Sunday, December 6, 2015

To my wonderful roommates

A lot of people often ask me why I live the way I do. I've gotten into this before. While many other students and recent graduates are offering up spare rooms and synergizing their resources, I've  decided that it's time for me to live alone, again. I suppose this is never really true in a manner of speaking, given my situation where I receive support, at least not at this point in time. I don't exactly know what that says about me, or the society I've grown up in, but I have learned quite a few things over the past year and a half. and there are some things I'd like to say.

To the people who didn't sign up for this: thank you
For not running away screaming
For making me laugh
For putting up with my drama
For letting strangers into your space
For growing up quickly
For blasting music too loud
For being cool when I was not
Or when you didn't have to be
For never feeling sorry for me
Because shit happens
At any given moment
Because I was never one of those people
I was one of you
For all  the parties, dance parties, accomplishments.
Even if you didn't understand what it meant
It meant something. You got that
For that I am grateful

 You didn't sign up for this. I know that.  And I know you will probably never choose to have an experience like that ever again, you don't have to, I don't blame you. But you did. And even though  you are relieved because  there are no more emergencies, no  more accidents, no more weirdos being locked out, no more rescuing me from buses, no more worrying about me, I hope that each one of you took something from that year.  Because I  certainly did.  You can be young, you can  be you, and you should be.  And every year, it gets harder for me to want to share space with people. Because it's weird, it's complicated. No one WANTS  to do that.  You are the people that understand that I  sometimes feel like a baby in an old person's body.  You restored my faith in humanity, and, when I'm ready,  I hope I can to share life with awesome individuals like you. Stay weird! <3 <3

Let's talk about accessible bathrooms

     OK, so this post started out as a joke that wasn't really supposed to happen but some other perspectives on this issue got me thinking.
When I traveled to Europe, I knew that there would be many accessibility challenges due to old buildings and various architectural structures on the streets throughout different places. But London did have one difference which proved to be quite useful, albeit quite interesting as well–accessible bathrooms.
      That is not to say that we don't have them here, because we do.  But there are a few differences that I would like to try to illustrate.
     The UK has something called the National Key Scheme and the RADAR Key. This is a national program that creates  standards for separate accessible bathrooms that are cleaned and locked and can only be opened by people who have this key, or business managers if they have one. Most of the facilities are very nice and have standard features different from what we would see here in the US. For example, most toilets have at least one armrest that folds down on the side, in addition to a railing. There is also a separate, lower sink and an emergency cord to pull if you need help. These facilities, while not available everywhere, ensure access to a variety of people for a one time fee. Another difference is that, at least in the UK, or other places throughout Europe, the disabled toilet is separated from the men's and women's toilet, similar to how we might have a family restroom here, eliminating the need for stalls or small spaces.
      This compact design  can also create some issues, though. For a person like myself, who may need extra room to stand up, or for a person to help them, the lowered sink on the wall always hit me in the knees, and the railing was not usually at the right angle to be of any assistance. So, it got me thinking about how different people's needs can really clash. At home and in the community, I would usually use a larger chair, which could be accommodated by this space, but could not usually fit in the appropriate place at home. What about folks whose mobility devices were higher or lower, or needed more space for a lift of some kind.  Areas with a  larger space may be harder to access for people who need everything to be within arms reach. What about people who require open concept? Or need tactile identifiers? These are still often things that are not readily available. A friend of mine got me thinking about this and I read an article about Australia (and now the UK)  having a similar program. Then, I had to explain why this environment would be confusing for me, while it might work for her.  You can find the article here. More information about the NKS and what it looks like can also be found here.

 What does everyone think?  Why don't we have a similar distinction in the US?  Feel free to leave a comment about some of your experiences!

(Image description: A close up shot of a Radar toilet in Hyde Park, London. The back of the tank is visible as well as an adaptive flush handle with a round platform so I can flush with my elbow. A part of a black grab bar is also visible to the right, raised to be flush with the wall. )

The letter, and what it says about my thoughts on San Bernardino

     I always struggle with whether or not to comment on current events, because usually by the time I get around to it, it's no longer relevant or may not deserve people's attention. As many of you know, I have a very big mouth, but rarely do I actually open it in the interests of seeing how these events effect the world in a journalistic way. I know that I'm not always going to agree with everything that crosses my feed, but personally, for me that doesn't mean I have to block out that information, as much as my visceral reaction may want me to. I think it's what makes this media different from many others.
     In light of recent events in San Bernardino, I saw a friend say something to the effect of that if everyone is now talking about equality, this is not the kind of equality that is meant, by now pteontially including disabled people in the list of victims of mass violence. But, it couldn't help being my first thought when I heard about what happened, it was like “Oh look, there's another one, I guess they're going to shoot us now, too.” When reading follow-up stories about this, it is unclear as of yet to me if any of the victims were actually disabled, or if they just worked in this center that assisted disabled people. Please correct me if I'm wrong.
    And then, I thought back to this letter that circulated on social media a couple years ago from an angry neighbor of a woman with an autistic grandson.  (Trigger warning, there are a lot of ableist slurs and mention of violence and euthanasia here). And that's when I realized that things like this are no longer specified to a particular group, but are becoming more widespread toward other minority groups (in this case, Muslims), as they have been throughout various periods in history. It is not just about  this letter, it is about what has been said back-and-forth on social media for months now. And let me be the first to say I don't really know what to make of this.  I find myself to be a person interested in learning  about all backgrounds and generally tolerant of  opposing viewpoints.
     But the thing that makes our country different is that these opinions are allowed to exist, whether I believe in them or not. What the community chooses  to do with that as a whole  is both a collective and an individual decision. It's only sad that harm to others must happen before this decision is reached. While I have decided that I will not own a gun, if for nothing else than the practical reasons of not being steady enough to shoot one, that does not allow me to put that opinion on others. The existence of differences should allow us to learn from each other.  I was raised in a place where there is value to things like hunting and culture when practiced properly and safely. At the same time, traveling to Britain  where the civilian population is not permitted to own guns except for very special circumstances was a real eye-opener, because most felt safe enough that they didn't need them. I realize that I may very well have said things here that contradict myself, and that's okay. I fully expect backlash, but that does not mean that I need to engage with any or all of it. I am still figuring this out, as is most everyone in America right now.
     When it came out  in the Paris attacks that some were targeting the disabled first, my thoughts went back and forth between “How dare they target us specifically!” and “What does that say about us as a population if they specifically don't target us?” I know that's awful, as I don't like to think about that in terms of any human being, but it's something I think about a lot when I go out at night. People are concerned about me, because it's dark and I'm in a wheelchair, thinking that something will happen to me just because of this, and yet, sometimes, this is countered by me thinking that “Oh, no, why would anyone mess with the disabled person?” sometimes giving me a sense of false confidence, although I know intuitively that  I am strong in the dangerous situation for other reasons. But I realize it all comes down to other people's understandings of me and of each other. And that every person who is different in some way could have gotten a letter like the one above.  And that a lot of people have in the past few months. Think about that the next time you see a post on social media. I wish that people would use these freedoms that we have to try and understand each other. Then maybe there would be more love and fewer shootings in this world.