Becoming *That* Person

Flying home Monday, I almost became *that* person – the one who betrays her people by supporting the opposition –the black, gay Republican, the woman supporting lesser pay for members of her gender, or in my case the disabled woman who wanted to tell the other disabled woman to sit down and shut up.
I cannot be certain of the contentious issue because my attention was not snagged until voices were raised an the phrase “violation of the ADA” uttered. We’d left our originating city late because of a mechanical failure, so our layover was abbreviated. Apparently, this woman wanted forty minutes to exit the plane and do something related to her body and the uncomfortable seats. The flight attendant was refusing her request. I found myself agreeing with him. I found myself wanting to defend him.
Superficially, my instinctive response to my fellow traveler made complete sense for the woman’s approach was not nice, rational, or designed to educate. It was shrill and slightly offensive. I believe she told the flight attendant that she knew more about the ADA than he did and she hoped he never had a reason to know as much as her. As someone who wants to change for the better how disability is perceived, I object to other disabled people behaving badly.
The ADA was designed to provide reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities so we could fully access anything the general public had entrée to. Over the past 21 years, it has been twisted, stretched, cut, and shredded by our court system into something I doubt even its author’s recognize. As it reaches the legal age of drinking, like a new born infant, it’s purity and innocence is long gone. In some ways, it’s that inmate who was abandoned by its mother, beaten by its father, sent into foster care where it was raped, and then thrown into the real world because the calendar said it was time. I only wish we could send the ADA to rehab, intensive therapy, and if all else fails, lock it away.
Back to my fellow passenger and disabled person. Her request seemed a bit excessive to me. Holding up an entire plane for forty minutes so she could be out of an uncomfortable seat seemed nuts. Asking to be able to walk around the plane, take a later flight, switch seats, or even have two seats to be able to get comfortable would have struck me as reasonable. Instead, she made a radical demand and resorted to insults when denied her request. In the process, she gave everyone within hearing an example of an angry, irrational disabled person. She’s why people hesitate to help me thinking I’ll yell at them.
Why didn’t I say something? I didn’t know the entire situation. She could have been in so much pain that her behavior was explicable. It could have been that she spoke to the airline when making her reservation and they weren’t holding up their end of some previously negotiated agreement. Without the full picture, I chose to be silent.
All this is to say that sometimes a member of a marginalized group is a complete jerk giving everyone in that group a bad name. Being part of an oppressed population does not instill sanity, wisdom, or righteousness. My disabilities do not grant me an inherent ability to be right more than another person. They do give me markedly more experience making my opinions more than random thoughts. Understanding the difference between “She’s disabled so she must be right” and “She’s disabled so she must know something I don’t” is hard. Understanding that difference is essential to navigating the minefield of opinions held by people within and without a marginalized group. Anyone can have a point. Anyone can be right. Not everyone can know what it is like to be a part of a particular marginalized group. Our experience has value. Our experience does not make us always right.

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About Jen

After acquiring a degree from Vassar College in psychology, I moved to Western Mass where I ran a peer mentoring network for disabled college students as well as activism and organizing around disability issues. I also conducted research on disabled women’s body image. An Upstate New York native, I eventually followed my heliotropic nature to the sun of Southern California. I divide my time between writing (disability fiction and essays) along with moderating San Diego Bisexual Forum which is one of the oldest groups of its kind in the country. In my off hours I can often be found in my neighborhood live music venue enjoying our local talent.

2 thoughts on “Becoming *That* Person

  1. And it sounds like she didn’t know enough about the ADA (you are so right about how it’s been mutilated) to know that on an aircraft, it’s the Air Carrier Access Act, not the ADA, that applies.

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