Tuesday, March 2, 2010

PART 3: 4 days, 4 feminists, 3 New York City boroughs, 2 crutches and 1 wheelchair

“One student fare please” I asked the woman behind the desk at the Brooklyn Museum.

“For you it will be $1.75, for your friends $6.00, if they have a student ID” She replied.

$1.75 was not the student rate, it was the rate for visitors with disabilities.  

Having worked in museum access, I was conflicted. 
I had fought for years to develop a pricing policy for visitors with disabilities – acknowledging that things like travel and transport and finding an accompanier were costly, and to account for the reality that the majority of people with disabilities live below the poverty line and art was a luxury few could afford.  Certainly for me it cost me more to get in the door then had I not had a disability - my cab bills alone are hovering around $300 for the past week so far. 

In my own experience, the museum administration I worked for would not go for it – said such a pricing policy was too hard to control, and too easily abused. They asked: who is disabled? How do we determine who gets the reduced rate and who does not? And stated that simple self-identification was not a good enough control mechanism. 

So here I was impressed to see such a policy in place, happy to have saved a buck, but feeling also kind of mad that I was being singled out and assumptions were being made about what I could and could not afford based on how I looked. I felt like someone who knew nothing about me or my life, was pitying me.  Although I did not know about the rate for people with disabilities - she did not listen to me and respect my wishes to receive the fare I requested – the student fare. In reflection had she offered me all of the pricing options: student, adult, disability, senior, family, etc… I would of preferred to choose how I wished to be labeled and thus charged. 

Alternatively if a ‘pay what you can’ system was in place – no labels would be required at all. Again we walk this fine line between pushing back against having to always “prove “disability to get resources and accommodation, having to prove we are not ‘taking advantage of the system’, while at the same time, not always wanting to be automatically called out, stigmatized and treated differently because we are disabled. 

I think now to the times when I wanted to escape. Escape my well-intentioned family, escape their care, escape the crowded bar, escape my reality. Escape the museum – a place I once held power and purpose and then did not, needing to lie on a bench in a hidden washroom. I wanted at times to be isolated and hidden, while at other times I longed to be included, loved, desired and touched. 

In these few days, I could see how quickly events can unravel jeopardizing security, home, place, sense of self and family. Where would I be without my family? Logistically, emotionally and physically I would be stranded, unable to move, unable to find shelter. Without access to money or people how would I get home? How would I get to work or school? I was vulnerable – and reliant on the kindness and good nature of people not to abuse or take advantage of me. And while we are always at threat of such abuse, I felt even more so.

Parts 1, 2, & 4

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