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[culture] Social invisibility and mobility

I’ve written about social invisibility before, here and here at a minimum. Being at Comic-con while using an electric scooter for 99% of my mobility needs has introduced me personally to another long-standing form of social invisibility: visible disability.

Not that this is news in the slightest to anyone dependent on a scooter or a wheelchair. It was hardly news to me in the intellectual sense. But experientally, wow…

Let me say first and foremost that the vast majority of people here, both inside the convention and on the streets of San Diego’s Gaslamp District, were either actively helpful or genially indifferent. Almost no one was deliberately rude or obstructive. Which, in a crowd of this size, speaks well of the folks at Comic-con and the citizen of San Diego. Certainly the law enforcement and security personnel connected with the convention were extremely observant, polite and helpful to me.

However, the amount of sheer cluelessness in the standing and walking behavior of my fellow human beings is deeply astounding. When I’m on foot, I don’t suppose I notice the people walking backwards, suddenly sidestepping or reversing direction, walking in one direction while looking the other, or staring at their cell phone as they walk. I mean, they’re present, but I can route around them with a step or two without difficulty, and tend not to even remark on what I’ve just seen.

But when cruising along in a powered chair that weighs over a hundred pounds and does not actually have brakes, these people are a menace to themselves and me.

Likewise people standing in curb cuts, or in narrow passages between (say) a street lamp and a piece of sidewalk signage, or clumping in groups amid a right-of-way. A danger to themselves and others.

The only open rudeness I’ve encountered is those people, the ones standing around, who seem offended to be asked to get out of the curb cut or to please step aside from the middle of the sidewalk. This is the same social philosophy that prompts people to take offense at being asked to stop talking in a movie theater: If they are being inconvenienced, the person inconveniencing them is unspeakably rude. I’ve had a couple of people say in disparaging tones, “Where are you going to go?” The answer to which, if I were feeling confrontational, is “Same place I was going before you got in my way.”

The idea that they could step off the curb, or go around the other side of the lamp post, while I cannot do those things, is just too much for some people. It inconveniences them.

I recall some of these issues when [info]the_child was still of stroller age. But a stroller can be maneuvered off a curb or around an obstacle much more readily than an electric scooter. And the adult pushing the stroller isn’t socially invisible. The guy sitting well below eye level is.

It’s very strange. This is a world I’ll participate in for a few weekends of my life, renting a scooter here and at Worldcon, and that’s about it. But my experience in this powered chair has convinced me that everyone ought to spend a few days in a wheelchair or scooter, just so they can see what we all do and few us ever recognize ourselves as doing.

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