Monthly Archives: April 2007

ONE DAY’S INDIGNITIES

I am struggling with my anger threshold.  The world is a very intolerant place.  While the able bodied often complain and accuse PWD (people with disabilities) of receiving too many public services, more often it is the PWOD (people without disabilities) who receive services to the exclusion of the disabled.
Mailing a Package, Depositing a Check
I have been a human rights activist too long for these violations and barriers to access not to enrage me.  I have been outraged by injustices half a world away impacting the lives of people I do not know, who speak languages I do not understand.  These very personal exclusion, coupled with the bitterness and indifference that is more frequent then the concern and support provided by public services are infuriating.  I am so angry, as one friend of mine once said, I could spit nails into the wall!
This anger is a poison, a suicide pack, a wound in the already deeply battered body politic.  The activist must be a healer. THE ACTIVIST MUST BE A HEALER.  As  Audre Lorde reminds us, we cannot dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools!  So what to do?  How to mitigate my rage so that it doesn’t destroy me, so that I can have at least the quality of life that an otherwise serene mind might permit as I attempt to access the world?  Writing and activism help.  I missed it these last few months, overwhelmed with the move, unable to clear my head in the mess of boxes and work, unable to garner the strength to write, putting what little energy I had into basic organization.  Moving is very physical work.  The last time I moved I was a young and vibrant woman. I am now almost fifty years old.  Meditation helps too, though it is hard to be spiritual in the absence of community and I have been unable as of yet to find a spiritual community that brings me home.  Community, supportive community, real allies would make a very big difference.
Certain locations are extremely problematic, especially Whole Foods market, which despite their claims of being a socially conscious business, is rather indifferent to gimp access.  I have been in tears before getting through the produce section.  Their aisles are narrow and over packed.  Their stores are large but the scooter carts rarely work.  Their clerks block the middle of the aisles with stock and are unconcerned and callous when access is requested. Today I try to limit the number of negative encounters, generally go to stores during the workday when I have fewer crowds to contend with.  If I have errands to run, I go to places I am familiar with and try not to interact with the larger community for more that one or two transactions a day.  What would be a simple day of running errands becomes a maze of obstacles and calloused indifference for those of us with ambulatory impairments. By the third need to assert my rights I am not a paragon of patience and fortitude, I am a desperate three year old wanting something denied and out of reach.  I have begun, when possible, to let others fight my battles so that I can save my energy and my serenity for those situations that require my own response.  This is new for me.  I do not like not speaking for myself, but between being a 48-year-old woman and disabled, I have become invisible and dispensable. Other people: nondisabled advocates are easier for other nondisabled people to hear.  A person in a wheelchair has a profound impact on the hearing of otherwise unimpaired people!   If I speak loudly enough to be heard, I am accused of being rude.
Last Wednesday was a good case in point. Andy and I spent the morning tending to the details of a letter to the ANSWER Coalition regarding the fact that their new office, where they plan to hold public events (as soon as next Tuesday) is not wheelchair accessible.  (More on this as it progresses!)   After that I went to the Edendale Post Office near my home.   The parking lot, parking spaces and ramp into the post office are adequate. The door is heavy and very hard to open.  But getting to the window is the real challenge.  There is one handicapped window, low enough for someone in a wheelchair to see the person they are speaking with and a surface at a reasonable height on which they can write, but it is unstaffed.  (Amazing—the structure is there, but not the inclination to provide the services it would allow!) The lobby is wide and could accommodate a wheelchair if a little attention were paid to its organization. Unlike a bank, there are no chairs, no waiting area, so I take my walker, lifting it awkwardly out of my trunk.  It has a seat on it so that I won’t need to stand the entire time I am waiting in line or carrying out a transaction.   Now, remember the days when we could choose between three or four straight lines, one for each teller?  These lines have been replaced by what resembles a maze, delineated with a rope attached to stands.  The path established by these ropes and posts is not wide enough for a wheelchair and difficult to maneuver with a walker.  A person in a wheelchair would have to either wait quietly in the lobby until someone noticed them, or make a fuss, attracting attention to themselves.  (“Excuse me!!! I don’t fit into your line configuration so I’ll wait over here for my turn!”—Or something like that.) Which almost always is perceived as rudeness.  I have brought this matter to the attention of the post office staff.  To date, these very movable posts (they are not affixed to the floor and are probably moved every time the floor gets mopped) have not been brought into compliance with ADA requirements.  Andy and I rented a PO Box for our human rights work.  I requested one at wheelchair height but there was none in the size box I required, and I was not offered one of a larger size to accommodate my need.  It wasn’t a fight worth fighting.   And as it turns out, I can reach the box.  But the post office is a public facility, with more services for the able bodied than the disabled.
I then made my way to the credit union.  I had been banking at WAMU, which has adequate accessibility policies and generally good disability awareness.  But Andy has an account at the CU and we are combining our finances.  He was at home recuperating from oral surgery so it made sense for me to drop off his deposit. I had hoped to just stop by the ATM but the only ATM was inside the CU. I left my walker in the car because standing for short periods of time is easier than unloading and loading the walker. And banks have chairs and waiting areas.   I went up to the door.  There was a button with a wheelchair symbol on it and I assumed it would open the door.  This is very welcome because doors are very difficult for many PWD because they are heavy and awkward.  I pushed the button.  Nothing happened.  I pushed it again.  Nothing.  I opened the door.  Walked through a glass corridor to another door (double doors, a locked corridor for security) and came into the bank.  I told the security guard who was at a desk in full view of the door, that the button didn’t work. He explained that the button only tells him that someone needs help.  I asked why he didn’t come to help me.  He indicated that he didn’t see anyone disabled.  I asked him, what, in his capacity as a security guard gave him the qualifications, through several panes of glass to make a medical assessment.
Then I attempted to use the ATM.  It only accepted withdrawals.  For a deposit I would have to speak to a teller.  Luckily there was no line.  Standing is even more difficult than walking.  It causes me to have radiating pain, fatigue and weakness.  I walked up to the teller, explained that I was new to the CU and what was their ADA policy for people who couldn’t stand in line or at the teller’s window?  She said that they didn’t have one.  I said. “You have to.”  I gave her the checks to deposit and asked to speak to the manager.  While I waited, my legs began to give out so I moved across the lobby to the nearest chair. I was tired and frustrated.  I could have this conversation over one hundred times a day.  It’s just outrageous.  The ADA is not a new law.  I took a deep breath, reminded myself to speak calmly.  The manager came out.  I told her about both interactions and told her that it was unacceptable that her staff didn’t know the branch ADA policy or that my need medical status was determined by a security guard.  She apologized,  explained how I could be better serviced in the future. and said she would address both employees.  I asked for her card and thanked her for her time.  By that time the deposit was made and the teller came into the lobby to where I was sitting and gave me the receipt.  I thanked her as well.
That was enough.  I went to visit a sick friend, bring her some borscht I had made.  On the way home I decided to pick up some dinner.  Andy had had oral surgery and could only eat soft food.  So I stopped in an Ethiopian restaurant.  The restaurant itself was accessible, but the bathrooms would not be available to anyone in a wheelchair.  They are up two stairs, down a narrow hallway and very small.  This was not an obstacle to my patronage.  But it is worth noting.
Just one day.

