Friday, February 27, 2015

My Thoughts on Disabled Girls Talk Episode 1: Generation ADA

I listened to another Disabled Girls Talk podcast today.  This one focused on generation ADA.  Now, I don't know if I'd be considered generation ADA since I was going into fourth grade when it passed.  I also don't know if I'll really be able to pinpoint how the ADA has impacted my life.  I have a hard time perceiving a time when things were more closed off to me when the reality is, my fourth grade year (1990-1991; the first one post ADA) was among the worst for me, in terms of experiencing ableism.  I think I always grew up with an IEP.  My twin sister and I were the first disabled students that our nursery school teacher ever taught in a mainstream class in 1983.  There was no definitive before and after feeling for me.  In fact, I didn't even know about the ADA until college because I briefly pursued a SPED major.

I probably did take what accommodations were readily available to me for granted.  I rarely had to advocate for my own accommodations because they were in my IEP, and I sort of resented them, to be honest, because they set me apart from my peers.  The only time I can remember having to advocate for my own accommodations was when I worked as a counselor at a summer camp starting in 2003.  I got accepted based on my application (and when I got there, the staff learned I was disabled.)  I didn't need much, but soon realized I could not take a shower there because there were no bars, there was no chair (and the shower chair I used at home at the time had no back, because our shower was small and I could lean against the wall.)  This shower was bigger, and the floor was slippery throughout with however many girls using the shower.

I asked if there could be bars could be installed, and they were, but they weren't in the position (on the wall or at the angle) I needed them.  I worked three more summers there (5 weeks here, 10 weeks there, and a final 2 weeks the last summer) washing my hair, and myself up at the sink during one of my two hour-long breaks throughout the day.  I loved the job, but I also loved being able to go home and actually shower.

It would be impossible to account for every single microaggression and example of ableism I have experienced, but let me give a recent example.  Last month, I went to the bank to deal with some super sketchy looking stuff happening with my bank account.  My youngest brother (maybe you remember him from my guest post on What Do You Do Dear?)  not only drove me to the bank, but came in with me because he "just wanted to see how they handled this."  I got a very competent teller, who set straight to work, figuring out what was going on with my account.  Before we left, though, the teller had to call his boss over to address something or another.  Instead of looking at me, this man looked at my 18-year-old brother, and talked to him the whole time.  Even though I was sitting right there looking at him, and it was my bank account, and I was answering all his questions while my brother listened politely, but never commented.  Ironically, when I went back there a week or so later to tie up some loose ends with this instance, this time in the company of my uncle, he demanded to know why there was not a ramp at the front of the building.  In truth, I hadn't noticed the first time, as I had walked in with my crutches, but took my wheelchair the second time.)  The bank employees were very apologetic and agreed that it didn't make sense to have a ramp around the other side of the building.  (I also have been told "you don't have to stand up," both in high school, and while working at that summer camp.)

I think, if I can point to anything as an indicator to pre and post ADA access and attitudes in my life it would be a recent conversation I had with an older family member.  I told them that surfer Bethany Hamilton had announced her pregnancy.  We had a good discussion about adapting and then they said they were reminded of a recent outing they'd had with a friend at a local restaurant.  There, they saw a gentleman come in with two prostheses on his arms.  My relative was stunned and intrigued when they were told by their friend that this gentleman had removed his shoes and was eating French fries with his feet.  They said their friend, who is even elder than they are, encouraged them to turn their chair around and "watch this."  My family member declined, as they didn't feel comfortable doing that, but admitted that they did "wish they had watched" because it was something they had never seen.

I told them I was glad they had not watched because that gentleman, no doubt, knew he would be stared at and probably just wanted to eat his meal and not be gawked at.  I told them this is the fine line we, as disabled people walk.  We have the access to go to many places, but we know we will still attract stares and questions when we go out, so we (at least I) don't go out much.  I said, chances are, that if more of us could go out, or chose to go out, the reaction to us may become less and less.  When my relative was growing up, I'm sure any disabled people in their vicinity were institutionalized and therefore, never seen.  Also with the passing of the ADA many buildings (not all) are accessible, so we are able to get places we weren't able to go before.  But I know for me, the reaction from the public is not something I want to deal with, so I stay home, where it is accessible, and everyone is disabled, so no one stares.  I said, "The world isn't made for us," and my relative told me definitely, "Well, I think it is."  They only came around when they could approximate a personal experience (that had nothing to do with being disabled.)  Then they agreed, the world might not be made for us.

As this podcast was made last year on the 24th anniversary of the passing of the ADA, time has passed, and we are now five months away from its 25th anniversary.  In case I've seemed otherwise in this post, I am very grateful for all the things made possible by the ADA.  The ability to get accommodations I needed in school, going to summer camp for disabled kids as a teenager, and living in accessible housing now.  I appreciate each and every time I go someplace new (like the State Theatre) and find out they are fully accessible to me.  I went to a new local restaurant on Valentine's Day with my sister and my aunt.  My uncle had made the reservations and asked if it was accessible.  They had wheelchair entrance around the back and an accessible bathroom that was very nice.  But the best part of that experience for me was when I rolled up to the table and saw they had already removed the chair on the nearest side of the table, and there was a place setting there.  It made the whole experience so much more welcoming for me, and it definitely made me want to go back (sometime when it's not as brutally cold, though.)

Also a plus?  They had great dessert!

Perhaps, in the next 25 years, we will see an evolution in the access (so we won't need to call ahead to every single new place to ask about their restrooms, elevators and doorway widths) but even more, I hope we see people's attitudes about disabled people evolve, so that we are not so novel we are stared at when all we want to do is eat a hamburger.