Some Dos and Don’ts of Behavior Towards the Mobility-Limited

A little while ago, I made a Facebook “public service announcement” about how people should really try to help people who are by themselves in carrying a baby stroller up or down a set of stairs.

Admittedly, I was on one of my self-righteous streaks when I put such a post on Facebook. I wrote it after helping a mother carry a baby stroller (with a baby inside) up a set of subway stairs, even though many others came before I did and passed the mother by. So yeah…I was in a mood to show that the behaviors of those around me were just plain wrong.

Yes, I was pretty self-righteous.

Self-righteousness aside, this one incident made me start to think about not only the stroller issue, but also some other dos and don’ts of behavior (particularly behavior when you are out in public) toward the mobility-limited.

But what are some of those dos and don’ts? If you’re not sure, please keep reading, as I break down some dos and don’ts of behavior toward people with different types of mobility limitations.

Parents with Baby Strollers

If you don’t have any physical limitations, DON’T just stand idly by while watching a parent toil with a baby stroller with the baby inside. For those who haven’t carried one before, they are so heavy and bulky! When I’ve helped in the past, it was honestly a challenge even with two people working on it, so I could not possibly imagine it being a one-person job. So if you’re physically able to help, please offer to help (even if that means missing your train or bus).

So, DO offer to help if you see a parent (especially if without a second adult) with a baby stroller. The worst you’ll get is a polite “no,” and at best you might just make a person’s day by being the stranger who helps out.

Wheelchair Users

Please, for the love of everyone, DON’T DON’T DON’T push someone’s wheelchair without the wheelchair user asking for it. Especially through the blogging world, I’ve met oh so many people who are just pushed around on their wheelchairs without asking for help.

DO push or help someone in a wheelchair, though, if they ask for help. But the key is being asked to help, because otherwise your actions fall into the category of a “don’t.” Also, if you see someone struggling with a wheelchair, DO ask if they would like any help.

People with Canes and Walkers

If you see someone on mass transit with a cane or walker, it means that the person with the cane or walker needs it for some reason. Therefore, please please PLEASE DO offer to give up your seat to a person with a cane or walker. If you are able-bodied, that person will need the seat more than you do.

On the other hand, please DON’T take the action of refusing to give up your seat to a disabled person. Furthermore, DON’T spend 100% of your time in transit on your phone or asleep…because if you do so, then you will not pay attention and may end up blinding yourself to the fact that someone needs your seat much more than you do. (Trust me, I’ve been guilty of such an offense before…I felt very embarrassed when I found that there was a person with a cane in front of me who needed a seat more than I did.)

Conclusion

To some of us, the previous sections of this post only elaborate on obvious etiquette for being an able-bodied person who is a pedestrian or is taking mass transit. To others, though, maybe this post serves as a reality check that we are not really having the proper behavior when it comes to interacting with people of limited or no mobility. Regardless of whether this post listed obvious etiquette, served as a reality check, or was somewhere in between, please post in the comments section below if there are other dos and don’ts of behavior toward the mobility-limited that I should cover!

On So-Called Slacktivism

Many of my readers have probably heard the term “slacktivism” by now—a term used to characterize “the practice of supporting a political or social cause by means such as social media or online petitions, characterized as involving very little effort or commitment.”[1] We will probably hear that term even more leading up to elections in November as some of us shame others of us for being “slacktivists.”

That being said, I am going to do something here that may ignite some controversy. I am coming to the defense of so-called slacktivists—some of them.

But why?

The short answer is that there are many people who don’t have the time or ability to do anything more than sign an online petition or do other online activism, and that should be respected instead of degraded.

A longer answer must explore life circumstances that result in someone not being able to do more than what many activists call slacktivism:

