We had gone to the Royal Ontario Museum to see three exhibits. That is a lot to fit into a visit there, but we were determined Ruby and Sadie and their mom, like us, had been looking forward, like us, for awhile. We started with the spider exhibit which was simply amazing. It was so interactive. It was packed with information. It was well worth our time. For the most part the exhibit was accessible but there were a couple of spots where people in wheelchairs couldn’t enter, which was unfortunate because it was a structure built for the exhibit, so they could have, but didn’t, which is a message that I simply refused to hear. I didn’t want to be on accessibility patrol, I wanted to have fun.
After lunch we went upstairs to see the other two exhibits, Transforming Fashion and Transforming Space. Half way through the fashion exhibit Sadie had to take a bathroom break and her mother went off with her so Joe, Ruby and I wandered further into the show. At one point Joe broke off and said that he’s wait there to let Marissa and Sadie know where we all were.
Ruby led and I followed, she knows the museum inside out, and turned a corner into a small space that was showing a movie about the designing fashion exhibit. When I came round the corner I saw two men, sitting closely together, one with his arm around the other. Ruby sat down, I parked beside her. One of the men glance our way and immediately took his arm away from the shoulders of the other man.
My heart broke.
They felt danger with us there. The touching, which was no more than any straight couple would do, had been tucked away into a quiet corner of the exhibit.
I wanted to scream.
Not at them.
But at the world that they live in.
Where fear is an automatic response to being seen.
I couldn’t watch the movie, all I could think about was that the touch stopped. I constructed things to say to them, but it all sounded good in my mind but would sound silly or patronizing coming out of my mouth. I couldn’t reassure them that it was safe with us to be affectionate. But I don’t own space and it’s not for me to grant accessibility in my presence.
There are all different kinds of accessibility and they are all about access and welcome and safety. It’s too limiting a concept to reduce it to a ramp and a lowered counter. We, as the disability community, need to begin promoting accessibility in all its forms in an inclusive manner.
Its a challenge for us to be as inclusive with the concept as we can. We may be routinely left off the diversity bus, but we don’t have to return the favour.
Accessibility doesn’t belong to us.
But we sure as fuck know how it works.
And what it means.
And what it can do.
It transforms lives. We have the concepts up, dusted off, and ready to go. So, let’s lead.