Image description: A set of four stairs with the words ‘KEEP OUT’ written on the bottom two stairs
She turned to come down the ramp just as I came through the door. There was plenty of room for me to move over to the side to let her descend and then pass me. I pulled over. As she passed me she said, “They certainly didn’t build these for you did they?” Now, I had to think quickly. She was coming down a ramp, which they do indeed build for people with disabilities, but it was one in a movie theatre where I have only ever known ramps to be. I presumed then that she was referring to the fact that it was very narrow. All this happened in the instant after she spoke, I said, “No, I guess not.” She laughed then and said, “So you didn’t take the hint.”
My face must have looked stricken, because that’s actually how I felt. She said then, “Oh, please, I’m not serious, I was just joking.
And I believe she was.
I believe she had absolutely no ill intent.
I nodded that I understood that it was a joke. She shrugged her shoulders like she didn’t know what else to do or say, like she didn’t understand why what she said hit me so hard.
Because that comment did land a punch.
“They didn’t build this for you … take the hint.”
I’ve written before about how, often, I see architecture as prejudice made in concrete, that the exclusion was and is intentional. “People just didn’t think about access back then,” I’m told. Well, they may not have used the term access but it needs to be clear that people with disabilities have always existed. At times in history our numbers grew large as a result of wars and human conflict. Wheelchairs aren’t a new invention. The very first depictions of wheeled furniture was in the 5th century BCE and from there the first chairs specifically for moving people with disabilities was around the year 525 CE.
I know, I know, I know, we were hidden away. But the question is, were we hidden away or were we made unwelcome by stairs and other impassible barriers?
Nevertheless, I knew all this, but the comment that we … didn’t take the hint, struck home because she made it clear that it WAS a hint. ‘Not Wanted Here.’ Some places had ‘ugly laws’ to keep us off the street, others simply built buildings ensuring that we wouldn’t have entry.
It was even later, well after the movie, that I realized again that I’m so glad that there were people with disabilities who ‘didn’t take the hint.’ That there were those who, despite the clear message to ‘keep out’ fought there way in. That there were those who’s voices echoed down hallways that they, themselves, could never get access to.
It was hard for a while to focus on the movie.
But I did.
Because even though it wasn’t built for me, I was there, I was in, and I’m not going away. None of us are. Community and freedom are addictive and I, for one, am hooked.