  1. Professional responsibilities. I have heard about my fair share of midday rallies and protests (and have even been at a few of them). The only problem is that such rallies can’t be attended even by someone who works a normal 9-5 job, unless that person lives in the area of the rally and is able to take a lunch break during the rally. Evenings and weekends give better access to rallies for regular 9-5 workers, but there are still many people who work weekends and/or evenings instead of, or in addition to, 9-5 work. For people who are at work while rallies and protests happen, the most they can do is what’s labeled as slacktivism, and that should be respected.
  2. Family responsibilities. Parents have to take care of their children and other family. Grownups have to make sure that all the utility bills are paid for their houses, or that rent is paid for their apartments. These responsibilities exist in addition to, not instead of, professional responsibilities. Some rallies have tried to take away the burden of parents taking care of children by including childcare at rallies (though I’m sure some parents would feel uneasy about the thought of leaving their child or children in the hands of complete strangers, and I might feel the same way when/if I become a parent). Once one combines professional responsibilities with family responsibilities, then there may be little time to do more than so-called slacktivism, and that fact shouldn’t be demonized.
  3. Physical limitations. Some people are flat-out physically unable to get to, or participate in, a rally or protest. Back when I had my bad ankle earlier this year, I was one of those people. I know many others who, like me during my bad ankle, would’ve been completely unable to participate in rallies and protests even if we wanted to. Sometimes, slacktivism is the most that some of our bodies can handle.
  4. Emotional limitations. There are some rallies that may be emotionally just too much for people. For example, a rally protesting gun violence may be too much for some family or friends of people who’ve been victimized by gun violence. The emotional limitations that bring people towards slacktivism, and away from what many activists view as activism, should be respected.

I acknowledge that there are, no doubt, many people who are capable of more than the signing of online petitions and involvement of online movements that is often associated with slacktivism. Such people who are capable of higher levels of involvement should be more involved. However, I hope that my list brings to mind the fact that there are probably millions of people in the United States who are unable to do anything more than what is labeled as slacktivism. Those people should not be demonized for what they’re unable to do, but thanked for what they are able to do.


[1] https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/slacktivism

How Crosswalks are Still Ableist, Even With Disability Laws

For able-bodied people, going through a crosswalk is pretty simple: we get to the street, we wait to have the right-of-way, and then we cross.

For people who are not able-bodied, it is not necessarily that simple. Not only that, but there are actually a number of ways that crosswalk areas are problematic to people who are not able-bodied, and are therefore ableist:

  1. Some crosswalks don’t have long enough light cycles for the people crossing. There have been numerous times where even I, an able-bodied 24-year-old, struggled to cross a street before I lost the right-of-way. If even I struggle with crossing by the time I lose the right-of-way, the problem is even worse for people who are not swift on their feet.
  2. Some crosswalks don’t have any noise cues for people who are blind. Honestly, I’ve always asked myself how a blind person can possibly cross a street without being run over by a car. If this video is any indication, it is difficult at best to cross the street without sound cues. Yes, blind people often seem to rely on sound cues from cars on the street, but many crosswalks (including crosswalks in New York City) lack sound devices to inform blind people on when it is or is not safe to cross the street.
  3. Many crosswalks seem to have the pedestrian right-of-way mostly (or only) activated when a button is pushed to ask for a walk sign. However, from amputated arms to simply an old person struggling to get to that button the person needs to push, there are various reasons why the pedestrian right-of-way activation button is not easily accessible for many individuals.
  4. In many snowy areas, snow is often pushed to the side, to the curb and to…the crosswalks. And sadly, such snow is often not removed from these crosswalk areas. The result is that many street crossings are barely accessible to even able-bodied people like me, let alone those who are not able-bodied.

While crosswalks have improved in some ways—most notably an increasing number of sound cues for crosswalks so that blind people can cross safely, as well as ramps that allow people with wheelchairs to get from the walkway to the street and back to the walkway again—we should not settle for these improvements alone. We should not settle for the aforementioned improvements alone because there are still several ways that crosswalks are not safe for many to cross. Hopefully, the appropriate changes can be made, so that crosswalks are accessible to more than the able-bodied.

The Ableism of Western Masculinity

When I, and others, read definitions of what it means to be “masculine” in the western world, we get words like: active, aggressive, ambitious, analytical, assertive, athletic, authoritative, blunt, certain, competitive, decisive, dominant, forceful, independent, individualistic, physical, protective, self-reliant, self-sufficient, strong and tough.

Some of these meanings of masculinity are perfectly okay—being active, ambitious, analytical and certain, for example, can be positive traits in many circumstances.

Other traits are, in my humble opinion, traits that contribute to gender inequality and so many sexual assaults against mostly women—being aggressive, authoritative, dominant, and forceful come to mind. The topic of how some ideas of western masculinity contribute to gender inequality and sexual violence may very well be the subject for a future post, but I won’t cover this in my current one.

And then there are other “masculine” traits such as: active, athletic, independent, physical, self-reliant, self-sufficient, strong, and tough. These traits are ableist, or discriminating in favor of able-bodied people, at least to some extent, because men who have disabilities are then viewed as completely unable to fit these traits of what it apparently means to be a “true man” or “manly enough.”

