Disclaimer: This blog post contains coarse language and may be offensive to some readers. Reader discretion is advised.
ad·vo·cate (noun): one who supports or promotes the interests of a cause or group
ass·hole (noun): a stupid, annoying, or detestable person
By definition, these two words are completely different. But, when you’re passionate about something, whether that be a specific group or a specific cause, sometimes the line between advocating for the rights of that group and being an asshole about it can become blurred and the words become interchangeable.
Before Shawn’s injury I didn’t notice things like curbs without ramp access, restaurants with only stairs or high top tables, public bathrooms too small to fit a wheelchair, or a lack of wheelchair parking spaces. It took making a dinner reservation at a restaurant, only to get there and find out that we couldn’t get inside, or booking a hotel room to only to find out that he couldn’t fit through the bathroom door for me to realize, wait a sec, there’s something wrong here. It took knowing someone with these needs to realize how inaccessible our world is to people with mobility issues and disabilities. This is the point at which I became an advocate.
Since then we have had many situations where things have been less than ideal. We’ve had to fight for a doctor to pay attention when we are in the emergency room; just because he can’t feel it, doesn’t mean that there isn’t something wrong and his body isn’t in pain. We’ve had to tell someone “Hey buddy, you’re parked in the wheelchair stall and you don’t have your sign up. Oh, you don’t have one? Could you please move then? This is the last wheelchair spot.” We’ve had to tell the concierge at the hotel that the mirrors in our accessible room are WAY too high for Shawn to see in and the beds are too high to transfer on to. We’ve had to ask at a restaurant if they have a ramp, and if they don’t, ask if they will help lift Shawn up the stairs.
My mother always told me “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Most of the time it’s simple enough to point it out to people that hey, your venue really isn’t as accessible as you advertised it was and they’ll become super apologetic, asking what they can do to help or make it better and offering you a refund. Unfortunately there have been times when I’m unable to follow moms rule because I believe that sometimes, but only sometimes, you have to be an asshole to get your point across and be heard. Like when buddy who’s parked in the last wheelchair parking stall gets defensive and tells you he’s just waiting for someone inside and will be gone soon. I’m sorry, ignorance and stupidity are not a handicap and do not qualify for this parking space. Move your car. Or when the emergency doctor tries to send you home and you have to tell him there is absolutely no way you are leaving until your loved one gets an xray because something is wrong and they aren’t listening to you. Or when you are waiting to get on the elevator at the mall because your wheelchair just isn’t capable of doing stairs and you have 4 perfectly able bodied people squeeze on there in front of you. Excuse me, who do you think you are?
I’ve never been one to hold my tongue and not tell people exactly what’s on my mind, so I have a hard time keeping my temper in check when it comes to these types of situations. Over the years, however, I’ve learned that you get a lot further when you’re nice to people, haha! Who would’ve thought right? It’s a fine line though between saying hey, we have rights and would like to be treated like every other able bodied person and demanding it, even though there are situations that call for both. I’ve also learned that you can’t speak for the majority. When you’re upset over a situation, speak for yourself or your loved one, speak for others only once they have agreed with you and backed you. Not everyone with your disability will feel the same about your situation as you do; not all disabilities are the same and not all people with disabilities view themselves the same way you do. Either way, learn to read your situation and always stand up for what you believe in, just try to do it nicely before resorting to being an ass!
Excuse the profanity in this blog post but we feel strongly that there is a fine line between being an advocate for accessibility and just plain being an asshole. There we said it! Now this post is not meant to offend, it is merely meant to be informative and remember that it is OUR point of view. We are speaking on behalf of ourselves and our personal opinions NOT the wheelchair community as a whole.
The art of advocacy is a tricky one. We all know the world is not accessible and there will be several times in a day, a week or a month when James and I simply cannot access a building, activity or event. Try as we might but sometimes it’s just not doable. So what do you do to improve our society and make things easier for the mobility impaired? Lots of bitching comes to mind.
Initially I’m angry, frustrated and down right annoyed at some situations so foul language has, on occasion, come out of my mouth. Nothing but negativity is surrounding me at the present moment. I get really strong, grow taller my skin turns green…oh wait that’s the hulk…I just turn into an asshole.
There is a misconception that yelling, complaining and getting angry are the only ways to be heard. People pay way more attention to someone who is mad, right? Unfortunately, I disagree. When we let anger get the best of us I believe, in fact, this does our community a great disservice. We are less heard because our complaint has turned into a whine and our frustration has turned us into an asshole. No one likes an asshole, wheelchair or not. This is not to say we should throw in the towel. Getting emotional is a big part of creating change on this earth. So how do we let our inner asshole work toward a greater good?
There are a lot of ways to turn a negative situation to a positive. The first step….or wheel is to take a chill pill. Take a second to observe your circumstance. Time is the best healer of an unnecessary outburst (so is wine but if you don’t have that handy just take some deep breaths). Then think “how can I turn this around to create a win-win”? An event coordinator did not purposely make their establishment non accessible or a business owner didn’t put a ramp up because they don’t want your business…they simply just do not know. Many people are unaware of the challenges people in wheelchairs face on a day to day basis. I certainly was before I meant James. Ramps, elevators, cut outs never crossed my mind…ever. So the chances are these things haven’t crossed the minds of the majority as well. It’s not personal it’s just not thought of. So education is the next step; information is key. Talk to whoever it is you need to and demonstrate how difficult it is to access their place, why you need to park there and also offer solutions. If your words are not heard and you felt you have done all you can to put your point across, then you may be justified to hulk out. On many occasions we have used humor to be our biggest asset. Laughter is a way to not only be noticed, but also heard. I know it may be hard in the heat of the moment but if you can turn your attitude around and laugh at a situation, someone might be much more inclined to listen to what you have to say…and hopefully change.
So the next time you encounter an obstacle and you will, try this. I am not saying you shouldn’t stand up (haha stand up) for accessibility, I am merely suggesting there may be a more positive and effective way. Initially suppress that inner asshole with a more peaceful approach and see how your outcome prevails….and then let me how it goes!
Since you are reading this on Wheel Love, a blog about life with men in wheelchairs, I think it’s safe to say that we all have the same cause at heart. It’s hard to believe that in this day and age, we still have to fight for things like equality, but we do. Disability and accessibility awareness are becoming more talked about and more well known with the help of social media platforms and places where people can share their stories and their struggles with a wider audience. Make your voice heard, share your stories and together we can make changes.
So keep up the good fight, but remember that there’s a time and place for being an asshole.
Sam & Chelsea