Friday, January 19, 2007

Socially and Literally Mobile. Sweet.

Two really important things happened to me tonight.

I attended a reading by a crip writer; the community turned out in full. There we all were. In a bookshop. Listening to one of us read from her socio-cultural and personal memoir of disability. The reading was sharp, provocative, funny. But I want to blog about the people there and an experience I had. Ain't nuttin' like a crip event to see the power lines of the disabled world.

In the middle of the introduction, I start thinking about seating. I am trying a new wheelchair back. It supports my body differently. I think it might be set a little low, but I really like the way it holds my pelvis. I look around me. I see people in their seats. And it suddenly comes to me. They are all frozen in uncomfortable seats. My seat is an extension of my ass. It's shaped around the contours of my body. I am comfortable. My hands fall to my side and strike the smooth, cool titanium of my rims (plastic covered for dancing, titanium for life). It sounds unoriginal, but stick with me for a minute. My chair moves -- yes! really! Their chairs do not. My chair has mobility built into it. I swing a little, rock a little. Do non wheelchair users think of wheelchairs as confining, things to be bound to (in?) because their experience of seatedness is without motion? If everyone's chairs had wheels -- dining room, office, stools, sofa, armchair, rocking chair -- would wheelchairs be less stigmatized?

As a society, we don't often think about chairs in connection with mobility. A chair is a stable, static thing. It simply doesn't have motion as an automatic part of the dominant cultural understanding. You sit in it. You rest in it -- and resting itself implies an absence of motion (unless it is rocking). We add the word "wheel" to the word "chair" in order to highlight the difference between chairs with wheels and chairs without. But in a funny way, it is the chairs with the addition that have become stigmatized. Wheels somehow aren't this cool new upgrade feature. You know. Add wheels for 20 dollars, change your fabric for 25... We have chosen, culturally, to privilege the model that is less developed, less technologically cool. Weird. I run my wheels over the coat of the lady who has just walked in. She picks it up huffily. OOPS. Well, there we are. Perhaps wheels are a liability after all?

Let me just say: I love disabled society, ya know? One wheelie snapped at me in order to get by and reintroduce herself to someone higher than me on the disability social pecking order. That particular wheelie was having chair trouble. I don't like that wheelie much -- it's mutual. One of us wears a mask because no event is ever fully scent free; he's grouchy today. There's a hum from a ventilator.

A bunch of people are networking and social air kissing -- yeah! Watch the crip hierarchy at work. Truly, some big people are there tonight. Canes and walking sticks. Wheels and a service dog. A raised voice. One of us reminds another of an event we all attended last year. We talk health insurance, wheelchair repair -- the best dealership has decided to no longer work on chairs it didn't issue. They apologize to the long term customers they will no longer accept (I am one and am FURIOUS about this. I mean what if you have just moved to Berkeley? Where are you supposed to get your chair repaired?)

We share gossip; an affair between x and y is going south -- oops. Some of us are going clubbing next week. Yes, you can do that in SF. Others of us are going to a posh restaurant tonight after the reading -- I'm invited, but I am too tired. Besides Wizard is at home. We maneuver our chairs around each other and the furniture. Groups of people gather around central focal points -- the BIG people. Smaller people change groups frequently. The disabled world has its IT people, its rockstars. We all know who is who, and why. We all know each other -- there's history and strong personal connections between many of us -- but there's also a clear understanding of the social dance. Then, it is over. The bookshop boots us out; we take the party to the street. and the conversation continues. My ride shows up; hugs and airkisses abound (grin), and I am gone.


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  2. further proof of how small crip society is: I knew about that reading all the way over here on the right coast and I'm a bit jealous of you for going. i've heard her read before though.

    also, i don't sit in chairs if i can get away with it, especially at crip/dance events and in auditoriums. i do find them incredibly confining and painful and i'm not clear whether this is a disability issue or a personal preference. even when i do sit on furniture i usually sit on couches, or benches, or tables. in one recent disability studies seminar, where i pretty much had to sit in a chair to participate in the discussion, i draped myself across two chairs; that seemed doable. that was a particularly exhausting seminar, because i was the token crip [well, i wasn't, actually, but for various and sundry reasons i was treated that way], and three-hour seminars are exhausting to me even without the tensions that come with token status, so i felt i was entitled.

    on a not-related note can i email you? i have a question for you.

  3. Hey there! Yes! Let's be in touch. We have a lot to talk about; many things and people in common. As for the captchas ... it's a blogger thing. I have no control over it.

    w h e e l c h a i r d a n c e r a t g m a i l

  4. Ugh... unwheeled chairs are so uncomfortable! I occasionally go on a short trip with crutches rather than my 'chair, usually due to space restraints. During those rare times I do so, I am constantly reminded of how bad normal chairs are.

    You can't adjust where your feet sit... the floor only has one level. There are no prongs to hold my knees up, which means I have to do it with my arms. The seats are rarely comfortable, and its really easy to lose a comfortable position once you find it.

  5. I felt nothing but freedom when I tried out a scooter a couple of months back. Have I bought it yet? No. Why? Because I am halfway between two worlds and still on my feet when really I shouldn't be. Stupid I know. Reading your post made me remember that feeling of freedom though.

  6. Great post! I find it interesting that the wisdom of children lets them acknowledge that chairs that roll and spin are infinitely more fun than stationary chairs. My two kids have always played on wheelchairs and wheeled chairs whenever they had the opportunity. Those sorts of fancy office chairs are usually more comfortable and adjustable.

    I'm hyperactive; sitting still in a stationary chair is not only frequently uncomfortable, it's also nearly impossible. My desk chair at home is a giant rocking chair that not only lets me rock, but also sit cross-legged or draped in a variety of other positions. I wrote about the difficulties of "good sitting" in this post:

    I think you'll also enjoy this post by Ballastexistenz, "The staggering costs of the chair- and dark-impaired."