Wheelchair users are more likely to be killed as a pedestrian when crossing the street. This is a fact that arises from a study that, finally, looks at the experiences of people with disabilities in real world situations. As disturbed as I am by what the study found, I need to state that I’m grateful that the question about traffic safety as it applies to people with disabilities was even asked.
I’m sure that many wheelchair users have horror stories about the simple act of crossing the road. The most vivid story I have was when I was in New York City and crossing the street. We had plenty of time to get across but when we got to the other side we noticed that the curb cut was in really, really bad shape. There was no way that I could get up the curb cut frontwards so I needed to turn around and go up backwards. This took a little time, not a lot, but enough time to leave me out in the street when the light changed. There were a few moments of terror as Joe and I scrambled to get me out of the way of traffic that didn’t care that I was there and that I was trying to get off the road. That scared me so much that I’ve found my heart rate increased just with writing about it.
To be clear, this isn’t just a New York City phenomenon I have pedestrian horror stories from cities across Canada, the US and the UK. It seems to come with the territory of having a disability. But there is a quote from the article I linked to earlier that I’d like to pull out and look at:
” … a shockingly large share of fatal crashes involved no reported signs of braking or steering away suggests that some drivers simply fail to see people in wheelchairs crossing the street.”
Now, if you are a wheelchair user like me, this scared the shit out of me. They try to explain it by guessing that the reasons that we are lower to the ground and that we may move more quickly than regular pedestrians. I don’t buy it. Children are lower to the ground and I don’t see the same stat for them. People break for kids. And dogs dart out into the road and people break for dogs. This not braking thing really needs to be investigated.
No, I’m not going to suggest that drivers see a person with a disability and yell, “Hunting Season” and take aim. But I think prejudice is involved. I think there is a kind of invisibility that comes with disabilities that is born out of sheer prejudice, people have trained themselves not to see us. They walk into us on the sidewalk, as if we weren’t there, what’s the difference in driving into us on the road.
Our place in the community can only be secured when we are VISIBLE, when we are SEEN, when people don’t need to look away, avert their eyes, or throw the invisibility cloak over our bodies and our chairs.
FFS, they don’t break, or swerve … why isn’t this bigger news?
Because our concerns, even when validated by research, are made, well, invisible.