one night i was walking home from the library. it was about 9 or 10pm, so basically ‘dark.’
i was crossing a street and began to hear this loud yelling; ‘hey!’
it took me a few seconds to realize what was going on; where the yelling was coming from, and who was being yelled at.
it was a woman.
and she was yelling at me.
i stopped, as i tend to always do. i circled as she walked up to me to take in my surroundings and make sure i wasn’t about to be jumped. then i realized that the woman was deaf. she was asking for directions. it was some address on Park. i didn’t know where the apartment she was looking for was, but i knew that park street was only a couple blocks down and a block up. as i tend to do, i turned and pointed towards park street. her head followed my face; she was reading my lips and when i turned my head to point, so did my mouth (hello privilege!).
as i walked away i heard her screaming at someone else, no doubt asking for more clear directions. studying rape, sexual assault, ipv…etc, i began thinking about how dangerous it was for her to be walking, alone, deaf, and at 10pm in richmond virginia. the irony was that it was also April, Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
i wish that i knew sign language (im assuming she did). i wish that i had not assumed that she wouldnt accept an escort (i was walking in the same direction as Park).
so many times we take for granted our abilities to see, to hear, to walk. incidents like what i experienced put no doubt to the privilege that i have being able-bodied, and able to hear. though we know that most sexual assaults are committed by someone we know, stranger assault DOES occur. this woman was/is at additional risk as a result of her inability to hear. how many of us able to walk notice when there is no ramp? say we do, how many of us then, if there isnt one, advocate for one to be added?
there are laws making ramps mandatory, but lets be honest, laws arent always followed, especially when extra expense is required by business owners. this is not always a case of the small business owners screwing over the wheelchair bound, ramp construction is expensive. however, it is in everyones best interests to be inclusive of everyone.
how does this lead to violence?
well, if we are less inclusive of others, then we are making them invisible. invisible people dont exist; their suffering doesnt exist. when we do ‘see’ them, if we have previously treated them as individuals, after they are no longer in our sight, they become invisible again. when we treat others as if they are invisible, it becomes easier to assault them and to ignore them when they are assaulted. the opposite of this is hypervigilance of the less-abled, over attention to their needs. its good to recognize the limitations some may have, and to help them, but we still need to treat them as humans. humans with dignity and deserving of our respect, and acknowledgment.
challenging our privilege isnt easy. i am struck by the realization that there is no automatic door opener to get into the building RCASA is located. the previous office i worked at did not have a ramp, nor an elevator. those that have been on crutches know what its like, but they also know that they will soon be able to walk. by taking a step back and thinking about our environment, physical and social (we do make quite a few ableist jokes), we begin to realize how more difficult others may have it. recognizing our privilege takes practice, and sometimes it can be depressing (sexism and racism are difficult to realize you actively particpate(d) in), but we are better for it, realizing that we can help and make the world better for others.