Consider the following:

  1. If you are a blind person, you don’t fit into some people’s ideas what it means to be masculine. The definition of masculinity includes independence, self-reliance, and self-sufficiency, yet you need to depend on other people, animals or things to guide you.
  2. If you are deaf person, you don’t fit into what some think it means to be masculine. You need to depend on sign language from others or closed caption coming from a machine, so you therefore don’t have the independence, self-reliance, or self-sufficiency associated with masculinity.
  3. If you need a cane to get around (let alone if you’re in a wheelchair), you don’t fit into our society’s idea of what it means to be masculine. Regardless of what your level of activity is (and I know my share of people who are on a cane or in a wheelchair AND are actually quite athletic), you are often viewed as inactive, unathletic, dependent on others and weak if you use a cane or are in a wheelchair.

The bottom line is that if you are a man with some form of disability, that person likely does not fit the definition of masculinity. In fact, because masculinity is ableist, the very ideas associated with modern western masculinity completely exclude men with disabilities the “manliness club.”

So when I hear someone talk about “toxic masculinity,” I agree—masculinity is toxic. The ableism of masculinity makes masculinity inherently toxic.

Note: I want to thank the blog Me, Myself and Disability for bringing this issue to my attention. When I first discovered that blog, I read a post about the author’s own experiences with the ableism of masculinity. If you want to get a more personal perspective on the ableism of western masculinity, I highly recommend that you read his post on the issue.

Why Straw Bans Are About More Than Straws

In recent weeks, there has been debate about efforts by some companies (Starbucks, McDonald’s) and cities (San Francisco, Seattle) to ban the usage of plastic straws within their entities. Many environmentalists think it’s important to make sure that we reduce plastic waste and therefore reduce our usage of plastic straws, while many disability activists argue that there are currently no feasible alternatives to a single-use plastic straw.[1]

Personally, I think a ban must wait until there are feasible alternatives for people of all levels of ability. But I think this discussion on straws needs to be about more than straws.

Namely, we need to discuss our society’s lack of willingness to listen to the physically disabled, and the proposed straw ban is just the latest example of this.

Consider this—in spite of the fact that many disability activists (including many who have the lived experience of being disabled) have been raising concerns about such bans, the entities that planned to ban plastic straws are still going ahead. If we, as a society, listened to the disabled, wouldn’t we at least hear their arguments? Wouldn’t we at least consider for a second why they are saying what they’re saying? These, of course, are rhetorical questions, because in spite of many activists saying that other alternatives to plastic straws do not work, entities are still going ahead with their plans to ban usage of the single-use plastic straw.

Sadly, this pattern of not listening to the disabled goes well beyond straws. Here are a few of the many examples of parts of our society not listening to the disabled:

  1. Airline seats continue to shrink. In spite of many activists saying that airline seats have shrunk to the point that the disabled cannot get out safely in the event of an emergency, there are still successful attempts to shrink airline seats even further yet.
  2. We continue to view people with disabilities as inspirations. There have been oh so many times when people with disabilities have told others—in writing, in-person, through YouTube and through many other means—to stop viewing them as inspirations for just doing tasks in daily life that the rest of us perform.[2] If our society listened to them, then we would stop viewing these individuals as inspirations. But alas, many of us don’t listen.
  3. There are attempts to dilute the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Disability activists have, on many occasions, warned against any legislation that undermines the ADA, yet amazingly such legislation to weaken the ADA passed the House of Representatives earlier this year. If we listened to people with disabilities, such a bill would be in the garbage can, not passed in the House.

Not listening to people with disabilities is very much a pattern of our society. This pattern did not start with the straw issue, and I fear that it will not end with the straw issue. However, it is about time that we change and actually start listening to people with disabilities.


[1] Paper straws apparently disintegrate with hot drinks while metal straws are both inflexible and a safety risk because of how they conduct heat and cold. This NPR piece covers the issues with metal and paper straws much more thoroughly than I do in my post: https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2018/07/11/627773979/why-people-with-disabilities-want-bans-on-plastic-straws-to-be-more-flexible.

[2] If you would like a more detailed explanation of why it’s a problem to just view people with disabilities as inspirations, I highly recommend reading this article from Everyday Feminism: https://everydayfeminism.com/2015/04/stop-calling-disabled-people-inspirational/.

Eight drinking straws in rainbow colors
I can’t think of anything more appropriate for a post involving straws than a picture of straws. By Horia Varlan from Bucharest, Romania (Eight drinking straws in rainbow colors) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons