While I have never been terribly quiet in discussing my disability, I also acknowledge that I am, for a disabled person, in a privileged class. I can “pass” as normal – that is, I don’t look outwardly disabled. There are a host of issues that come with this, including a lack of “validity” from both normals and disabled folks. (I don’t look “sick”, so how can I be “sick”? Comes from both sides of the aisle.) But, problems aside, I fully acknowledge that it is nice to go out in public and not have the public gaze focused on me. Been there, done that, definitely didn’t like it.
Which is what makes this so strange
I haven’t been visibly identified as disabled in a long time. When I fly, for various reasons, I normally fly United, and I pay for the upgrade that allows me extra leg room and space. This comfortably addresses my issues, and there’s nothing else I really need to do, other than make sure I select smart seating when I am booking my flight.
For various reasons, I am flying Southwest today. I haven’t flown Southwest since I was a child, so I had no idea what to “do”. I tried to contact Southwest air via their Twitter account, and they promptly ignored me. Their customer service agents, over the phone, told me there was nothing they could do – just try to sign in early enough to get priority boarding. Sigh. So I read over the information on the website, and they said to contact customer service at the airport – so I did. I explained that I am disabled and that I do need advanced boarding and he asked for a doctor’s note.
Oh, from the doctor I haven’t had since August. Sure, I’ll get right on that thing that wasn’t mentioned on the website.
I volunteered to show Adam, the customer service rep, the pain patches covering my right arm. He laughed, said that wouldn’t be necessary, and explained my boarding process, handing over the above blue tag.
Now I am sitting here, and irrationally, I feel branded. Like everyone is staring at me – which of course isn’t true, unless you count the adorable moppet who appears to find me the most fascinating thing ever. Still, next to me is this bright blue boarding pass, clearly printed PREBOARD – and why.
Is the person across from me looking over his newspaper to look at me? Figure out what is wrong with me? Wonder why I have armwarmers on, which cover most of the pain patches and hide them from visibility? (Practically speaking, they keep them on, but is that what it looks like?)
Is the woman with the three young children trying to figure out why I get to board ahead of her?
Is that a scowl from the very well-dressed man the fact I might get the seat he wants?
Maybe more importantly, why do I care? Why does it feel so exposed and vulnerable to have people know I get to board a whopping few minutes ahead of them? These are people I don’t know and will never know; we will be spending at most three hours together on a packed flight.
And yet, and yet. I sit here and wonder: should I exaggerate my limp? Avoid full mobile range of my right arm, to emphasize that I am indeed broken, and not just gaming the system? Should I put on airs and affected manners just to verify I am legit, really and honestly? And ultimately, if the gate agents don’t care, why should I?
This is *exactly* what I go through when I park in a handicapped spot, with my God send of a handicapped placard. I drive a 1992 Oldsmobile, and I keep thinking “Oh my gosh, they think I drove my grandpa’s car here, and I’m just flagrantly abusing his placard”. It’s very tempting for me to exaggerate the limp I’ve got going on, because I’m so afraid of even the hint of judgment. Sigh. If you figure that one out (besides the cultural BS we live under), let me know.
Mmm, I wish. It’s been what, 5.5 years since I wrote that, and things haven’t really gotten any better—and I haven’t gotten any better at navigating the weirdness of that terrain. :/
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