Many people without disabilities feel the need to comment that people with disabilities aren’t more included in society because we don’t show up enough. This ableist, uninformed argument demonstrates how little many people without disabilities understand life for those of us with disabilities. You have no idea how badly I wish it was as simple as showing up more often.
Last month, I decided to attend the monthly meeting of a local political organization. I went online and discovered their calendar of events is inaccessible. To discover the time and location of the meeting, I had to email them and wait for a response.
When I got the address, I figured out for me to get to the meeting on public transportation, I would need to take three buses. If I hit the transfers exactly right, something that wasn’t likely because I had never been to these bus stops, the trip would take 90 minutes. Not wanting to spend twice the time commuting two and from the meeting as I would spend at the meeting, I decided to ask for a ride.
You have no idea how much I hated writing the email where I asked if someone would give me a ride. I hate being so dependent. I hate the possibility of facing the fact that people aren’t as nice as they think. Yet, I went ahead and asked for a ride. I wanted to participate. I didn’t want to spend all day navigating busses.
More than a week after I requested a ride, no one offered to help. Still wanting to go, I chose to take paratransit to the meeting and Lyft home.
Thankfully, paratransit showed up within its 30-minute window. As another bit of good fortune, no one else was on the bus. So, I got to the meeting on time.
Once at the meeting, I got to hear a woman say, “He’s blind you help him,” before I even said hello.
After introducing herself to me, the woman told to help me let me know we could go over there to wait for the elevator. After letting her know the stairs would be fine, I made it to the meeting room already feeling embarrassed.
Once I was seated, the woman who showed me to my chair said, “Can you stay with him?”
Starting to wish I stayed home, I did my best to make small talk with the guy instructed to sit with me.
During the meeting, there was a video with no description, there was a slideshow that no one read, and there was a vote of raised hands.
After the meeting, the woman who showed me to the meeting room, asked me how I was leaving and showed me outside.
Since leaving the meeting, I discovered most of the group’s events are held at a location that is more than a mile from the nearest public transit stop. If I want to continue, I need to hope someone will give me rides, or I need to pay to go to and from every event.
Given my political beliefs, I’m sure everyone reading this knows the group is very progressive. Still, they understand almost nothing about people with disabilities. So, it’s not just a question of showing up for me. If I want to participate in this group, I must first wear the disability advocate hat. I have to convince them of the need to be accommodating, and I need to show them how to be accommodating. In some instances, I need to hope they can learn not to be insensitive and rude.
More than a month later, I have yet to return. With everything happening for me, I haven’t had the time to, once again, carry out my accessibility educational crusade.
I wrote this post, because I hope some of you will learn all that goes into my participating in things. The consistent, systematic inaccessibility I face (which I know is almost never intensional but is regularly hurtful) forces me to decide how often I want to make my case for inclusion. The truth is having to do it all the time is exhausting, frustrating, and sometimes embarrassing.
Society has to stop telling people with disabilities they need to show up while simultaneously making showing up so difficult. At some point, a basic level of accommodation, that doesn’t need to be requested five days before, needs to be standard. Trust me, if every time you wanted to attend something you were certain would be inaccessible to you and where you knew some people would embarrass you–you would think before simply showing up.
All of this and we haven’t even discussed the feelings I must face when I consider what the way I’m often treated says about how little respect so many have for me simply because I’m blind.