Where is Everybody?
It’s Disability Awareness Month. The time of year where corporations post about all the ways they support the disabled community while fighting legal action against their inaccessible website. Where people talk about how much they support their disabled relatives while actively voting against their interests and well‐being.
All of that shit aside, I can’t deny how much laws like the ADA have had a positive impact on my life and how much disability representation and media has improved since I was a kid. But, as a wheelchair user, there’s one question I just can’t seem to answer: if we’ve made so much progress, where the fuck is everybody?
Everywhere I go, every store I enter, every bus I ride, every job I’ve had—why am I the only person (below retirement age and that isn’t homeless) in a wheelchair in the whole fucking place? Where the fuck is everybody?
I mean, can you imagine how weird that feels? Imagine if everywhere you went, you were the only man in the place. Seriously, think about it. Go to the gym? No guys. Grocery store? Ladies as far as the eye can see. Job interviews? Bus rides? Swimming pools? Every once and a while you’ll be at a bar and someone will come up to you and say something like “Hey! My cousin’s a man! Do you guys know each other? Yeah, they got in an accident when he was 20. Drunk driver dude‐ed them from the waste down. Crazy stuff.”
It gets so bad that you can put “look for the man” in the delivery instructions when you order pizza at the bar and they always find you. And when you do actually see another man in public, it’s so shocking that you can’t help but stare. What impact would that have on how you perceive yourself? How would you feel whenever you went out in public? Would you feel welcome? Accepted? Safe?
999 out of a 1000 times I go out, I am literally the only person in a wheelchair that doesn’t have a “spare any change?” sign in front of them. It’s boggles my mind how people can talk about “disability awareness” when no one seems to notice that a huge group of disabled people seem to have gone missing from daily public life!
Here’s what I think happened: laws like the ADA made things accessible but they never really made things equitable. It’s like how you can call a chicken “cage free” if you let it walk around, but still keep it indoors. Grab bars, IEPs, and elevators don’t change the job market in a small town. No amount of accessibility is going to cut the price of getting a car modified. If the cheapest apartments in town are too small or too old for a wheelchair user to live in, they might as well not exist.
Ramps and wide doors won’t fix an economic system designed to exclude anyone who doesn’t have access to 5 senses and four limbs. Until we start focusing on economic accessibility instead of just physical accessibility, a large portion of disabled folk are going to remain missing.