Monday, June 28, 2021

No Longer Living a Lie



This is the time of year when everybody reflects on how far cripples have progressed over the last few decades or so because July 26 is the anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.

Well one thing I can say about how the ADA has changed  my life is I don’t have to fake like I have a doctor’s appointment anymore. I used to have to do that a lot back in the 1970s and early 1980s, before the ADA was a glimmer. There was all kinds of public transportation in Chicago but none of it was wheelchair accessible so if a cripple like me needed to go somewhere and if they didn’t have a car they could drive, they had to call MOSCH, the Mayor’s Office for Senior Citizens and the Handicapped. (Well okay, that’s another thing that’s changed for the better since those days. We don’t get referred to as handicapped anymore. They used to call us that in the press all the time, but not now. And the government agencies that are supposed to serve us sure as hell don’t call us that.  The ADA isn’t called the Americans with Handicaps Act.)

MOSCH would dispatch a van equipped with a wheelchair lift to pick you up if you were lucky enough to get through before they were all booked up. And their limited hours we something like 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday thru Friday. And they would only take you to doctor’s appointments.

So what I did if I wanted to go somewhere was figure out what hospital, clinic, dentist’s office, etc. was nearby and I’d have the MOSCH van driver drop me off there and I’d go inside and wait for the driver to be far enough away and then I’d go to where I really wanted to go. And then I’d hustle back to the medical place in time for my pick up. And all the time in between when I roamed the streets I lived in fear that a van driver would see me and report me to their superiors and my lone source of independent transportation would be cut off, even though I’d never heard a confirmed case of that actually happening to anybody .

The people at MOSCH probably thought I was the sickliest cripple on earth since I was always seeing doctors all over the city. Sometimes when riding in the van I wondered if I should fake a hacking coughing fit just to maintain my cover.

But I don’t have to live that stressful lie anymore. All the buses and most of the train stations are wheelchair accessible now and none of the drivers or train operators give a shit where I’m going or why. They just shut up and take me there.

So at least there’s that. But it’s a lot. 

P.S. But of course not all cripples are this lucky. A lot of cripples who are stuck in nursing homes or places like that where someone else runs your fucking life for you still have to fake being sick. Sometimes the only way to get the hell out of one of those places is to pretend you're having a heart attack so they have to call an ambulance for you. They only take you to the hospital and back, but at least you see a little damn daylight.

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Saturday, June 19, 2021

Good Signs, Bad Signs


I guess the proliferation of those big blue signs with the white wheelchair stick figure on them is supposed to be a sign of progress. It means cripples are welcome more and more. But I’ll really feel like we’re making progress when I see that same sign except with a slash through the white wheelchair stick figure, meaning cripples are not welcome.

Because it’s too bad those blue access signs are even necessary. But they are necessary because cripples eventually come to assume through life experience that we are unwelcome unless informed to the contrary. Exclusion is our default position. We often err on the side of avoidance. Before I go someplace I’ve never been before, like a restaurant or whatever, I feel the need to call ahead and ask a bunch of questions to make sure I can actually get in and around and all that.

But it’s funny that, as a white man, I’ve never felt that I need additional confirmation to reassure me that I’m welcome. I’ve never felt that I needed to see a sign that says WHITE MEN WELCOME, which is good because no such signs exist. They aren’t necessary because that would be to belabor the obvious. As a white man, my default is the opposite of what it is as a cripple. Before I go someplace I’ve never been before, like a restaurant or whatever, I never call ahead and ask if white men are welcome.

You never see NO SMOKING signs anymore for the same reason. They’re unnecessary. Everybody assumes everywhere is no smoking unless otherwise designated. But it used to be the opposite. Everybody assumed everywhere was okay for smoking unless otherwise designated so you saw NO SMOKING signs every day.

But things have changed so much that NO SMOKING signs are now obsolete. So wouldn’t it be cool if things changed so much that the blue sign with the white wheelchair stick figure was unnecessary and obsolete because everybody just assumed cripples were welcome everywhere? And wouldn’t it be cooler still if signs with a slash through the white wheelchair stick figure were necessary to serve as a warning because cripples being unwelcome was so out of the ordinary?

Maybe someday.  

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Saturday, June 5, 2021

The Trespassing Tuba Player



Every big city cripple who rides public transit has experienced that awkward moment. You enter the bus but the seating area that’s reserved for cripples is occupied by someone with a baby carriage.

A stand-off ensues. Now what do you do? Will the person with the carriage refuse to move and escalate this into an ugly confrontation? If so, then you should assert yourself because, after all, that is your spot. The Americans with Disabilities Act is on your side. And a lot of people fought long and hard for the ADA so it is essentially your duty to past and future generations of cripples to insist that the person with the baby carriage vacate your territory. There is no such thing as the Americans with Baby Carriages Act.

But what are you going to do if the person refuses to move? Sue? And right there in the seating area there’s a sign, clear as day, that says PRIORITY SEATING FOR SENIOR CITIZENS AND PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES. It doesn’t say a damn thing about baby carriages! But there is no force of law behind that sign. It’s merely a suggestion. Most people obey it not because they’re afraid they’ll get arrested but because they don’t want to be an enormous prick. But what if this particular person with the baby carriage is a proud member of the rapidly growing segment of the populace that isn’t afraid to be an enormous prick and thus refuses to move? And what if you choose not to be the peacemaker by exiting the bus and waiting for the next one? The bus driver will eventually have to call the police and meanwhile everybody will have to wait and your fellow passengers will hate you. You won’t exactly come off as the new Rosa Parks.

Fortunately for me, every time I’ve faced this situation the squatter in the cripple spot has always yielded. But there was one time when things could’ve easily gotten out of hand real quick if not for a twist of fate. Rahnee and I were riding the bus so both cripple spots were occupied. The driver swung over to a bus stop and opened the door. There stood that street musician I’d seen playing tuba on Michigan Avenue. He was pushing a wheelchair and its passenger was a tuba. Apparently he used a wheelchair to tote his horn around town.

The driver told the tuba man that both wheelchair spots were occupied. And the angry tuba man said, “Damn cripples!”

The driver closed the doors and swung away and that was that. But what if the tuba man had gotten on the bus before us and beaten us to the cripple seats? Judging from his reaction, he may well have refused to move. And that would've gotten me riled and I surely would’ve said something like, “According to the ADA, you’re trespassing! There is no such thing as the Americans with Tubas Act! And I don’t see any sign that says PRIORITY SEATING FOR DUMBASS TUBA PLAYERS!” And the tuba man would’ve dug in his heels deeper and the driver would’ve had to call the police and the whole thing would’ve exploded to the point where the fire department would have to come too to extract my head from a tuba using the Jaws of Life and a lot of butter.

And I wouldn’t have exactly come off as the new Rosa Parks.  

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