The inside joke I have with friends when I go out with them is the phrase “in the way”. I was just reminded of it this morning as I was reading email and a person with a disability alluded to being “out of the way”.
One of the things I noticed after I began using a wheelchair is that, due to the fact that moving in a wheelchair is different than walking, wheelchair users are perceived as – and treated as – being “in the way”. At first, I was quite upset to realize this and went to great lengths to somehow get out of the way. However, over time, I began to realize that my wheelchair and I were going to take up a certain amount of space in any given time and place and that was a matter of physics, nothing else. In effect there was nothing I could do about it.
And I certainly can’t control other peoples’ perceptions. If they choose to see wheelchair users – or disabled people in general – as in the way, then that’s it. It’s certainly not helpful to inclusion – it’s objectifying and, worse yet, creates an unnecessary hierarchy in terms of implying, somehow, that the disabled person can or should get out of the way.
This scenario , recreated over and over again, appears in many forms. If I’m waiting to use a handicap stall in a ladies’ room and it’s designed in such a way that the only place I can go blocks others, but if I move my place in line isn’t preserved, then the Catch 22 situation of being in the way becomes obvious not only to me but to an astute observer. Narrow and small waiting areas, whether they are in restaurants or doctors’ offices, create the same problem. So does poor placement of furniture that creates narrow spaces, crowding the ingress/egress space to a bare minimum.
So, until more awareness is raised about the physics of all this and the reality that more and more wheelchair users and others with mobility equipment and issues are going to be out and about, the inside joke of “in the way” will continue. Humor is probably a good tool to use – along with , of course, the goal of working toward and supporting Universal Design.
Copyright 2007 Ruth Harrigan