Alien. Human

Okay, at this conference I presented on Disability Informed Treatment (Support) which asks service providers or clinicians to firstly acknowledge disability in a real way and then to see the disabled person in context of the system that supports them, the society that rejects them, and the power dynamic you are in with them. It’s a big ask, made particularly difficult by so many peoples’ reluctance to acknowledge disability as a real, lived, phenomenon. We are not ‘just like every one else.” We are different and we live in a different physical and social reality. But I’m getting off track here. Disability makes a difference in many ways is what it all boils down to. I thought that this was a difficult concept because it upsets as many people as it enlightens.

Then this happened.
I wanted some exercise, real exercise, and as it was a beautiful day, headed out to go for a push over to the Pacific Centre Mall and then do a tour of the mall. It’s not far away but I have to push up a steep incline and then make it, as it turns out, along a very difficult few blocks. Every single curb cut is bad. Twice I had to take the feet off my chair, get down, put them back on and then make it across in the remaining 3 seconds. Once across I have to make it up curb cuts that are very steep and which catch either my foot pedals or my anti tip thingies on the back. It’s a journey.
We make it.
Once in the mall we wander around and then decide to stop for tea. We want to go back to a place that we saw but couldn’t remember how we got to it. We stopped and asked a young man at the information desk in the mall. He quickly gave us directions and we were on our way. Nearly there I stopped and said to Joe, we should have asked him a different question. I wondered if there were an underground passageway that would go towards the hotel and bring us up further along. Could we remove some of our outside journey and reduce travel on those curb cuts?
We went back to him. We joked with him about returning so quickly and then asked the question. He told us that what we had envisioned didn’t exist we were as far as the underground would take us. We had mentioned the curb cuts and he acknowledged that they weren’t great on Georgia Street. He then offered the first of two solutions. He suggested taking the Skytrain over one stop. After he gave us directions I asked him how big the gap was onto the train because my chair has very small front tires. He didn’t know and saw that that could be a problem.
“Give me a minute,” he said, and then paused and thought.
Then after thinking about travel in a wheelchair, curb cuts and the need to have a decent surface to roll on he said, “If you go down to the end of the mall, you can take the elevator up and be on Robson street. There is a lot more pedestrian traffic on Robson and the city does much more upkeep on that stretch of road so I’m guessing the curb cuts will be in better shape and the sidewalks easier to move on. Then you just have to turn on your street to go down to the hotel.”
I stared at him.
We both did.
This might have been the very best advice I’ve ever gotten from someone in an information giving capacity in a city anywhere. He thought through a potential solution. He looked at my request from the point of view of travel in a wheelchair. He bothered to think about it. My question mattered to him. He gave it attention. Even if it turned out not to be helpful, it was amazing for someone to give disability informed advice.
So, we did what he suggested, we hit Robson. Didn’t have a problem with a single curb cut. The sidewalks were in good repair. We made it back to our street in minutes. I kept on going along Robson, Joe called out that I was going the wrong way. I kept going, I didn’t answer because I was a bit breathless, he caught up to me and I explained. “I always have to push indoors because outdoors is so inaccessible, I’m going to keep going for a bit just for the joy of it.” So we kept going.
When we were both a little tired, we turned around and headed back and got to the hotel with no problems.
Because someone bothered to think about my question. Because someone valued me as a person worthy of giving some thought to. Because someone actually gave a damn about their job as an information giver. Because it wasn’t difficult for him to see that my perspective was different but not alien. Human.
I’m going to contact the Pacific Centre Mall and send them this blog.
This happened on October 19th, between 3 and 4. He was on shift alone but was then joined by a co-worker.
Please thank him for me will you.
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