come on over
the Lip Server mouths
her venom ready to serve
a manicured nail
with a pistol grip
points spitefully to the screen
her smirk expands
in malicious pink
matching her new Coach purse
she can hardly wait
for the rapture de jour
the opening of the wound
the image appears
disguised in cartoon
as black eye often is
a Liquor Store Miracle
addiction and church
as push girl stands
to reach forbidden brew
the mud is slung
the stoning complete
a high heeled tilting ground
the charge is faking
with consumption affixed
a Lip Server looking glass
of low-fat fervour
and arsenic descent
competing for hollow gold
written in queen bee script
demean if you wish
but garnish the dish
with a freshly painted smile
Years ago I had the privilege of working for a disability organization comprised almost totally of people with disabilities. It was a great experience. Disability was the norm. Difference was expected, appreciated and valued. Everyone was treated as equals. Hierarchies, cliques, power struggles were virtually nonexistent.
I mostly did advocacy work but every once in a while I covered on the reception desk. One day when I was working reception a middle-aged man rolled in on a scooter. He was a big guy with a gruff demeanour, and a sign on the front of his scooter boldly stated “PLEASE DON’T HELP ME”. It was a major political statement, whether he knew it or not. He was brazenly announcing what so many disabled people know: help is a double-edged sword. He had clearly decided the cons outweighed the pros.
A major downside of help for many people with disabilities is that we are forever relegated to the role of ‘helpee’. Some people seem to think they have a God-given right to ‘help’ us whether we want help or not – like the time I was pouring myself a coffee at a local cafe and a voice from behind me said “that’s good” – she was letting me know my cup was full (the assumption being that I couldn’t figure that one out myself). We tend to be viewed as a client or consumer, rather than a capable and valuable contributor to society – and this is a problem.
If we want to live in a community where everyone fits, is valued and belongs, we need to start seeing everyone as both givers and receivers of help. Until this happens, there will always be those of us who see help as a four letter word – and the small but powerful acts of rebellion will continue.
Ableism takes many forms, most of which are invisible to the nondisabled eye. It’s usually not malicious in nature – it’s generally the result of unconscious attitudes and assumptions about people with disabilities. The nondisabled generally have no idea they are treating disabled people like The Other.
Let me give you an example. My partner and I (a wheelchair user) go into a restaurant. As we are enjoying our dinner, a woman about 10 years older than myself walks up to me, tilts her head, gives me the smile usually reserved for two-year olds, and says “I hope people tell you how beautiful you are”. Say what? I mean how patronizing does it get … and how do you respond to that? It’s like you’ve just landed in the twilight zone and there’s no sign of intelligent life.
Anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of pity knows it’s a painful experience. Pity puts distance between people. Many people use it as a way to deal with their uncomfortableness around disability and their own physical vulnerabilities. By pitying people with disabilities, the nondisabled assure themselves they are in no way connected to us. While the concept of oneness may be popular in modern-day yoga classes, it is rarely brought up in situations where disability is present. Most nondisabled people would rather maintain their illusion of never-ending youth and everlasting life, and keep people with disabilities firmly rooted in the role of The Other.
I regularly hear nondisabled people comment on how they’re uncomfortable around people with disabilities because they don’t know how to treat us (as if we’re a different species). My advice would be “say hello”.
Put simply, I love Pema Chodron. She’s an American Buddhist nun who is the resident teacher at Gampo Abbey, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, the first Tibetan monastery for Westerners. She has written numerous books, including The Places that Scare You and When Things Fall Apart. Though I don’t consider myself a Buddhist, I find everything she has to say very insightful. The above video, “This Lousy World” is definitely worth a listen.
Here’s a homegrown Powell River song written by someone (other than me) who is passionate about keeping our town healthy and beautiful. Please circulate and sing whenever possible:
(Sing it to the tune of the Beverly Hillbillies theme)
Let me tell y’all a story ’bout energy from waste
‘bout many sad communities sucked in by too much haste
‘bout a gang of slick promoters and a con that bankrupts towns …
destroying health, reducing wealth, and driving realty down.
Price, that is … buyer beware … toxins
Trash arrives in stinking barge loads piled higher up than high
Scows all along the waterfront; just watch the rats go by
the Plant is always fired up, a’vaporizing trash
and smiling city fathers are anticipating cash.
