I helped my son and a classmate with a school project on “able-ism”. Ableism is a term within discrimination, labeling the action of people who treat disabled or differently-abled people differently based solely on their appearance. You know, someone with a limp or a crooked part or in a wheelchair must be less smart or not contributing.
The USA as it is makes it hard for anyone with physical limitations to contribute at all. Or engage with others.
I sat in a wheelchair for an hour or two and tried to get around our neighborhood. We gaged the reactions of people, and experienced how society makes this easy and how it makes it near impossible.
Biggest revelation? I was so proud of Albany and the walk-ability of the Pine Hills area, but found that this absolutely does not translate to anyone using a walker or wheelchair. The curbs, the heaving sidewalk sections and the potholes along with the poorly times streetlights and lack of visibility are, I fear, real killers. Add in the winter debacle of careless community members not shoveling (and I include some local stores in this) and is is a tough place to be…struggling with mobility.
I felt “less” just by sitting lower. People’s eyes slid over me. I dropped something at the local Price Chopper and no one offered to help. At least the staff helped me get something from a top shelf…with brusqueness and so very fast without saying hello or offering, just by grabbing the item and handing it to me.
i could not even get into Bruegger’s Bagel Bakery as there are stairs at the front. My son went in to ask them if I could get in and they said no. They did, after a short time, come out to take my order, but made it clear it was a tough day and their kettle was acting up. I love Bruegger’s but this made me think pretty hard. Even outdoor seating in the summer would help them serve people who cannot navigate steps.
The local police station let me experiment with their new handicap ramp and double set of very heavy doors and limited vestibule. They know this is nearly unnavigable for someone in a chair, yet it seems all the measurements are ok per the ADA requirements in design. Sheesh. I was terrified going up that ramp and think maybe every architect (I am one) and every building owner should travel up and down a 1/12 pitch ramp just to feel it. Code isn’t enough.
The best experience was at Tierra Farms coffee shop. Though the space was tight and took a little maneuvering on my part, the staff and the patrons treated my no differently. Not a bit. It was really quite nice and unexpected.
That’s the pity and the big revelation. Being treated no differently should NOT be unexpected. The person is the same, the accessories and certainly the challenges may be different. Let’s strive to see the person.
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