[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.

46 thoughts on “[culture] Social invisibility and mobility

  1. Ilsa says:

    Got a good friend whose sister is a paraplegic. We encounter the same wherever we go. People just aren’t accustomed/conditioned to looking down.

    1. Ilsa says:

      Having said that, though, I don’t recall ever drawing dirty or annoyed looks. Most people are actually embarrassed and try to be accommodating. But the wheelchair may not . . . mean the same thing? I’m not sure what I’m groping for here. If someone else knows, tell me so we’ll both know. 😉

  2. Ellen Eades says:

    It’s totally true, and I’ll admit that before I had a friend with a scooter I was one of the clueless masses too. People are so often unaware of the many ways they’re privileged.

  3. Mike Moscoe says:

    Last two times I was at ComicCon, I was using a scooter, too. I don’t remember having the problems you’re having, Jay. What I did do, as I mad my way through the crowd was keep up a running “Pardon me, Excuse me, Excuse me, Pardon me.” and keep the scooter at slow. I may not have been at eye level, but I was definitely in hearing level and I got space, if there was any available. If I drew dirty looks, I don’t remember them, but then, I come from a long line of barkers and biters. 😉

    1. Ilsa says:

      I’ll say.

  4. Laurie Mann says:

    I’m sure I’m guilty of “changing lanes without signalling” while I walk. I’m impatient and am usually a pretty fast walker. I wish I did have eyes in the back of my head some time.

  5. vixy says:

    Seanan and I have the same experience when we go to Disney parks and she needs the mobility scooter because of her ankle injury. People are unbelievably clueless, and also unbelievably rude when asked POLITELY to please step out of the way. It baffles me.

  6. Pam says:

    My children had a wonderful (for many reasons) teacher in the 5th grade who always did a unit on disabilities — which included a day in which they experienced (in their 10 or 11 year old ways) having a disability — someone had a wheelchair, someone else wore a blind-fold all day, etc. Important lessons.

  7. Amy Nichols says:

    It’s interesting you write this, Jay, because I was at SDCC and was deliberately looking for you. We’ve never met before but are “friends” on FB and I thought, Wouldn’t it be great to say hello to him at Con? So I was looking for people in scooters, and it made me aware of how much I don’t look at people in scooters. That left me feeling ashamed. I also realized how often people in scooters and wheelchairs apologize when they’re trying to get through a crowd or doorway. I finally started asking them not to apologize. I mean, really? I have no problem moving out of the way or holding open the door. I thought I saw you at one point in the Sails Pavilion, late Sunday afternoon, but I wasn’t sure and I felt suddenly shy, so I didn’t approach the person I thought might be you. Now DDcC is over and I didn’t get to say hello. So I’ll say it here. Hello.


    1. Jay says:

      I appreciate that Amy, and I’m sorry we missed one another.

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