Signed, y’know … contracts … WAY too hopeful
There are two tragic flaws, y’see, besides the sight and smell.
That vapor rising from the Plant, it’s hotter now than hell
But in the stack it’s cooling back producin’ toxic stooooo …
Life starts dying from dioxins, furans, heavy metals too.
Us, that is, … plants and ocean, … SEAFOOD Sales!
Those cities signed up to get hold of all trash required
But soon they couldn’t find enough cause folks are so inspired
With Reduce, Reuse, Recycle which is what we do today
Now those cities have to pay and pay and pay and pay and pay.
That’s law, y’know … contracts … payin’ taxes for litigation
It’s difficult to think that such a thing could happen here
Now Three Rs are the high road and we know we’ve got that clear
But, strapped for cash, trash-talk can sound like music to us all …
So combat those con-man pitches by contacting City Hall
604, folks … 485 6291 … ask for Dave
Y’all sing out now, y’hear?
A few months ago I sought out the services of our local disability agency. The Agency states it is committed to “ensuring that the community is accessible to all” so I was surprised to find that this organization was not accessible by bus, had no proper wheelchair parking or a wheelchair accessible entrance.
The Agency is located half way up Mt. Everest (okay, slight exaggeration). It’s actually located half way up a very steep hill. It’s hard to say if even the most high-powered scooter could make it up there. Because the nearest bus stop is located at the bottom of this hill, it is extremely difficult – if not impossible – for most people with disabilities to access the Agency by bus.
If (like me) you’re fortunate enough to own a wheelchair van, you can make it into the parking lot … but park at your own risk. I discovered the only spots ‘designated’ (I use the word loosely as the wheelchair markings on the pavement are severely faded and there is no other signage) for wheelchair parking are a couple of parallel parking spots across from the front entrance. The problem is the spots are right next to a roadway near a corner of the building, so when I deploy my wheelchair lift and exit my vehicle I am in the middle of a roadway. Yikes! Not exactly safe – a vehicle could come around the corner of the building, not see me and … well, you get the picture. Disabled road kill.
It baffles and infuriates me that a disability organization doesn’t know how to create safe, designated wheelchair parking. All they would have to do (for starters) is take three of their diagonal parking spots, paint stripes across the middle spot so no one would park there and it would be used for deployment of ramps, lifts and people. A simple Google search would illustrate exactly how to do it.
But anyways, getting back to dealing with the situation as it is rather than how it should be … I proceed to park in a ‘normal’ (non life threatening) parking spot far away from the entrance, with the hope that no one will park beside me and unintentionally make it impossible for me to exit or re-enter my van. I am lucky enough to be able to deploy my ramp, exit the vehicle and roll up to the front entrance.
I am greeted by two sets of double doors. The first set I have to get through are narrow and heavy. They lead to what is known as a vestibule, or if you’re in a prison … a ‘man trap’. As I contemplate the second set of doors I definitely feel like I’m in some form of trap. There’s a long downward staircase on my right and a short steep ramp in front of me. The second set of doors is at the top of the ramp and there is no landing so even if I could push myself up the ramp (which I can‘t), there is no level ground to rest on while pulling the door open. Consequently, a wheelchair user runs into the problem of rolling backwards when she takes her hands off the handrims (used to propel the wheelchair) to open the door. This is potentially hazardous, especially when you consider the downward staircase mentioned above is one of the ‘traps’ you could easily roll back into. The bottom line is most people in wheelchairs would not be able to access this agency independently.
I have talked to several of the Agency’s nondisabled employees about it and they say they have tried to get funding to change the front entrance but have been turned down because there are not enough people coming through their doors. Hmmm … not enough people coming through their doors … I wonder why that could be?
What I can’t understand is why this organization moved into an inaccessible building in the first place. If you are an agency promoting accessibility for people with disabilities shouldn’t Step #1 be making sure you are wheelchair accessible?
The following expresses my observations in a more concise way:
If wheelchair users were ever consulted or employed by this organization, the situation would likely be a lot different than it is now. After all, people wouldn’t agree to move into a building they couldn’t access. To expect people with disabilities to be okay with a disability agency that is not wheelchair accessible is an insult. We are not interested in the illusion of accessibility and inclusion – we want the real thing.