I have the unique ability to be invisible. For a while, I thought it was because I am shorter than most adults.
If that is true, I thought, how is it that children are not bulldozed down into the ground? Maybe, I reasoned, that is why kids have such high voices; it is a survival mechanism to alert adults around them that they are “down here.” Eventually, I came suspect that something else is going on – a societal preference. Our mores define children as needing protection and consideration. So, we notice them; we see them. The same is not true for the disAbled; our societal position is muddied and conflicting. As a society, we nod our heads with smug smiles agreeing that the disabled should be treated with respect.
As a wheelchair occupant, I can tell you that society does not often practice what it preaches. I will admit that a small segment of people will notice me and make accommodations. However, navigating the streets, stores, and social situations is a burdensome task. All my plans and movements must – and I do mean must – include me being responsible for everyone in my vicinity because I do not exist. Sounding alarms as I wheel with the foot traffic, I need to watch for cigarettes, purses, bags, and people who swerve in front of me. Without as much as a blush to the cheek, they admit, “Oh, I didn’t see you.”
You might think this is as humiliating as it can get, but no. Worse yet are the times that I am scorned for being invisible.
Recently, my husband and I spent the day in Chicago at Navy Pier. I was sitting out of the major pedestrian traffic path, but still blocking a small walkway. (I have to sit somewhere.) With a quick step and an urgency of importance swirling about her, a woman came straight towards me. She came to a screeching halt (I heard her brakes squeal) as my invisibility faded away. With furrowed brow and lips, she waved her hand as if swatting an annoying insect (speaking is difficult with a frowning mouth) for me to move. Realizing that I had become visible, I turned on my wheelchair. (Let me give you some inside information, electric wheelchairs take about five seconds to charge up before they are operational.) Well, the necessary five seconds was too long for her. Miss I Can’t Wait Because I Have Important Things to Do, huffed and puffed (was she about to blow me away?), told me to move (without wanting to hear that I needed to wait for my wheelchair), stomped about (was she ready to stampede me?), and then turned sharply to her left, took three steps, and walked (or should I say charged?) past me.
With her went my moment of visibility, and I retreated once again to wait for the next moment.