Winter is a time of staying inside (for those who choose), shorter days and taking things slowly when it’s cold outside. It is a season designed for contemplation. And so I would like to take the time to discuss WinterAbility if you will! There are additional barriers for people with disAbilities-especially who use assistive devices simply because it’s winter. The snow is an obvious barrier. The weather can also have adverse effects on assistive devices and if you are anything like me, the cold chills, absolutely to the bone, and can contribute to illness. As a woman with a DisAbility, the elements and their effects are not the only things I’ve had to confront
As a woman with a DisAbility, the elements and their effects are not the only things I’ve had to confront during the winter. As a woman rebelliously living life as I choose I also experience a lot of micro-aggressions from often well-meaning people with an able-bodied appearance who believe that I and “the disabled” should just stay inside.
It’s crucial that people able-bodied and disAbled really consider what the notion of “staying inside” really means. As a woman with a disAbility that has several jobs does that mean that I don’t go to work? Does that mean that I don’t go to the grocery store and that I forgo a trip to the post office? Does that mean that all social events occurring in the winter are postponed? Since I live by myself and I am self-supporting none of these things should or could be a feasible or reasonable option.
Life happens in the winter as much as it does any other time of year; still it is common practice for able-bodied folks to insist that as disAbled people we stay inside. An example of this problematic cultural phenomena happened on a day I was rolling to the post office and a women who was a passer-by said, “What brings you out today? Maybe you can do whatever it is that you are doing tomorrow. Tommorw there won’t be a storm.” Or when passer-by insist that I am not dressed properly for the weather when indeed I am donning my winter coat, hats, mitts, and scarf. This is the unsolicited advice that follows disAbled people in the winter! The other micro-aggression that is quite common is when a person with an able-bodied appearance says to myself and my friends with assistive devices “you guys are taking up too much of the sidewalk!”
If you use a wheelchair or walker—you know what I’m talking about! When a storm hits and sidewalks have not been cleared this is even more so the case. Many people struggle to see that these problems exist– at least in part– because of the construction of incomplete streets, lack of snow clearing and the weather rather than the disAbled body.
If sidewalk travel isn’t challenging enough when I get to the bus and the ramp is defective due to weather I have been told by drivers and travelers alike that “I just shouldn’t be out in this weather anyway”! Again, this situates a very systemic problem onto a disabled being. I cringe at the notion that a downtown sidewalk and transit can be full of people and when a disAbled body makes an appearance, suddenly one disAbled body is one too many. How are these comments even remotely acceptable in the realm of public and shared space? In my view, it starts with the problematic notion that disAbled people should just stay inside. That because many “public” spaces have not considered the experience of disablement we (disabled people) should all stop inconveniencing other people and not be seen; especially in the winter.
Earlier this winter I had the privilege of speaking to students of the faculty of Social Work at Wilfrid Laurier University about disability and employment. I was commuting from Toronto to Kitchener on various forms of “Public” transit. On that day, there was a massive winter storm in Toronto as well as a region of Ontario appropriately named “the snow belt.” There were some moments of the spectacle in terms of having to lower the ramp to the Go Bus, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to get there. Unfortunately, I was almost a half hour late for my own talk. I would not have missed it for anything. I loved the fact that I was there doing my thing. I believe that my things, My contributions are no less vale-Able than the next person.
This then begs a rather obvious question, when people say to disabled “others” that we should stay inside what then do they think that we are doing when we’re inside? ….Hummm….why is it so challenging for lots of folks to think about the everyday life things the disabled community is missing out on as a consequence of being in/or being told to stay inside? These questions warrant a lot of discussions, critical thinking and uncomfortable moments and would be another essay.
For now, though, I think it’s important to say, my life, my body, even when it’s cold outside!