Personal Space

Before I set into writing the latest post, which proves of all things I am still alive and kicking I have a few updates. First, the biopsy came back, and I do not have cancer. Second, I just painted seven paintings in five days. My hands are sore. Why would I paint seven paintings in a week? One was for fun, six were for a contest. I really want to win, but, only time will tell if I actually do. I am certain a few of you will want to see these pictures. The contest was run by Overground EIC, and as I cannot draw yet, I used their line art. The seventh picture was drawn by a local comic book artist named Paul Ziomek. He’s a really nice guy too. So, here is a link to my gallery on DeviantArt and just in case you want to support artists who are local (to me) here is a link to 7000BC, a local comic book group. They have some really cool stories.

I am actually hoping to start a weekly web comic with someone, so if you know any artists who want to audition, let me know. I will be hosting a contest soon. I already have a few scripts, and it doesn’t take too much time for me to write. In fact, I might even update the blog more often if I do that.

Now, here is the actual blog post for today:

Personal Space:

The issue of Personal Space comes up frequently when we are children. We are taught boundaries, we are taught that we cannot just touch strangers. I was taught this at least, and reminded often that my own space was worthless, but I had best not encroach on anyone else’s territory.

As an adult this was the norm until I started using assistive devices. It was then that I learned another facet of ableism included touching these devices, leaning on them, and even hitting them. Would you ever touch a person’s purse? The answer is usually not without permission. Why is it alright then, for people to smack my chair, try and take the key, or even tell me just how cute it is that I use a wheelchair?

You are probably confused by their actions as much as I am, and you also probably experience versions of this as well. I am not sure why it has become the norm for people to tell me that my wheelchair is cute. I understand the perspective of another person who is shopping for a chair deciding mine is really cool and asking me questions, that is perfectly reasonable, and is something I have done myself. I understand a child needing to ask me what I am driving a miniature care for. I do not understand walking up to someone and smacking the top of their chair and telling them how cute it is that they have a sunshade on their wheelchair.

This happened at a Walgreen’s that is just a block away from my house. My Person and I were there, getting some snacks and were going to rent movies after. I was in glee as I had found lotion I could use with minimal reaction, my arms stayed red for only an hour and eyeliner that I was not allergic to, could use properly, and is hard to obtain. This Walgreen’s carries authentic Egyptian Kohl. I am so excited by this that I actually spent all of my extra money on make up. We were about to check out when the Cashier gushed at me, “Oh how cute your chair is.” I looked at her and told her, “Excuse me?” She repeated it. Then, another employee smacks my sunshade and tells me it’s cool. I decided then and there to put a stop to this.

“Do you really think it’d be alright to smack someone’s cane? Do you think I would go around telling you that your crutches are cute if you broke your leg or your cast is cute? Don’t patronize me, don’t touch me or my assistive devices. I happen to think it’s a shame I no longer get to walk through your store. I happen to think it’s a shame you think that acting like an idiot is going to make me want to shop here. If you touch my chair again I will report you to the management, and if you,” Gesturing to the other person, “Speak to me like a child again, I will also report you to the management. This is not how you treat a customer, or any other human. I am sure you think less of me for saying this, but I think much less of you for behaving in an inappropriate manner.” The woman looked as if she would cry, and the young man who had thwapped my chair had backed up considerably. It took a lot of will power to not curse at them. I wanted to. Instead the woman said, “But it really is cute.”

My person knows I dislike advocating. I don’t know anyone who really enjoys it or wants to spend all their time arguing with people about their own right to exist, but, he has accepted that I will and must. He also has accepted that at times, he must as well. He spoke up then, “Don’t patronize her. Trust me, you don’t want to continue down this path. It’s not a threat, it’s just a warning from a fellow Walgreens Employee, that she knows her rights, and you are infringing on them.” He used to work for Walgreen’s, and as a result I know that the staff are taught to be courteous. I am certain that these two people have never really had to interact with a disabled person.

I am not proud of having to put them in their place or making sure that they feel a little bit less than but, I am still reeling with confusion at their actions. It has been almost a week but I cannot figure it out. This isn’t the first time people have told me just how adorable it is that I can shop, or function in society. Each time I have explained, to the best of my ability and as calmly as I can. I have also learned that it is alright to show anger. Any ‘normal’ or ‘regular’ or able bodied person would be angry if I told them how cute their flaws were, or how cute it was that they were absolutely stupid. I am learning that I have the right to anger.

I will go back to this Walgreen’s. It is a very nice store, and they actually measure their aisle displays for accessibility. I caught them in the act, the manager was correcting an employee on the placement of a standee that held some make up, “You can’t put this here. People will be unable to pass.” The employee walked around it, “I can get past it just fine.” The manager then said, “What about people who can’t walk or use a walker? How about this, if you don’t move it, using this measuring tape for a 28 inch radius, you lose your job. I don’t want anyone to sue me over the ADA or anything like that.” He added something else too, “Oh and what about customer service? It’s gotta be a pain in the (censored) to have to ask for help to reach a bottle of lotion.”

I hadn’t had to advocate to them, but I was watching. I was paying attention. I know that the management at this Walgreens cares. If when I return this patronization happens again, I will bring them into it. I will also offer to train their employees. The only reason I did not have to fight them more was that I had left Sprite the Service Cat at home. She wasn’t feeling well and I wanted to go out.

It was still a lovely afternoon, but, it left me chewing over the concequences of their actions and my reactions. I am proud to state that I did not punch the man who touched my chair. I almost did, but I managed to catch my impulse in time, and used my words instead. I have been having a lot of trigger issues with men and my chair lately. They come up behind me and I want to run them down to make them go away. I haven’t given in yet, but, when the strange males who trigger me then touch my chair, all bets are off!

I haven’t much else to say on this matter, beyond, advocate for your personal space. I didn’t at first. When I used the walker and my abusive roommates would pile heavy objects on it so that they didn’t have to carry them, or when they kept dumping things into my chair so I couldn’t use it when it was brand new, I at first kept my mouth shut. I was so used to staying silent so that they wouldn’t punish me or decide to expose me to even more allergens. At first I let people do things like this out of the house too, because I was afraid. I feel less fear when I advocate. I also worry at times that I am being too sharp, too harsh. There have to be times when I am the gentle advocate, and there are. I worry over it even when I am putting in extra effort to not hurt people’s feelings despite their refusal to let me have my basic human rights. It sounds preposterous when I say it or write it, but it feels right to try for extra kindness.

I am also learning that my Autism may factor into my need to not be touched. I have always been extremely sensitive to touch and texture. I like to control what things feel like around me. I once could not adopt a very adorable and well behaved puppy because his fur felt too stiff. I found him a good home but, I couldn’t cope with the texture. Sometimes texture can even cause nightmares. This adds to my unwillingness to let strangers touch me. I don’t hug people often. I do make sure to touch my Person, but sometimes it takes massive amounts of effort. He is understanding when it comes to my reticence, but I also want to make sure he has nothing that he wants or needs for.

What about you? When you advocate does it help your anxiety level or make it worse? Do people infringe on your personal space? This goes for those with sight issues or hearing issues, do people at times touch you just to try and make you function the way they want? What are your reactions? If you are an Autistic, do you also have touch issues? What forms of contact ableism are you familiar with?

Sharing the Dream

I have a dream. It started small, with the idea of teaching other women with disabilities how to get their doctor to adapt to their needs, to make certain that they have proper medical care and it grew. A part of this is the rumor that in California there are accessible facilities for medical care. This access should be for all women and men with disabilities as well as those who are aging. A second portion is a discussion I recently spent two weeks taking part in. The third part is my own experience and the frustration that is omnipresent with my current medical needs.

I am sharing this dream with you for two reasons. The first is that I want your input. I am not an expert on all disabilities and I want to make this dream a reality. The other is that this will be my platform when I make my run for Ms Wheelchair USA. So, here it is, my dream.

