Dear Metro Mobility Driver,
I could call you a lot of things - jackass, asshole, idiot, I could call you ignorant. Mostly I feel angry.
It was a warm sunny day this past Friday, and you were picking me and my colleague up from a university campus. We needed metro mobility because my colleague has a few disabilities and uses a wheelchair. My colleague is also my friend and my mentor, and I help him sometimes by paraphrasing. He has cerebral palsy and a spinal cord injury, and he sometimes is slower with his movements. You were incredibly rude to him and you would speak about him as if he wasn’t there, and worse, you would only talk to me, and able-bodied person (of course, my disability is less detectable, and you wouldn’t have noticed that I too, have one).. As we were exiting the vehicle, I could understand that my mentor was moving, slowly, to operate his chair, but you, who couldn’t be more ignorant, said, “are you staying or are you going?”, not even giving him the chance, or time, to. You were not patient, and you were not kind.
My anger is nothing like my friend’s I’m sure but I can’t help feeling angry - and sad - inside. Mostly I am appalled that you, who works with disabled people every day, would treat someone like that. I want you to understand the kind of harm you have done when you act that way. I know he doesn’t need me to stand up for him, but I feel I must because I know he would stand up for me if someone treated me that way for my mental illness.
A while ago, my colleague and I talked about what able-bodied people must feel like when they see someone who uses a wheelchair (we don’t like to say “in a wheelchair” because a wheelchair is an adaptive piece of equipment that someone uses to get around), and we agreed that the majority must feel very uncomfortable and what a shame that is. You seemed very angry when addressing my friend and I can only imagine a few things but mostly that you must have been frightened of him, made uncomfortable by his disability and I am writing this open letter to tell you why that is wrong. See, my friend is many things, and one of those things is disabled. But he is also the kindest, sweetest person I know. He is also the funniest, too, and very, very brilliant. If you would spend even five minutes talking to him instead of me, you would have realized this.
Now you did not realize I have a disability, too. I don’t think you understand that there is a wide range of disability types and we are a diverse people. I think if you knew I had a mental illness, you would have treated me just as badly. I think, because you assumed I was non-disabled, that you thought it was okay to be so prejudiced against my community. In fact, at the end of the ride, you turned to me and in an almost relieved tone of voice said, “thank you for riding”. Now I do think you are afraid of us. But there is nothing to be afraid of, we are people just like you. In fact - and this is probably prejudiced, too - but we are probably better than you. We understand adversity, stigma, and prejudice. We know what it is like to get treated poorly by the system, particularly the medical one. We know what it is like to not get listened to, to get treated like dirt, to get treated less than, and despite that, we are always kind. We understand diversity, and strive for inclusion. We are model citizens. We are friends, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, parents, children. What we aren’t are you. We don’t treat people the way you treated my friend. We listen. We use empathy and kindness. We support and uplift. So again I ask, why were you so afraid, so uncomfortable, when what I am describing is a nice person?
The woman with the invisible disability