Downtown Minneapolis, where the corporations live, is a strange place. If you looked at the streets and skyways at a typical rush hour or lunchtime, you would have no idea that Minneapolis is only 40% white and has a median income of around $50K for a family. Healthy white people from the suburbs wearing very nice shoes are bustling everywhere.
And disabled people, if they live in the suburbs, do not mingle.
In my neighborhood, besides the fact that people are used to seeing me, specifically, they are also used to seeing disabled people in general. The housing is cheap enough for a person on a fixed or reduced income to have bought a few years ago and if you’re willing to live small or double up you can still find a decent apartment. We also have quite a few group homes as well as lots of public transportation (at least compared to the suburbs), with a discounted rate for disabled people — so a lot of us bus or train around.
In the suburbs and downtown, I am an anomaly.
And people — especially men who were already raised to open a door for a lady — really really really really really want to help me.
When you are a white disabled woman, the microagressions that you experience due to your disability are nearly always completely well-meant on the part of the aggressor. I feel bad even calling them aggressors because they truly are not generally hostile. Although I get a few of the strange responses and accusations of faking it that my black disabled friends get, it’s mainly well-meaning completely unwanted help.
And when I’ve written about it in the past, I’ve made able-bodied people very very very very very uncomfortable. Why is she so angry? They ask. What’s wrong with holding open a door?
The short answer is: there’s nothing wrong.
The long answer is: everywhere I turn in downtown Minneapolis, nearly every person I encounter assumes that I am helpless.
And it gets old.
This morning, I crutched toward a set of doors I have opened and closed countless times. I moved with purpose and focus and speed, with every confidence that I would manage to open the closed door I was approaching.
Through the glass door, a man saw me approaching those doors and began SPRINTING for the door. SPRINTING.
I deftly opened the door with my foot as I have done a trillion times, and he stopped short, his mouth hanging open.
“You know how to DO that!” he said.
I laughed. “I do,” I said.
That single encounter isn’t terribly upsetting. Neither are the ones with the very very nice cleaner who always HAPPENS to move to clean a door I’m heading toward so he can hold it open for me. (He’s actually funny because he narrates what he does. “It’s not that I don’t think you can open this door,” he says. “It’s just this door is SO DIRTY.”)
All so so nice. So kind. So helping.
But cumulatively, it begins to feel very infantilizing.
I’m trying to see these all as individual incidents, because that is what they are. Well-meant. Kind. And I’m trying to see it from their points of view.
When you live in an area that doesn’t have a lot of disabled people, you haven’t seen us negotiate doors and things. So you see me approaching a door with my arms encumbered and you think of what you would do in that situation as a person who always uses his arms in a certain way instead of what a disabled person with a lot of experience moving through the world with both hands occupied by crutches would do, and you panic.
OH NO SHE IS STUCK FOREVER
And so you run and open the door.
I am practicing appreciation and compassion for each moment with a big smile and a thank you, but it is starting to wear on me, I have to admit.