(1/2) As a disabled person, you get a lot of people knowing little about you casting judgement. Sometimes this is as you’re merely going about your day, and sometimes it’s facing accessibility issues; unfortunately, yes, they are intertwined more than one would hope, but today I’m here to speak of the former.
I’m using this platform to recount an experience I had with someone this week and the emotions it evoked in me upon reflection. My girlfriend, Becca, and I were going about our day in the Paisley Piazza (a small shopping complex, not far from Glasgow), and I needed to use the bathroom. As someone who suffers from several chronic illnesses, some of those diagnoses revolving around physical mobility and inflammation of the gut, I am eligible for a radar key- and by eligible for a radar key, I mean that I own a radar key. The absolute saviour of accessibility is incredibly beneficial to us spoonies, gaining access to a range of bathrooms across the UK, and I’ve used it in several locations this past weekend alone (Starbucks Edinburgh and St Enoch’s Mall in Glasgow to name a couple). So, as a disabled person, in the Piazza, I used my radar key to access the disabled bathroom.
Why? The answer is because I am a disabled person who needed the bathroom. But the answer is more Why, as an able bodied person, are you asking me to justify myself, as a disabled person?
I can share a plethora of reasons I needed to use that bathroom there and then, never mind in my every day life, or considering other disabilities. But… I do not have to justify myself to anyone.
I used my radar key to open the door of the accessible toilet and picked up items I had to lay down to open the door (my cane included), but before I could even take a step into the bathroom, a man’s voice could be heard behind us. I didn’t catch the first question he threw but what I did know is that it filled me with dread. Turning around, the man questioned why I was going into the toilet. Why? The truth is.. it’s none of his business.
If I’m honest, the word for word conversation following is not something I remember, but I can remember him questioning, I remember him being on the verge of pushing it before backing off when he saw the rage and upset on our faces, and I can remember the rage.
There was an irony; the door stated ‘not all disabilities are visible’, and earlier Becca had taken a picture of me posing by the sign with my cane and key outside it, in pride of the town I like to call home (though 350 miles from where I live) respecting diversity just as much as large corporations do. I was excited a town celebrated the fact that not all disabilities are visible. But the rage also came from the fact it was visible; I was walking with my cane, a mobility aid. Mobility aid or not, all disabilities are valid and only as a disabled person do you have the right to define your own disability, but this man still looked passed the physical mobility aid and tried to define my disability.
The moments following that were red, and I had to use the bathroom as we writhed in anger. At the time, my feelings were very internalised; Every time this happens it hurts, so sometimes you need to disassociate it to get by. Now? It’s for sure hit me more. I think this is aided by the fact events on the London underground sparked my thought once more.
The feelings evoked in you are not just those of hurt and anger, however- it’s the fear and anxiety that got me. Firstly, hearing another voice speak with the man outside the cubicle… What are they saying? Are they going to open the door whilst in here? Have they obtained another person to harass us? I was scared of how i’d be treated and in an anxious state for doing something natural and rational. Beyond that, I knew i’d become hyper aware of the looks I’d get for using my cane, the judgement. It should not be that the notion of living as a young and disabled person is questioned, that we should have to live in fear.
It was also upsetting because the ableist was unfortunately also a homophobe. His attitude expressed to us as a queer couple lacked acceptance and that is just awful. The way he acted was partially due to the fact that I entered the cubicle with my partner, who happens to also be a woman. It is likely he questioned our intentions, but it’s quite amusing to know if we were a heterosexual couple, this would not be questioned. Logically, it also makes sense that my partner would enter with me- though not relevant to this specific example, there have been times I lose power in a certain area or struggle with standing as a result of chronic illness, and I can imagine that if i’d have had someone with me when I was in my worst flare of last year, it would have made things a lot easier (even than with the accessible aids already in the disabled toilet)! It is just really sad that two parts of my identity were questioned as I went about my daily life, in one situation alone.
I felt it necessary to return to my blog with this unfortunate story as a voice for disabled people- please, ableds, stop. You know nothing about me and even if you did, where is your right to cast judgement? It isn’t here for sure.
If you’ve ever thought to question a disabled person- with a visible illness or not- take a step back and realise that you probably shouldn’t. I think it’s fair to say we face enough grief from our own bodies and discrimination partaking in basic livelihoods.
Be kind to one another.