On shoes & procrastination: How a last minute shopping trip led me to confront my own ableism

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Image created by the artist known as “Ambivalently Yours.” Note for screenreader: Image of a woman with short hair, looking up, with the words “their ignorance does not define you” over her head and collarbone.

By Rachel Yarid, M.S.W. Candidate

Salem State University

A few months back, I was going to the mall to very last minute fine a pair of shoes that I needed for the next day. The entire process was making me anxious, seeing as I fall all too well into the category of a procrastinator. Frustrated, I saw that the shoes that I wanted didn’t come in my size, of course, and I spent way too much time in DSW looking for something that would work on a 9 ½ girl’s foot on a time crunch. Luckily, once I had found shoes that worked, I went to use the restroom and wanted to head straight home. When I got there, all of the stalls were full and after waiting behind someone, I ended up using the stall for people with disabilities that someone else had just walked out of. I hadn’t thought anything of it, seeing as the restroom was full anyways, and I knew I would be quick because of how badly I wanted to leave.

Almost immediately after I entered the stall, I heard a woman outside complaining that someone was using the designated stall I was in and how “inconsiderate people were becoming.” I called out that I would be out in a minute, and the woman continued to complain. When I was out of the stall, I saw that the woman who had been annoyed with me was actually the woman pushing someone else in a wheelchair. The woman in the wheelchair told me it was okay, however the woman pushing her hastily replied that it wasn’t ok. I looked at the woman in the wheelchair, said thank you for being understanding and apologized for taking up any of her time, and ignored the other woman.

While environments can and should be adapted wherever possible, there remains a disadvantage associated with having impairments that no amount of environmental change could entirely eliminate. People who rely on wheelchairs are often more vulnerable and have fewer choices than the majority of able-bodied people (Shakespeare, 2002). I am sure that the woman who was assisting the woman in the wheelchair had to deal with issues similar to this many, many times. I would never invalidate someone’s emotions, but it was clear that she was exhausted with having to rely on others to accommodate the woman she was with each day. Although the way she went about it wasn’t appropriate and felt almost embarrassing to the woman in the wheelchair, I am sure I could have handled it differently myself. I ended up reflecting on it for the rest of the day and had felt bad for the woman in the wheelchair.

As Mackelprang & Salsgiver (2015) say, society’s worst flaw of viewing those with a disability is through pity. This is something I have done, and I need to change in order to view people with disabilities as more independent and capable human beings. Through this aspect of their words, and considering someone as a “poor soul” even, I have fed into ableism in a multitude of ways without even recognizing it. Not only as a social work student but as someone fortunate enough to live in the community of Salem, Massachusetts, that flourishes with diversity, I feel as though it should be a part of my natural instinct to want to understand others the best that I can. With a sense of understanding, or at least maintaining the perspective of being open to others differences, I’m not only leaving the door open to gain knowledge for my own benefits but for the benefit of maintaining a balance within the flow of our community. Even when it’s in a situation of last-minute shopping and feeling overwhelmed, it is important for myself and everyone around me to make sure I stay grounded in these beliefs.

Mackelprang, R. & Salsgiver, R. (1999). Disability: A diversity model approach in human service practice, 3rd edition. New York: Lyceum Books.

Shakespeare, T. (2013). The social model of disability. In Ed., Davis, L. (2013). The Disability Studies Reader, Fourth Edition. New York: Routledge.

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Social work student Rachel Yarid standing in front of a large graffiti mural on a rock face. Mural says “you are conscious matter.”

Rachel Yarid is a candidate for the degree of Masters in Social Work at Salem State University’s School of Social Work. She holds a B.S.W. in Social Work from Salem State University. She hopes to do group therapy with children and families with her career.  Ms. Yarid can be reached at r_yarid@salemstate.edu or at @disabilitysw on Twitter.

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