Saturday, March 29, 2008

Traffic (Un)Safety, Or Disablism Can Kill

Yesterday I was on a field trip with my second grader as a chaperone. Yesterday I learned that scooters and vehicles don't mix, that my life can be at stake because of other's disablism. This is why we with disabilities need the closest available parking and shortest route to a building, even when we use wheels. This is why people need to keep routes accessible and not block them. There should be a zero tolerance policy for blocking entrances to buildings and to sidewalks because it is dangerous. Wheels don't make getting around easier--they make it possible. And wheels don't make life simple, they make it terrifying.

It was dumb to go on the field trip given my pain level, but I haven't been able to do so in a very long time. I could not stand or walk any distance and would have to lie down on benches during outings. I could not go on similar trips last fall at all. With the scooter, I can go, even if my very high pain level makes me greatly regret it later. I wanted to be with my kid and figured I would make up for it this weekend, crashing on the couch with ice packs.

So when I got to the museum, having to follow in my own car because of my lift, the buses parked right against the only ramped sidewalk into the museum. The ramp was exactly two bus lengths wide. Everyone got off the buses, and I thought, oh no, this is one of those field trips where the bus drivers wander around and enjoy the museums until pick-up time, too, and even if I call the museum, no one will find them. Everyone was off the bus and I was in the middle of the street trying not to get run over by oncoming traffic while trying to get a bus driver's--or anyone's--attention. Finally one of them noticed and looked surprised that I was sitting there, in the middle of the street. I had to explain.

When we left the second museum for lunch, another row of buses had parked on the sidewalk, leaving a small gap for pedestrians but not for people with wheelchairs, scooters, baby strollers, walkers. One mother asked, only when I requested, for the bus driver to move up. I could barely get the mother's attention to get her to stop and make the request. I started to go on the grass, but realized I wouldn't be able to get back up it because of the height difference between grass and sidewalk just ahead. She probably wondered why I didn't. She didn't wait for me with her own group to make sure he did and that I was okay. The bus driver eventually pulled forward, and immediately the bus driver behind started to pull forward instead of letting us cross, though we had clearly been trapped for a few minutes, though he had witnessed the whole interaction. Despite my shoulder/arm pain and the extraordinary difficulty doing so, I threw up my left hand in a very clear "stop" signal, shook my head in a clear, pantomimed way, gave an appalled look, and said, "sheesh!" One of the kids I was with walked in front of the bus, and I couldn't stop him because I couldn't reach. Fortunately he came back. Maybe people with disabilities shouldn't go on field trips if people's stupidity is going to put kids' life in danger, as well as my own.

I almost got backed over by an SUV and a truck. I didn't see my life flash before my eyes. I saw tailgates get closer and closer. The drivers saw me pass and probably assumed I was out of the way. I couldn't get out of the way. The sidewalk in front of me was inaccessible, so that I could not go forward. I also could not go backward because the truck was also backing up. Both were parked illegally, on grass, near a museum. Fortunately someone instructed the truck driver, and on a whim the driver of the SUV decided it was easier to pull forward and do a U-turn.

What makes this situation more irritating is that I had been abandoned by the group I was with. A presentation went over and we were late to get back to the buses. So no one waited for me when I got off the elevator. It might have taken 30 seconds. This is the only time I didn't have the kids with me. I'd say that maybe if I had them with me others might have stayed with me, but they did so less and less as the day went on. And then the kids' lives would have been at risk again.

The teacher also chose a different path to go back to the buses rather than the known accessible path. Another mother who was just ahead did not bother to stay with me and did not notice that there was no way I could get over the sidewalk bumps at one location. She did not stop when I called out to her. I had to determine if I could go over a very steep and curving wet drive without dumping myself over. My scooter seems very unstable in the rain or on wet pavement and I've nearly tipped it several times. If one parent had stayed with me, the drivers would have seen her and not continued to back up since she was higher than bumper height. And if the bus forgot her? Well, I already had to drive my own car, and she could have returned with me. The irony? The buses weren't even there yet! They drivers must have got the message from early in the day, because at pick up time later, they parked on either side of the sidewalk ramp, and another woman in a scooter and I were both able to leave. Another teacher, who had not been with our group, also made sure traffic was clear for me on either side of the buses before I crossed the road to the parking area. She got it, and she would not have been one to have left me behind earlier. She has chronic illnesses herself.

This shortcut might have saved a minute or minute and a half at most. The buses would not have left without one of the classes.

The amazing part? Everyone probably thinks they helped a gimp that day because they closed one door and opened another so I could get into one of the buildings. Or told a kid to stop running past me. Or asked what was wrong with me, in front of my kid, who has been emotional about it. Or joked with the kids that they might need the scooter later in the day. But the most dangerous instances, when my life was at stake? They didn't notice.

The kids I supervised? They were great. A little too rambunctious at times, but no problems I haven't had on foot. I had to tell them I was angry at one point because they were not listening. Saying "I am angry" had a stronger impact than saying, "you guys need to stay with me and can't wander off." That's to be expected. That's why we have chaperones.

The only problems I experienced were from adults' disablism. And disablism can kill.


Elizabeth McClung said...

Sounds truely horrific and rather like bad dreams I had only yours was real, and I like your ending becuase you are right, everyone went home likely patting themselves on the back for a) Putting up with that clearly "very difficult woman" and b) being so kind to disabled people in general.

Meanwhile, your message that "obstruction isn't accomadation" and "running over people isn't accomadation" seem to have been lost on the general public. Sometimes I Want to do a "What is wrong with this picture" disability series and see HOW long it takes for people to notice that the person in the parking lot in the chair has been blocked everywhere - or will they EVER notice.

Sorry the day went so...shitty and hazardous.

FridaWrites said...

Yes re. the "what's wrong with this picture idea!" I have thought about and think I will start taking photographs. Someone blocked an elevator with a box this week--and guess which of the two elevators arrives? I can at least use the photographs as a lesson for the Cub Scouts or Girl Scouts.

I like Wheelchair Dancer's words to one woman: "What kind of person are you?"

Just grateful that I wasn't run over, but grateful is such a sad term. It's like getting bread and water when you want the gourmet meal everyone else is getting, or at least to be able to pull up to the table.