Last week, I was coming home from a housecleaning job in Live Oak. I’d been working at that job once a week for the past few months, but the people were moving, and they needed me to come and do a final cleanup for them. So I went over there several times, helping them get organized and cleaning up the apartment.
Ordinarily, I’d take the bus to the job and walk the four miles home. I love walking and it’s a nice way to relax after working during the afternoon. But on Friday, I was incredibly tired and I decided to take the bus back.
When I picked up the bus at 4:45, it was crowded and all of the accessible seats were taken. Some of the people using them were clearly disabled; others did not appear disabled, but might have been. My general policy is this: Unless I see someone who is very clearly nondisabled sitting in an accessible seat — such as a young man with a skateboard — I won’t ask the person to get up. I won’t make assumptions. For all I know, a young person who doesn’t give up an accessible seat might have an invisible disability, and I’m not going to question anyone. I pretty much depend on other people’s sense of decency around this issue; if a person doesn’t need the seat, I depend on that person to get up. Often, that works out well for me. Occasionally, it doesn’t. But it’s worth it to me to not question a person as to whether they’re really disabled or not. I’ve had that happen to me too many times to want to run the risk of doing it to someone else.
So I went to the back of the bus, where the aisle is narrower. I had a pull cart with me that had a few very light things in it. The bus driver told me that I couldn’t have the cart blocking the aisle, and that I had to put it in the luggage area at the front of the bus. So I traipsed down the aisle with my cane in one hand and the handle of the cart in the other. I put the cane down, picked up the cart, put it in the luggage rack, picked the cane back up, and went back to my seat.
As I was doing this, I was wondering whether I was confounding people’s expectations of a person using a cane. Were they surprised that I could stand on my feet long enough to pick up a cart and put it in a compartment three feet off the floor? Did they think I was faking disability? I’m not sure. But I was very interested in the contrast with how I used to feel walking through the world with only invisible disabilities. Before I used a cane, I generally had people assuming I was nondisabled and perfectly capable of doing everything in a “normal” way, and I was aware that they were rather shocked to discover that I’m disabled. Now, I generally have people assuming that I am disabled, and I’m always aware that they may be shocked when they see me doing things in a “normal” way.
No one said anything. I didn’t sense anyone giving me the evil eye. But I wonder about it. There is a self-consciousness I feel now that wasn’t there before — a sense that other people might be expecting me to live down to expectations. It’s very odd. Living down to expectations has never been my style. So it gives me a sense of power to just do what I need to do, whether it confounds people or not.
© 2013 by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg