Monday, March 30, 2009

Accessing NYC

For some reason this weekend seems to be my weekend to notice and be affected by accessibility differences. This started out by encountering a wheelchair-using man calling 311 to complain about an inaccessible building on 14th street. As I walked by I heard him say "I can't even reach the buzzer to let them know they're jack asses". The idea that a place is so inaccessible that one can't even complain that it's inaccessible was a fairly ridiculous concept to me. It makes it impossible for those who are disenfranchised to make their disenfranchisement visible through traditional (ie the system) means.

Yesterday my partner and I went to a gallery showing Philip Lorca-Dicorcia's work. 1,000 Polaroids were organized on shelves hitting about 5 feet off the ground. As we finished touring the photos I turned to look at the gallery to take in all 1,000 at once and notices a person using crutches who had to constantly stop and reposition herself in front of each Polaroid in order to see it. I'm not sure what else the gallery could have done - perhaps arrange them on some kind of swiveling shelf? The five-foot marker wasn't accessible to most viewers - my partner and I both left the gallery rubbing our necks from hunching over the photos for such a long period. I'm not decrying the gallery as inaccessible, nor am I trying to speak for the woman I saw - after all I didn't even bother to ask if she was comfortable or not viewing the photos on her crutches. But I imagine stopping 1,000 times in order to see a gallery exhibit and I wonder if there was a way that could be avoided - a way to become more aware.

Leaving the gallery I noticed an ad for a TV show on the History Channel called Ax Men. The ad prominently featured the prosthetic arm of a logger working alongside the arms of other unseen men, all with their biological arms. Immediately images of danger, hardship, masculinity came into play in my mind. The ad was culturally coded disability, subtly giving blue-collar workers with disabilities an exceptional identity (to borrow from Ruth Garland-Thomas).

The entire weekend experience was capped off by a final event. As I transferred this morning at Suthphin Boulevard to the LIRR I noticed two people with disabilities crossing a busy and inaccessible street in Queens. The two people, a female little person and a wheelchair using man, gave each other a brief little head-bob and wave as they crossed paths. My morning commute was filled with thoughts on this. They may have known each other from any various disability movement or social group (should they be a part of one, not all folks with disabilities are!), or they might be friends or co-workers...maybe even ex-lovers. But what I thought was the most exciting possibility was that they could be two people who have never met before but they saw each other and acknowledged each others existence. They took time out of whatever else was on their mind or in their schedules to simply say "I see you". I see you in a way that the majority of people refuse to see you - as a vital, important, and meaningful contributor to the city. Given the three other examples of disability awareness I saw this weekend I am prone to supporting this conclusion. It gives me hope.

Another thing that gives me hope is the disTHIS! film series. And tonight they will be screening Naked on the Inside an amazing movie about people's relationships to their bodies. The film will start at 7pm but doors open at 6:30 suggested donation of $5.


cripchick said...

i think the chance that it was a head-nod is high. i share a mutual head-nod and smile with a lot of disabled people, almost 100% w/ chair users and many instigated by the other person. pretty sure that most of them aren't involved in disability activism (at least locally), definitely think it's a part of recognizing each other's experiences.

i love the head nod.

a friend and i were planning a group crip trip to NYC so i did a lot of research on access....and got completely overwhelmed, scared, and canceled. hope i can meet you sometime though :)

Mik Danger said...

Yeah that's what I figured. It made me so happy to see that at 7AM.

I share the same head bob with visibly queer folks, it makes me feel very safe!

NYC can be such a disaster...I do hope you come eventually though!