I Was Invisible For A Few Hours
The Cherry Creek Art Festival is held in the Cherry Creek area of Denver during the first weekend in July. Our art-loving family usually attends the festival.
Seeing all the booths requires walking about two miles and calls for several hours on your feet. The event is crowded as tens of thousands of people attend and July days are hot with the threat of thunderstorms.
Barriers to attending the event
I was looking forward to going to the festival 2 years ago. But going to the festival was challenged by:
- Worsening of my Parkinson’s related balance issues
- Worsening of my crowd related anxiety and stress
- The heat
- My questionable ability to stand for several hours
- My recovery from a total knee replacement
2 miles with the aid of my hiking sticks was doable. But I felt walking at the festival for several hours with the crowd and heat seemed risky. We had decided not to go until we found I could rent a battery-powered chair for the day. Problem solved!
Using a battery-powered wheelchair
We drove up to Cherry Creek and assembled, with a few fumbles, the chair. I found the chair extremely maneuverable and fairly comfortable. A lap around the parking garage and joystick in hand, I zipped off. I suddenly found myself in an unexpected environment.
I’m used to getting strange looks if I walk (slow gait, stumbling, and some veering) or if I walk with my hiking sticks (still slow, take more space, and the occasional commentary about having “missed the trail”).
I had become invisible in my little red chair. People in the crowd avoided eye contact, with zero greetings made or returned. A few others in wheelchairs and on scooters did exchange greetings.
I was, perhaps, moving a little slower than average due to limited experience with the chair but multiple people cut in front of me and passed in front of me as if I wasn’t there.
I felt excluded
Sudden braking with the chair to avoid hitting someone was a learning moment. In prior years, as one walked through a booth, comments about the art were often exchanged with complete strangers. I was invisible and unheard down on my chair.
Oh, yes, two women did ask me to move in a crowded aisle so they could get by. When we decided to eat, the restaurants were crowded and the staff had to squeeze by our table because of my chair. They had placed me there but complained over me about my chair being an obstacle.
I knew using a chair in that environment was going to be somewhat difficult but the feeling of being invisible and excluded was completely unexpected.
A common experience
My experience may have been a one-off, but I don’t think so. I asked several friends who regularly use scooters, walkers, or wheelchairs, and they confirmed my experience was not unique. They frequently experience the invisible, silent treatment.
All in all, the experience opened my eyes to what others with mobility issues often encounter. I apologize, based on my experience, to those who use walkers, chairs, or scooters for the rude and excluding behavior of some of us still getting around on two feet.
In the future, I will try to always make eye contact and greet those in a chair or scooter and promise to include in conversation those using a chair or scooter. I encourage you to do the same.
If the festival goes off this year (Covid), I will be there on a motorized chair.
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