Saturday, January 18, 2014

People Just Don't Know

Michael Wilson, New York Times - January 17, 2014

A disability activist in the heat of the moment might say that both of the things that Frederick Brennan suffered … the robbery and being stranded in a snowstorm … were crimes. I don’t think that would be quite right. However, I really wonder which of these two misfortunes was more harmful to Mr. Brennan. That might be too close to call. 

The article reinforces what I think is a very major theme in everyday ableism. People just don’t understand the logistics of living with disabilities. My guess is that it never occurred to the police involved that getting to their station and back might be extremely difficult … or perhaps impossible … for a guy in an electric wheelchair. I’ll bet that when the officer called for the bus, he figured his job was done … not realizing how often lift-equipped buses are late or never come. Not realizing that an immediate response accessible transit vehicle is basically a unicorn, especially in New York City. And if he didn’t make those mental connections, then he didn’t have a chance to wonder if a young man, new to the City, might be extra vulnerable when that City was in the midst of an epic snowstorm.

By the way, I found the comment from Mr. Brennan’s boss interesting. There’s a blame-the-victim tone to what he said about Mr. Brennan being unwilling to ask for help. Underlying the comment is another common, and faulty assumption … that there is always help available and ready to serve, we just have to ask for it. Sometimes that’s true, and a lot of us do probably wait too long before asking. But just as often, asking for help results in bewilderment and sudden bouts of catastrophic incompetence, in which cases we are no better off logistically, and twice as pissed off.

Most of the modern, western world still doesn’t know how to deal with significantly disabled people. That’s a fact of life for us, and a fact that most people don’t really realize.

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