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Image description: a line drawing of a counter with the words ‘public space’ written underneath

It now takes a bit of courage and ‘territory claiming’ for me to go up Yonge Street. I love walking up to Yonge and Bloor from my place. However, given Toronto’s penchant for building a condo on every corner, there are scaffold covered walkways on both sides of the street. They are narrow, by design and only wide enough for one person on each side to pass. I know I am big and my chair is big and that, when put together, we look bigger than we are. I also know that I can easily go through the tunnel created by the scaffolding, all I need is for the people coming towards me to just walk normally and naturally and not freak out at the sight of me. I pose no danger. Yet people often see danger. Often it’s a really tense trip through that section of the street. I acknowledge that I go less often, but I also want to ensure you that I have no intention of giving up my right to my space in my neighbourhood in my city. Yesterday, I said to Joe as we left the apartment, ‘I’m feeling Yonge today.’

We headed up and when we got to the covered section of the street I headed in, driving carefully, ensuring that I left as much space as possible for those going south. It was awful. Four or five people threw themselves against the wall in sheer horror and panic. I kept saying, ‘there’s enough room, there’s enough room’ or ‘just walk normally, it’s ok’ as I went through. I was exhausted and dispirited at the same time. I understand the space around me, why can’t other’s do the same?

Joe and I did a couple of things and then we went to the post office. Joe had a parcel to mail and I had a whack of lottery tickets to check. As I approached I saw two young men crowded against each other on the narrow counter where the electronic ticket checker was located. When I was closer I saw that they were filling in tickets but not using the checker. I also could see that if I angled towards the counter there would be lots of room. After my experience of moments before, I almost decided against it. But, what the hell, it’s public space and I’m part of the, and this may shock you, public.

I got close and said, “Hey guys, do you mind if I check my tickets.” They looked up, saw me, had no reaction, and said, “Yeah, man, sure.” The passed the machine over to the corner of the counter where I was and then went back to doing their tickets. They were doing some sports kind of thing that I’d never seen before, picking teams or something. It was taking a lot of discussion and they were clearly enjoying the process. I simply went ahead and checked my tickets. It was a narrow space, shared by three people, all in close proximity but all having the space needed given the circumstance.

It shouldn’t shock me to have these kinds of experiences, but it does. To be looked at without remark, to be given space as an ‘of course’ rather than as a concession, to simply be in a space equally shared, wow. No. WOW.

I said nothing to the young guys, they said nothing to me. I did what I was doing, they did what they were doing. But I wondered.

Why??

Are they of the generation where they shared classrooms and hallways with people with disabilities?

Are they of the generation where diversity and difference is just a matter of course?

I hope so.

I mean they may just have been really nice young men.

But I hope that’s not it.

I really don’t.