I want to create not just an accessible doctor’s office but an accessible facility that has several purposes. First and foremost I want an accessible mammogram, one where you do not have to call, beg, and push to get access but where it is expected that you will need access. This will be furthered by a program to teach you how to adapt to your bodily changes and limitations while being able to fulfill the self exam for breast health. If you cannot adapt, either due to paralysis or other limitations then I want to offer the option of having a doctor or nurse perform your exam for you. Breast cancer risk does not magically vanish the minute you are suddenly disabled. It often goes up!

This goes further, I want accessible exam tables and facilities to offer every woman regardless of function and mobility a pap smear. I have an annual cancer scare, something tries to trick us into thinking it is cancer yearly. This year’s cancer scare surrounds my pap and it’s abnormal results and other tests that scream, “You might have cancer!” I am more worried about the high table, embarrassing lack of hospital gowns that actually fit, and my physical issues hampering the test than the actual possibility of cancer. I am loathing the idea of half climbing half being shoved up on that table, half naked and without any chance at privacy because I need help at times to even move my hips. There are accessible tables. Other forms of accesibility will be needed. I want to hear from any persons of short stature, what are the needs you face in the doctor’s office that are not being met? Even the most accessible table for a tall person will fail you, so please tell me what you need so that you are not excluded from my dream.

I want accessible facilities for rape victims with either severe injuries due to the actual rape or a previous disability. Writing these words has me panting with fear, but, how many women could be protected with evidence that is not obtained? There is enough of a violation with in rape itself, but being violated and treated like you do not matter after is a crime as well. This alone could be my platform focus, this alone could impact the lives of countless women. Accessible rape kit access with proper training for those taking the kit is a must. this is the part of my dream that is frightening, this is the part of my dream that feels the most out of reach. I must reach this goal however, for every victim and survivor that exists now or may exist.

I also want a center for adaptation. The Center for Adaptation would include a kitchen, a bathroom, and other areas that the once-abled take for granted. I still have not managed to cook a meal without harming myself in years, but a place where I had the safety to learn without being in danger of literally killing myself would help. This adaptation center must include potential assistive devices so that before the money is spent by the individual they know if the device will work. I wasted so much money on items that I cannot even use. Everyone does. Most persons with disabilities or freshly disabled persons have a very limited income, therefore this is a key component to creating universal access. Imagine learning how to cook around your limited energy, ability, and strength? Imagine learning how to clean again, and imagine too learning other things such as crafts, or finding ways to adapt so that you can create art? Dream with me and see it, a place of learning for all levels of ability.

Not just learning but socialization. I want people of all ability levels to commune together. There need to be varying support groups, socialization groups, and even a place to coordinate activities for the single individual and the couples. There needs to be a safe place to discuss sex with in ability, there needs to be a safe place where intersetion occurs. If you are gay, bisexual, a lesbian, or a transgendered person with a disability you deserve this just as much as someone who does not overlap two subgroups with in the realm of minority. The able bodied need to be welcomed here too, so that they can learn, assist, and so that there is a lack of segregation.

There needs too, to be a place to work with Service Animals. This facet will have to have answers to questions about the legalities of service animals in the given area, certification challenges, and training suggestions. Although it will not be a place to get a service dog, there needs to be a place where safe support can be found easily. Safe support that can come and help you advocate, safe support that teaches you to self advocate, and safe support for the process of accepting your animal partner.

Less medicalization of life needs to happen, and the focus on that aspect is a place to find good fashion, perhaps this could even become the funding source for my facility. The fashion needs to be adaptable to the wheelchair users needs, most likely this will require custom tailoring. The clothing needs to be affordable but also fashionable. Persons who have disabilities cover all age groups and the institutionalization of clothing is unacceptable. The clothing must also be in a broad range of sizes. Just as wheelchairs need to fit everyone from the small child up to the very large adults, the clothing must as well. Giving a place to access good, quality, stylish clothing for men and women with varying abilities will be a huge part of this, simply out of my own desires. I desire affordable clothing that works with my ability. I do not want to trip over skirts that are too long, I do not want to have my sleeves caught in my wheels if I use a manual chair, and I am presuming this is a universal frustration.

