As the weather keeps heading toward warmer territory, I find it helpful to give yet another talk on how to be sensitive to those around us who are disabled. Con season is beginning, and summer vacations will be here soon as well – all situations where a large amount of people are trying to navigate the same huge crowd. Since these situations can be a little tough on us, here are a few pointers to make everyone’s trip just a little smoother.
- If you can, leave the elevators’ use to those with disabilities. This is not always possible, of course; if your hotel room is on the 40th floor, nobody is expecting you to hoof it that far. But on a crowded Friday night, if you’ve only got to go up two flights and you’re able to, please do take those stairs. (For those who need an elevator and cannot get one: you can always call security, who can sometimes allow you to use the staff elevators if things get too bad.) Remember that, as an able-bodied person, you have options – stairs, elevators, escalators, ramps, walkways – but we don’t. If you can’t use an elevator, you can use the stairs. If we can’t use the elevator, we’re trapped there.
- In the same vein, if you’re in a public restroom, please do leave the use of handicapped stalls to the handicapped. I’d go as far as to say that, if there’s a line and it’s the last one available, and you can wait two minutes for a normal stall to come available – do it. And moms, I know that changing babies in public restrooms sucks, but try not to use the big stall for that or nursing, if you can. (Also, anyone who tells you that you need to nurse your baby in the bathroom needs a smack upside the head.)
- Something that should not need to be said, but I will anyway: There are few ways to show that someone is a complete jerk more quickly than using disabled parking spaces when you do not need or have a permit to. There’s simply no excuse, and if you see someone doing it, report them. On the flipside of this, if someone is using a parking permit and they look okay to you, don’t question it. Not all disabilities are visible!
- Being in the disabled line for things does give you perks, but personally? I would trade all of them to be able to sit in the regular line with the rest of the fans. I can promise you that nobody in the line is abusing it; everyone with a handicapped ID at a convention has to go through a vetting process that involves telling all your medical problems to someone you don’t know, who then gets to decide whether you get the assistance that you need. So when you see a group of disabled people let in to a panel or ride first, don’t be jealous, and do know that nobody is abusing that privilege. (We wouldn’t allow it. Someone gets caught faking it? I may be in a wheelchair, but my fist still works.) Like I said, I would much rather be in the regular line with you, having the old Kirk/Picard debate. (Picard, thank you.)
- Being seated all the time, I’m out of your line of sight. Remember that wheelchair users are around you! Nothing is more irritating than having someone decide that you’re not going fast enough, run ahead of you, and then stop suddenly. It can be hard to stop on a dime like that, and I’ve been ejected from my seat a time or two. That hurts.
- I’m also out of your line of hearing a lot of the time. If I have to raise my voice to ask you something, I’m not being rude – it’s just that I’ve already tried a normal volume and it didn’t work.
- For large events that require a lot of people standing around (i.e. fireworks), let the wheelchairs go in front of you. I can’t see up past you, but you can see over me perfectly, so everyone wins!
- Leave the wheelchair ramps for wheelchairs. Skateboarders, I’m looking at you. If there isn’t anywhere else for you to do your thing, then get your friends together, dabble in some activism, and get a small skate park opened in your city!
- Disabled people can cosplay too! There aren’t too many characters that are wheelchair-bound for us to play, but that shouldn’t mean we’re limited to only them. So if you see Wonder Woman in a wheelchair, give her the thumbs up instead of rolled eyes.
So there you go!