Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Day I Let Dave Down

It was bake sale day at the sub-acute rehab and long term care facility where I work as an occupational therapist. The facility was having a fundraiser to benefit the National Alzheimer's Association and staff and family members had brought in goodies to sell. I happened to be in the lobby as some staff members were setting up the tables and overheard one woman point out that wheelchairs wouldn't be able to get by the way the tables were arranged. "Well, it's only for one day," the other rebutted. They both agreed the tables would stay the way they were. 

Honestly, the conversation barely penetrated my consciousness, so intent was I on fixing my morning coffee and getting an early preview of the baked goods. But it did penetrate and I briefly considered taking a stand for accessibility. Remembering that my earlier suggestion to save space by staggering the presentation of the goods was shot down, I stayed mum. I rationalized that my co-worker's explanation - it's only for one day - was true. All they were really blocking was a sitting area with a fireplace. It wasn't like it was a bathroom or anything important. 

I went about my day, forgetting about the accessibility issue until late in the morning when I went back to the bake sale with my patient, himself a wheelchair user. He wanted to shop the sale, only he couldn't fit through the tables to see all the offerings in his chair. We had to move some furniture to allow him to pass, taking care to replace it when he was finished, of course. We wouldn't want things to look untidy in the lobby. 

I know better. I've been reading Dave Hingsburger's blog, Rolling Around In My Head, for about two years now. He writes daily about his experiences as a professional who empowers and teaches adults with intellectual disabilities, and personally, as a wheelchair user. At first, I read him because of the insights he offered to me as a mom of sons with intellectual disabilities. I kept reading him because I learned so much as a fellow human, so much about myself and the times I had been discriminatory or insensitive, even arrogant, in my actions around wheelchair users. 

Times like this. 

Reviewing the day, I am ashamed. I'm disappointed that I didn't speak up and take a stand for accessibility. But I'm more appalled at my arrogance. Take a look at my rationalization for keeping quiet: 
All they were really blocking was a sitting area with a fireplace. It wasn't like it was a bathroom or anything important. 
What gives me the right to decide for someone else the areas to which they should have access? Who am I to decide if a place is important to someone or not? Is it because I am ambulatory? Does that somehow elevate me to decision making status? I am a walker and I don't intend to use the sitting area with the fireplace; therefore, wheelchair users don't need to have access to it, even though I can change my mind at anytime, because I can still squeeze through. So wrong! Such faulty logic. 

Perhaps you're thinking that it's no big deal. It was just one day. We don't even know that anyone was actually inconvenienced. Maybe they weren't. But multiply that attitude by millions of people and then by each and every parking lot you navigate, sidewalk you travel, building you enter, and bathroom you use, and you have just a hint of the daily frustrations of the wheelchair user. I've learned that by reading Dave.

On that day, on bake sale day, I was part of the problem and I let Dave down. I'm sorry for that and I'm determined not to do it again. 

1 comment:

  1. What a brave post! Coming forward to say, 'oops, I made a mistake' and then stating publically that you have learned from it is one thing ... but going further to the bigger realization about the reasons behind your actions is praiseworthy. This doesn't 'let me down' in fact it encourages me!