I have a favorite Thai restaurant, here in Toronto, called Salad King. There’s nothing I love more than selecting how many chilies I want with my mango chicken, but I can’t take anyone I know there — or at least, not unless they can conquer the huge front step outside the front door.
But in typical able-bodied fashion, I usually don’t even notice. I just park the scooter outside and walk right in. I’ve caught myself almost inviting those who can’t get in to eat with me there without thinking. I wish I could say it’s just at Salad King, but at every typically inaccessible place I want to be. I just leave the remnants of my disabled life at the door and walk right in. It’s part of the blessing of being able to walk reasonably well, but it’s also part of the curse. My more disabled friends (many of whom with an annoyingly stringent social conscience) wag their finger at me and tell me I should boycott inaccessible locations on principle, even if I can get in. I should flex that empathy muscle and think of them stuck outside.
They’re right. They’re absolutely unequivocally right, but the mango chicken usually wins out. What can I say? I’m a gluttonous, selfish, hedonistic bastard, especially when it comes to food. I always come to the same conclusion: Why punish myself? I do it because I can and if they could, they would too. This is a battle they’re best suited to fight on their own. After all, they have the largest most vested interest of anyone, so they can fight it better than I can.
But then the meal ends, goal accomplished and I’m left with that damn self-awareness. I can’t just leave it alone. I know I’m straddling the thought process of the average unenlightened able-bodied person on one side: “I’m sorry for your situation, but this just isn’t my problem — let someone else do it,” and the temperament of the uptight disabled activist on the other: “I won’t rest until all the letters are written, all the protests are marched and all the eyes are open.” I’m stuck in the middle, too disabled to be on equal footing with the two-legged uprights and not disabled enough to speak on behalf of the disabled community.
The battle within my head is a microcosm of one of the many central keys that prevent the disabled population from mobilizing in great numbers the way other minorities have. Disability is too broad a spectrum and no one can represent the interests of everyone. Many moments go by when I hear, “You think you’re disabled? You don’t even know what it’s like for the rest of us down here. How dare you speak for us?”
The disabled community has always been a better divider than uniter, probably because we’re so used to putting our own interests ahead of our brothers and sisters, and we’re so used to fighting for our own survival in this world that we put the rest on the back burner.
Maybe next time, I’ll just get take-out.
Aaron is a freelance journalist living in Toronto. His work has appeared in Financial Post Business, Investment Executive Newspaper, and TV Week Magazine, along with Askmen.com. He is a regular contributor to Abilities Magazine and is currently plotting a weekly web comic called GIMP, with artist Jon Duguay, about a handicap school bus driver who wakes up after a crash to find he’s the last able-bodied person on earth — and he’s being hunted.