Who are you to tell me to take the stairs? (On ableism)

Ableism: discrimination or prejudice against individuals with disabilities (Merriam-Webster, 1981)

Sorry if this sounds like a rant, but I gotta get this off my chest

For those who know me well, you will know I’m the first defender of people with disabilities. I have urinary incontinence, which is a disability. I am also deaf (with a cochlear implant), which is another disability. I’m used to advocating for myself, and explain to my friends what my needs are. I’ve never had issues with my friends and they’ve been very accommodating.

Strangers… well not so much. Although there are laws protecting people with disabilities, sometimes people just don’t care. People don’t always let people with disabilities use priority seating in the transit system, for example.

Lately I’ve been dealing with something new. I’ve always had bad joints… it’s a family thing. My mom has been declared invalid 4 years ago at the age of 45. She has a rare disease named ankylosing spondylitis, which is a chronic inflammation of the axial skeleton and affects all joints. Think of arthrosis and arthritis put together, times 100. Why am I talking about this? Because it’s highly hereditary and I am most likely to be tested positive too now that she finally got a diagnosis (after 4 years).

Now when my mother first got sick, I was told that it was most likely a genetic condition I could have too. I used to do tons of sports. I did soccer, basket-ball and kin-ball (look this one up it’s worth it!). I was also a ballet dancer. I stopped everything. And I mean EVERYTHING… overnight.

With every sports there are risks of injury, and I had my share. I broke my ankle during a hiking trip, sprained both my ankles doing ballet, hurt my joints real bad multiple times… and I tore both menisci in my knees.

Now that’s an old sports injury that just went untreated. I mean, you can only repair it with surgery and well, I hate hospitals. I managed pretty well until last year when I started going out more. Going up and down stairs is pretty intense on the knees. Sometimes my knees would hurt at the end of the day. And I mean, I was fine with it and didn’t really mind nor complain about it… I just started taking stairs less.

Elevators have always been tricky. I’ve always felt bad for taking the elevator for one floor. I would try to take the stairs to not be an inconvenience to the people who have to go 8 floors up. If there’s an escalator I’d always take it first before calling the elevator.

Today, at school, the escalator was broken (it has been for 3 days). For the last 2 days I’ve taken the stairs, grunting. Yesterday my knees have been hurting more than usual and have had repercussions on today, meaning I woke up with my knees hurting already. So when I got in front of the broken escalator I decided I was not taking those stairs. I located the nearest elevator (luckily it wasn’t far) and waited for it.

There was a line waiting to get into the elevator, and people were chatting. There was a young girl, maybe my age (I still consider myself young!). There was a couple, the guy looked Indian of origin and the girl was Asian. I smiled at them. There was an old man walking with a cane, probably a professor getting to his class.

The elevator doors opened. People walked out of the elevator, we all walked in. As I got in front of the left-side panel, I see lights going up. 8-3-7. We were at the subway level and I needed to get to the ground floor. I felt myself becoming uncomfortable…

I’d usually wait for people going up and when I’d be up there I’d push the button and go back down, but today I was getting late for class and I had missed the two previous ones. I pushed the ground floor button and waited.

When the door opened seconds later, I walked out, but not before hearing a voice behind me. “Next time, maybe you should take the stairs!” said the old man. The door closed before I could say anything. I felt a tear coming. I tried to fight it.

Why was I feeling so bad? I was in pain, needed the elevator and took it. I needed to go to another floor. THIS IS WHY THERE IS AN ELEVATOR IN THE FIRST PLACE!

The man was walking with a cane… I had hoped to find an ally in him, not an enemy!

He should understand, no?

I don’t like to classify disabilities, but sometimes I think, maybe selfishly, that hidden disabilities are the worst. I shouldn’t be questioning whether or not I should have taken the stairs. I shouldn’t be feeling bad for trying to accommodate myself and my needs.

In the end, I’m on a waiting list for knee surgery, but in the meantime, I shouldn’t have to justify my usage of elevators to anyone.