There need to be classes as well to train those with degenerative conditions to adapt, or those with compound disabilities to adapt. Perhaps the adaptation center is a new spin on the idea of an accessible home to learn in, yet, the focus on this portion includes teaching skills you might not have. What brought this to mind is my own degeneration. I lost my ability to walk and my sight is endangered. What adaptation can I have if I cannot see to drive my chair? I must learn and there needs to be a safe place for this. There needs to be a place where it is safe to feel the fear, the hope, and a place where there is hope. There is too little hope for the disabled demographic in this world.

A part of preventative care is dentistry, though I have yet to find a dentist who can work with my limitations. There needs to be a facility for dental care. I have a cavity I cannot get tended due to my combination of allergies and inability to bend backwards in their chairs. This cannot be. This is discrimination, yet to stamp out discrimination there needs to be action. If the facility cannot have a dentist, then it needs to have an office where accessible vision and dental care is listed, where referrals can be given, and it needs to be a place where there is acceptance that every body has a different need.

Disaster Safety is also a concern. During the disasters that hit the world, such as Hurricane Katrina, the disabled are often left behind. Their families may stay so that their loved ones do not die alone, and therefore these devalued people are murdered. It is murder to leave someone behind because it might be hard to deal with their wheelchair. A part of this facility needs to house a program that teaches people how to advocate, adapt, and prepare for emergencies. This program also needs to teach FEMA and other rescue organizations how to rescue the disabled. We are people, we deserve life, and being abandoned because of a wheelchair or cognitive disability is murder. It can be helped, it can be changed.

A lot of the focus here is on prevention and adaptation. My focus is not to cure disability, to wipe it out. That is impossible and I have gained from my own limitations. I cannot imagine a world without Autism as being beautiful, for without it I would not exist. Therefore the focus needs to be on preventative medicine, there needs to be a focus with in the facility on adaptive medicine, and there needs to be a focus on demedicalizing the bodies that have limitations. There needs to be a personalization of existence. I exist beyond my disabilities, though they are a part of me. We need to foster acceptance of self, of difference, and we need to offer a safe harbor for all people with all abilities to commune.

A lot of people are unable to work, are fighting for government assistance, and are dying without durable medical equipment. I want to offer rentals, loaners, and at times even the purchase of needed medical equipment such as CPAP machines, wheelchairs, and walkers. These are just examples. There would be a qualification process, and yet the freedom I felt that first time I sat in a manual chair and had more than three hours of coherent function haunts me. I have nightmares of being trapped without my chair now, I have nightmares that others feel that same terror. Those nightmares are realities. This program could use older equipment that was donated, purchased equipment, and could perhaps eventually include low interest/zero interest loans with minimal payments to allow people to obtain equipment. This could help those with a copay and a minuscule income to make ends meet. This could help someone who is choosing between homelessness and a wheelchair to get the chair and keep their home.

A second facet on employment is access to workforce training. There are already facilities yet at times access is denied based on a lack of visible potential, so, I want to coordinate with them to try and educate and prepare those who want to work but are being told they aren’t worth the training. An entire segment of this facility needs to be coordination with existing organizations to get people what they need, to get people connected with the programs that exist. A lot of people who ask me for help do so because they cannot find programs that fit their needs, even when they exist. A hub in the network could make their impact broader, while in a way delegating some of my dream over to their offices. I know one facility cannot possibly do it all.

This is my dream, this is also why I was so quiet this past week. I was dreaming, trying to put into a coherent idea what is needed. This facility will need funding but the insured can be charged. I do not see this as a fee free environment but money should not cause a person to not be able to participate. If a person can pay, or if their insurance can allow coverage then they should pay. Much of what is offered should be covered under Medicaid/Medicare and other insurances without issue. The rest could be funded via donations and grants. I have no idea what I would call this facility yet, but, that is not the most important focus at this time. Branding must come after a plan for action is laid out.

Share the dream. Share what you see as a need. Please feel free to pass links to this post around, I want to offer a taste of freedom to a set of people that anyone can join, to the only equal opportunity minority. If we band together, we can change the world and create universal access. This plan is flawed, this dream is imperfect yet it is merely a start.

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