This one’s not my usual cheery ‘overcome every obstacle’ type blog post. It’s not all sunshine , rainbows and moments for your ‘inspiration porn’ (anyone wanting to know more about that topic can watch Stella Young’s TEDTalk). Sometimes being disabled sucks.
Sometimes it’s difficult not to feel invisible as a disabled person (hence the title of this blog post). I’ll run through some of the situations that make me feel invisible and why.
“Sorry, I didn’t see you there”
This one usually comes about when someone looks directly at me and then proceeds to walk into or over me in order to get to wherever they’re going. Initially, my response tended to be one of confusion, HOW do you not see a giant red machine of a wheelchair when it’s wheeling straight towards you?! And then I realised it’s not a case of not physically being seen, it’s a case of not being expected to be exist in certain places, it’s not being expected to be out in town, or on the commute, or out for a drink, doing the same things as everyone else. I get the same feeling when people stare or look twice when they see me around, like they don’t EXPECT me to be there. And it’s a little upsetting when you realise you aren’t seen or EXPECTED to have the life everyone else does.
“Watch where you’re going!”
This one comes about when is on their phone while walking and walks straight into me. And before anyone mentions “well why don’t you just move out of the way?” I’m not about to start playing slalom because people on their phones can’t pay attention. And this is the thing, “watch where you’re going!” makes it seem like I as the disabled person am the problem, but the person on their phone is the one not paying attention! But then I realised that it’s easier to blame me as the vulnerable person who’s not expected to bite back than it is to just admit you made a mistake (the irony of expecting ME to be the girl who doesn’t bite back isn’t lost on me).
“I didn’t think about that”
This one particularly wears on me, because “I didn’t think about that” comes across as “I didn’t think about you or how you live”. I get that on an individual level this can be a perspective thing, you don’t know someone’s situation until you walk in their shoes (or roll in their wheel tracks). But when it comes to businesses and institutions, they should be thinking about the needs of all potential patrons, so when they say “I didn’t think about that” that shows me that they don’t see me as someone who should be accessing their business or service. It all comes back to feeling invisible because I’m not EXPECTED to be in certain places. It sometimes seems like all I’m expected to do is sit at home and be sad about being disabled. And on this whole business accessibility thing…
“We aren’t accessible”
This is something that comes about when I ring somewhere to check accessibility for a gig and get a straight “we’re not wheelchair accessible”. A straight no in this respect is the worst because it says “we don’t see or value as a patron enough to even attempt some sort of solution to our access issues. This is usually accompanied by “we’re a listed building there’s nothing we can do”. This seems like a giant excuse, when you consider that World Heritage sites like Machu Picchu are now accessible, there’s always a way around issues if you WANT there to be. So, unless you show me that you tried to get permission to make accessibility adaptations and were refused, I’ll assume it’s less that there’s nothing you CAN do about accessibility and more there’s nothing you WANT to do. And again, I become invisible.
“We turned that off because it was too cold/inconvenient”
This usually happens when I ask why automatic doors aren’t working and get this response. This is the most blatant reminder that I’m invisible as it says, “our convenience is more important than your independence”. Newsflash, if you’re only accessible when it’s convenient for you as a business, you’re not actually accessible. It makes it seem like you’re only accessible for the brownie points and that I’m only a token patron “because look at us we’re accessible, look a disabled person using our shop”. Like I’m invisible until me being visible makes you look good and let me tell you that realising you’re invisible until your existence is good for someone else is the worst feeling.
I’m not here to be your inspiration or your token, or so you can gain brownie points, but I am here as much as I sometimes feel invisible, and I’ll keep reminding the world I’m here until everyone realises it. I’m not Harry Potter, I shouldn’t have an invisibility cloak.
Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)