As a disabled, young woman, I find that I spend a fair amount of time cringing.
I cringe at people on the internet who think their ableist comments are worthy of their own laugh track.
I cringe at people on the street who ask me wildly inappropriate questions at the absolute worst of times.
I cringe at myself because I have social anxiety and almost always think I’ve said something ridiculous.
But lately, it seems that there is one particular situation that makes me cringe more than all the rest.
I flat out get the heebie-jeebies when I enter a wheelchair-accessible space and someone says, “Isn’t this great! You must feel so excited/grateful/seen/etc.!”
What’s even worse is when the place in question isn’t even fully accessible. They might have a ramp, like those sold by National Ramp, but they’re missing an accessible toilet. Or perhaps they have an elevator, but the doorways aren’t large enough for my wheelchair to get through.
Family members, friends, and strangers alike have all made this comment to me at one time or another and each and every time it happens, I find myself getting more and more annoyed by its presence in my life.
It’s amazing to me that so many people still expect me to feel grateful for basic access.
I don’t feel grateful that I can enter a store or a restaurant, I feel entitled to be able to do so.
And, generally speaking, I am not an entitled person. In fact, for most of my life, I have felt the opposite of entitled.
For most of my life, I have been a victim of my own internalized ableism.
Internalized ableism can take on many forms. It can affect how you view yourself, other people, and your environment.
One of the thoughts that used to plague my mind every single day was that I was inherently burdensome simply because I was disabled. I truly thought that I was a problem; a disgrace, if you will. My mind would tell me that I was LUCKY to come across ANY place that was wheelchair accessible. After all, how could I expect the world to cater to someone as useless as me?
Clearly, this was a very unhealthy way to look at life.
But it was my life.
When people used to ask me if I was impressed by the access accommodations available within a certain space, I would practically perform my own one-woman monologue for anyone who would listen. I’d rave about every detail and let everyone know just how GRATEFUL I was.
But even back then, I knew something felt off about this behavior. What I used to think was gracious positivity I now recognize as a performance of comfort.
I would say anything and everything that I could to make sure non-disabled people knew how important access was to someone like me. In my own way, I was educating them through pity, which really isn’t as effective as you might think.
Whether or not a space is accessible shouldn’t even be a question in the year 2021, but it is. Technology like elevators have been around for well over a century and ramps can be traced back to ancient Egypt. Yet still, the world places so much expectation on the disabled population to react a certain way whenever they come across either.
So, after all this, you’re probably wondering how I really feel when I enter a fully accessible space. Let me take you through my thought process:
1. To begin, I will almost always experience a mix of shock and doubt. I feel like I need to combine these together because they are most definitely connected. If a place claims to be fully accessible, my instinct is to not believe them. That way, I am less disappointed if I later find out I am right.
2. I tend to be wrong from time to time, and when this is the case, I can physically feel contentment spread throughout my body. Not joy or excitement, but relief. At this stage, I know I can let myself relax and enjoy the day, night, experience, etc. Because access isn’t about convenience, it’s about safety. Its entire purpose is to make sure people like me are able to get around without pain or injury to our already fragile bodies or damage to our mobility aids.
3. As much as it annoys me to admit, I often still do feel grateful for access when I come across it. I honestly dream of a day where accessibility is the norm so I can banish this feeling from this list entirely, but for the foreseeable future, I’m sure it will remain.
And then, within 60 seconds or less, it’s all over. Unless I am required to write a review or provide further opinions/information to someone on the access of a space, if it was a good experience, I tend to not spend much more time thinking about the subject. I will simply do what I came to do and go home, like every other person that visits a space.