A Good Week

Changing Roles
Andy went back to work this morning.  He had been home sick for two days. On Tuesday he had rather extensive oral surgery. Wednesday morning his face was so swollen, the right cheek ballooning to twice its normal size.  He needed soft foods that would not lodge in the wound, a day of ice packs and heat packs the days that followed. He had planned to go to work all week.  I convinced him to take a sick day, which turned into two.  By today the swelling was down, even though for most people the third day the swelling is the worst.  In Andy’s case, only the first day was especially bad.  His strength and resiliency is amazing.  He is a tireless activist who works late into the night.  One week he had less than 2 hours sleep every night.  I don’t know how he does it.  He can keep up a work pace that would exhaust a twenty year old.
But this week he was really laid up.  I had already boiled beets and carrots to make borscht.  I removed the beets and carrots from the broth.  I cooked the beet greens and added a dollop of crushed garlic, added honey and balsamic vinegar, to taste.  Usually I serve my borscht with shredded beets in a purple red broth.  This time I pureed it.  I added a scoop of yogurt.  Sour cream is traditional but yogurt is healthier, and with Andy on antibiotics, the probiotics in the yogurt help replace his natural flora.
I made a run to Trader Joes and picked up lots of soft food: lentil and split pea soups, crab cakes, polenta, hummus, yogurt, ground beef, soy ice cream  (it’s lower in fat than regular ice cream has no cholesterol, and tastes great,) juice, bottled pears in white grape juice and milk.
For breakfast on Wednesday I made him French toast; for lunch, borscht; for dinner, polenta and crab cakes, with tomato hummus as a sauce.  Thursday morning I made him oatmeal, which I pureed.  I left during the afternoon to bring some borscht to a friend who had just been released from the hospital and to run a few errands.  Andy had left over crab cakes and polenta for lunch.
For dinner I bought food at an Ethiopian restaurant.  This morning Andy went off to work with leftovers from dinner the night before.  For dinner I made a skillet meal of ground beef (extra lean,) pureed onions and parsley, minced garlic, chopped tomatoes, zucchini and mushrooms.  I seasoned it with ground pepper, salt, oregano and ground New Mexican chili.  I served it with pasta and cuatro formaggio.
Andy is so devoted and patient with me.  It was a blessing to be able to take care of him when he was sick.  It was a relief to be the supportive partner.  So often I am the sick and needy one. This week heralded my return to my work.  This move has been overwhelming and I feel that I can now finally get back to writing, taking pictures, studying and activism.
Morning Rain
This morning I woke up to a soaking rain, a deep rain, perfect for tea and journaling, morning in bed and hot soup.  Andy’s car wouldn’t start so he took mine, so I was a shut in today. I had planned to go down the hill to get my developed film.  I want to get a library card.   It will have to wait.  Even with the sun it is hard for me to get around Echo Park without a car.  I am only a few blocks from the corner of Alvarado and Sunset, but on a hill that makes walking there rather prohibitive.  Today Bob was going to come and put in my ramp so that I can get my scooter out the door and into the world but the rain has postponed that effort.  I will need to test the scooter to see if it can get up and down the hill.  I am in the process of getting a wheelchair lift for my car so that I can take my scooter down the ramp and onto the lift.  In the meantime my explorations are limited to those requiring short walks or to opportunities where I can get someone’s help in lifting the scooter out of the house and into the car.
The Americans with Disabilities Act allows me to make, at my own expense, any changes to a rental unit necessary to accommodate the disability, so long as I return the residence to its original condition when I vacate the lease.  There are some subsidies, but for disabled people who share the rent with another person, these funds are often unavailable as qualification is based on household income. (Even if the disabled person merely rents a room in the home!)
There is also a program to assist with the expense of home security systems.
Here’s the link:_http://www.lacity.org/lahd/hndywrkr.htm