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Image description: a group of chairs set up lecture style

I go into a lot of rooms that have been set up for a lot of people. I also go into a lot of rooms which are set up for small meetings where only a few are expected. All these places and spaces are set up with the idea of welcoming those attending. Conference centres are careful to ensure that the chairs are set up in such a way that people, as they see people, can easily enter find a seat and sit down. Similarly meeting rooms are set up so that people can come in, drop their stuff on the table and then plop down in the chair.

I also go to other places, like clinics, the dentist’s office, Service Ontario’s waiting room, hospitals waiting areas and other such public places. Again chairs are set up in such a way such that people, as they see people, can find a seat and sit and wait.

So, I get about.

I didn’t realize until the other day when I rolled into a meeting at my office, where the corner of the table is reserved for me as it’s the easiest access for me in order for me to easily participate, that this is the only room that I go into where a spot is allocated for someone with a disability who uses a wheelchair.

Let’s say this clearly.

I have never gone into a conference, large or small, where there has been space created for wheelchair users to sit. Never. Once.

I have never gone into a waiting room of any kind has had a space open for a wheelchair user to use.

I have never gone into a small meeting room, outside my own at work, where I don’t have to shift chairs to make a space for my chair.

Never.

Ever.

It’s like it’s always a surprise that someone who uses a wheelchair shows up. WHAT?? Someone brought their own chair??? What do we do with the extra chair??? (Let’s make a production out of moving the extra chair so it’s clear that is a right freaking bother.)

I think it’s interesting in a kind of alarming way, that it’s not part of the thought process that when you set up a room for people, you should set up a room for people. Not some people. But, people. The fact that we’re not thought about even in places where we’d be expected to be. Like, the waiting area in a hospital. Like, a conference room where the topic is disability. Like, a meeting room where someone with a disability often attends (or even might just attend).

Having a disability is always fighting for the right to space and the right to occupy space. Having the right to simply ‘be’ in a public place means being able to enter and not have to shift furniture and create fuss just to be there.

Never.

Once.

Barriers are messages aren’t they? They are concrete ways of messaging lack of welcome. Welcome or not, space or not, I intend to keep going into room and making space, taking up space, and using that space as an equal. Because, dammit, I’m people too.