own personal issues to every stranger within 10 feet is rude and selfish. What I did find fascinating was that he targeted mostly older women who felt that they had to be “nice” to him. No one younger than 50 gave him the time of day for his incessant whining. They just nodded and turned their heads to look in a different direction while they waited for the rest room. Instead of getting the hint, he just spoke louder to anyone who made the mistake of making eye contact with him.

Secondly, if you want accommodation, ASK FOR ACCOMODATION. Don’t wait until you are lined up to get on the flight to whine about disabled people going first or other people booking the seats that you wanted. Airlines (and other businesses) will accommodate you if you ask but if you refuse to see yourself as a person who requires accommodation then that is a YOU problem that you are making everyone else’s problem at the very last second. Not only does that mean that airlines (and other businesses) won’t allow for more accessible availability, it also means that you are throwing disabled people under the bus by pretending that there are more able-bodied people than there actually are.

When I make a restaurant reservation I ask for low seating or booth seating, I make sure we won’t be seated in a place where there are stairs, I make sure there are first floor, accessible bathrooms. Is it a pain in the ass? YES. But the alternative is showing up and having to make the staff panic and force other people from their tables just so I can be accommodated. When I buy tickets for an event I make sure to contact the box office in case there are SURPRISE stairs. I never go to General Admission shows or open seating because I need a seat and I need it to be accessible. I just can’t take a chance that when I get there, there won’t be seats I can get to. Most people consider “only one step” as accessible in their minds and for many people it isn’t. For me, it’s important to know if there is a railing. It’s absolutely exhausting but if I want to have any semblance of a life, the legwork is part of that.

When I first was diagnosed a woman I know who is a physiotherapist said, “Man, if you were only older, I could hook you up with so many resources!” The reality is that between 18-65 most resources for disabled people are incredibly sparse. But there are a TON of resources for seniors to help with a variety of home maintenance/chores to social clubs and events. But they don’t access these services and I have even had one elderly person tell me that they don’t want to, “hang out with old people.” LAIRD TUNDERIN’ JAYZUS: you are old people!

I guess what it comes down to is that if you are struggling with a disability or need an accommodation – whether it is visible or invisible, temporary or permanent – please ask for the assistance. Please use the provided services. Please do not suffer through it and pretend that it is ok to make anyone who needs support to go without it. Not only will it make your life easier but it also paves the way for people who also need accommodations in the future to be able to get them. No one will think you are a hero for struggling up a flight of stairs dragging a broken leg behind you but you will certainly be a hero for paving the way by letting businesses and organizations know that have good access protocols in place makes sense. The key is to not just open a door and leave it open, but to install a door opener for those that need it… and to make sure it works.

* “Concepts, not words are in charge. Give a concept a new name and the name becomes coloured by the concept the concept does not become freshened by the name.” – Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct

**I know it’s du rigeur to shit on Boomers but they really don’t accept that they need to slow down.

***When we got to the DR in the first place they didn’t bring my scooter to the gate and I ended up being forced into a wheelchair. I had to scream at the guy to stop because he was trying to whisk me away but my family was still on the plane. Because he didn’t speak English the flight attendant had to get involved and it was a whole THING that didn’t need to be a THING had they just brought my scooter like they were supposed to. They ended up losing it, which is not shocking if you have ever traveled as a disabled person. On the way back, I was allowed to use my scooter until the gate.

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