I was waiting in line, directly behind him. I already figured he was a bit of a jerk because he was treating the woman behind the counter with disrespect and in the patronizing way he spoke to her. She was a woman with English as a second language and she was working hard to understand what he needed and to serve him properly. When the deal was done, she moved to the cash register. He decided he wanted to follow her and, oops, there I was. I was reaching down to pull myself back and out of his way, when he said to the clerk, “It’s in my way.” Now I believe he was saying ‘it’ about my wheelchair and not about me, but I don’t know that for sure.
Well, I had at it. I told him that he had not right to speak to me that way and that I had every bit of right to the space I was in. I told him that just because I had a disability didn’t mean that I was a piece of furniture that needed to be shoved out of the way. I told him that I resented both his disrespect and his obvious prejudice against me. “It’s called ableism, you know,” I said.
During my loud tirade against this man’s treatment, I had noticed a woman with a disability crossing the other side of the kiosk that I was at. She rolled around and came to a stop, where I was confronting him. I was nearly done, but she waiting, as if in line, where she was.
When I came to a stop, he who had been, ‘sorry, sorry, sorry,’ throughout what I was saying. Sorry’s that are used to silence are the weapon of those who don’t want to listen. I had talked over them. He said, when I’d stopped, “I should have said ‘Excuse me,” and he smiled trying to show that he was just a good guy who’d made a mistake. I said, “Yeah, but you didn’t did you. You knew how to handle this with people you think are your equal, but you didn’t. What does that tell me?”
The clerk was back with his change and he took a powder, he was gone. I looked over to the woman with a disability and asked, “Am I in you way here?” She said, “No,” and rolled on.
I don’t know what she saw. I don’t know how she saw this interaction. Did she see me as a jerk causing a scene? Did she see me as someone fighting against the presumption that disabled people are ‘less than.’ Remember she hadn’t seen it start, hadn’t heard what was said. I don’t know.
I joined Joe after I’d made my purchase and said, “Sorry, you have to wait through so many of those.” He said that the guy had treated me so disrespectfully that he had thought to himself, “That guy does not know who he’s talking to.” I laughed. “I guess he poked the wrong bear.”
And indeed, he had.