Saturday, November 9, 2013

Being Oblivious

I have not written anything for over a month mainly because there was not much happening. I can relate a couple of occurrences the first in mid September and another told to me by my friend Bill.

Bill and I went to a Sprint store to order the new iPhone 5 about six weeks ago. After having parked in the handicapped space and getting out of the car there was a guy washing windows a few storefronts down from the Sprint store. Although he watched us get out of Bill's car, unload the wheelchair and all that disembarking from a car entails for someone like myself, he had placed all of his window washing par-aphelia smack dab in the middle of the sidewalk. One would think that he would immediately move his stuff out of the way without having to be asked, such was not the case.

Bear in mind that I do not expect special treatment because I am a wheelchair user, however, what was this guy thinking? You see a person in a wheelchair coming your direction and you know all of your equipment is spread out on the sidewalk, and yet you wait until you are asked before you move your equipment. I guess it is not that big of a deal but it goes to show you just how oblivious some people can be.

Upon reaching the Sprint store Bill and I entered, there was a 30 something African American man who immediately approached us, or should I say Bill. This man completely ignored the fact I was even present, he never acknowledged my presence, looked at me, shook my hand or spoke directly to me. It were as if I were not even present. I commented to Bill about his conduct and he disagreed, he did not feel he had ignored me. For some reason,  some people will ignore a person in a wheelchair if there is another able bodied person present. This has happened on more than one occasion.

Perhaps it is because they feel uncomfortable or awkward being in the presence of a wheelchair user, I am not sure. Is it because I am not at eye level with them? Having been 5'10" tall most of my adult life, imagine how uncomfortable it is for me having to "look up" to every person I encounter. I believe there is a psychological stigma attached being in a wheelchair, a stigma that is not always overtly expressed, but is psychologically felt. Somehow, some people, certainly not all, feel superior to someone who is disadvantaged, in whatever form their disadvantage may have taken.

I am not relaying this information to evoke sympathy but rather to help make people aware that even subtle behavioral changes, like avoiding eye contact, are perceived by those of us in wheelchairs as being treated less than who we really are. We want to remain whole involved individuals not made to feel inferior because we happen to use a wheelchair. I hope my comments are not misconstrued, I am not inferior and I resent being treated as lesser person based on my special circumstances.

The second episode was a true account of an occurrence experienced by Bill on board a CTA bus here in Chicago. Bill boarded the bus and at that time was not too crowded, as it progressed on its route it became increasingly crowded, forcing Bill to move further toward the rear of the bus. On one of the subsequent stops a gentleman in a wheelchair was entering the bus via the electronic lift. Apparently it is announced when lift is going to be engaged ostensibly to warn passengers of the movement of the wheelchair lift.

Upon the announcement of the engagement of the lift, a rather frumpish older man began to loudly complain that it was crowded enough already, " all we need is a wheelchair," he bellowed. A gentleman near this loud obnoxious man calmly and politely told him he should not be so harsh in his comments, "after all you may be in a wheelchair yourself someday."

One of the most unfortunate things to come out of all this is the person who was in the wheelchair heard  this man's rude comments. Try to imagine if you were a wheelchair user, how difficult it would be to simply board a bus. Take that difficulty  and add to it someone's insensitivity and together they turn a seemingly mundane bus trip into a nightmare for the disadvantaged person. It is amazing just how impatient and intolerant some people can be.

As I have stated in previous blog posts, a small turn of events could cause anyone to become disabled at the drop of a hat. Why then are some people so self absorbed and arrogant to think that they are above the pitfalls that life can sometimes bring?

We are all members of the family of humankind, we should all work together to make our individual lives better and collectively humankind will benefit. I would be a remiss if I did not state that these incidents are not commonplace and that most people are kind and helpful.

The man who created such a ruckus on the bus should count his lucky stars that Bill was unable to get to him, I can guarantee he would never pull that stunt again.

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