Crips on the Subway
Thursday, June 7, 2012 at 9:28AM
Elena Taurke in Asking for Help, Crip People, Disability, Feelings, Justice, PsychoZen Meets Life

My hips were already hurting as I was standing on the platform.   I could almost feel the relief of the seat as I waited for the train…and waited…and… the desire intensified with the growing awareness of the delay, the imagined relief intensifying the pain.  

By the time the train pulled in, a crowd had gathered and I was terrified of the competition for seats.   Naturally, there was exactly one seat in the car and the woman who pushed her way past me got it.    In agony, I pondered:  Was she disabled?  My hips don't have a big sign on them and I'm not carrying any supports like crutches.  Do I say something?  What if she is mentally disabled and doesn't understand the subway protocol?   If she gets angry and accuses me, do I understand her as limited or mean?  What's the difference?  Who deserves what?

Naturally I didn't say anything.  If I'm not tough enough to stand through pain, I feel shame.  Not so the pregnant woman I watch pushing her way into a seat as another passenger loudly calls her a  "f-king jerk."   Not so the injured woman with the enormous foam thing directing people to sit next to her only if they can be very VERy careful.  She is smiling gingerly and receiving much sympathy.   Why is that people who are only temporarily disabled beam entitlement instead of shame? 

On another day, I see two unusual guys in one ride.  One, a small frail black man, with a clear deformity in his legs, is carefully seated with his walker.  The train is crowded.  He is meekly trying to exit.  A man in his path gives him 4 or 5 inches, no more.  The crip valiantly negotiates the space.   On my connecting train, I see a well-dressed white man in a fancy wheelchair, confidently zooming into the car.  He's clearly on his way somewhere.  I try to make friendly eye-contact, then realize how ridiculous:  a) he doesn't need my support, and b) since I don't look disabled, I merely look like I am gawking at him.   Ah, a power-crip.  

The more I notice the more I notice.   A pile of people in elevator to the A-train.   Just as the doors are closing, the guy at the buttons opens them for a blind guy.  I know I'm late cuz my iphone tells me that the train is arriving.   People hold the doors for him.  I'm grateful that he doesn't see my irritation.   As we arrive, the doors open and I try to rush out to catch the train but he's waving his cane around so I have to step back.   He wins.  Joke on me.  Where is my empathy?  Gone with my power.  Gone with my train.  

Here's an easy one.  Two women are having a fight about whether a bag hit her.  "I didn't hit you...  THIS is hitting!" and she actually hits the woman who complained about the intrusive bag.   Meanwhile a guy with obvious cerebral palsy is leaning against the door, looking anguished.   When the doors open, people start pushing and he tries to get out of the way, stumbling to where I am standing. I  show him a seat to my right.  "Yeah, I have to get over there."  " What?" I say.  "I have to wait for the train to stop so i can get to the seat."    I try to block others as I get off so he can get the seat.  I'm crying for his dignity.  

Who are we rooting for?  And what changes if the crip aggressively asserts her rights?   Only very recently have I been exposed to the vast and powerful crip-pride movement.   I see now that not everyone apologizes for being a bother.   I am impressed by this, even if envious and conflicted.  When a chair-enabled guy succeeded in blocking the closing doors, we all had to wait.  I didn't know whether to cheer or disapprove.  Maybe he could have waited, but how do I know what he needs?

I need to be able to ask for help without feeling humiliated.   I'm scanning the models, observing the competition, working out the protocol.   


Update on Friday, June 8, 2012 at 4:33PM by Registered CommenterElena Taurke


I'm scanning the models, observing the competition, working out the protocol.  

Love it. This is a description of how we all live and learn, whatever the topic.

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