Because gastroparesis is not super common, and because so many other dietary restrictions are, my dietary limitations are often misunderstood. E.g., I can eat gluten but people often assume I can’t or won’t. I can eat meat, drink low fat lactose free milk, and eat things made with eggs, but people often assume I’m vegan for some reason I still have yet to figure out. I cannot really eat vegetables and fruit, or nuts and grains,or other high fiber foods, but I was recently told, when I said I couldn’t eat pizza, that I could just eat salad.
No. I can’t just eat the salad.
It came up at another one of my local democratic meetings. I say “my” but I certainly mean to imply no ownership or really much of a sense of belonging. I mean “my” in the sense that these meetings are supposed to be inclusive of me since I am a democrat living in town who wants to be engaged. In every other way, they are someone else’s meetings.
My local committee is planning – along with a regional committee that as far as I can tell has quite a lot of cross over with my town one in terms of leadership – a candidates event. The event will be in a partially accessible space, and will cost $10 a person to attend. It had initially been announced as costing $20 a person.
Let’s talk about that partially accessible space (see footnote below). This space is a local fraternal organization’s function and meeting hall. It has a banquet room off of which are an accessible-ish bathroom (not sure the door is wide enough) and an inaccessible tiny bathroom. It also has a bar. The building is on a street with a half a sidewalk. That is to say, one side of the road leading up to the building from the nearest public transportation drop off has no sidewalk. The other has a sidewalk-ish stretch that’s about half the width of a normal sidewalk and broken. So, I’m calling it a half a sidewalk. I’m being charitable.
The building itself is a sort of “split level” thing. On the front of the building, there are 3 steps up from the ground to the main entrance. The main entrance opens into the lobby where groups who are holding events set up their sign-in / check in. The bar is in that space too. A little past the bar are a couple of stairs up to the banquet/meeting area. That banquet / meeting area is accessible by an outside ramp, also on the front of the building. The ramp seems a bit steep to me but I haven’t gone out and checked it to confirm. There are two handicapped parking spaces in the front near the ramp. There are at least 55 other marked parking spaces in the curving, sloping lot, which means they are short a handicapped spot. The limitations this building poses to someone who is using a mobility device is that check in and the bar are inaccessible. Not a huge deal, right? I mean, you can just ask someone to check in for you, you can just ask someone to buy you a drink. PS, a “drink” here means non-alcoholic too. Water, gingerale, other soft drinks.
Now let’s talk about what my party is doing in that partially accessible space. I.e. salad.
The price for admission to hear candidates for governor is a bit off-putting. I asked about it. I was told it was to pay for pizza and beer for guests. And also to cover the building. And to raise money for the organization that’s arranging this. “But what if someone doesn’t eat pizza or drink beer?” a friend (and ally) of mine asked at the last meeting of our group. “There’s going to be salad” a voice called out from the crowd. I don’t know who. They never say their names when they talk. They all know who they are (really, a woman said something like this to me at an event in October). “They can eat salad” the chair said, echoing the (anonymous to me) member.
I tell them “I don’t eat salad either. I can’t.” The chair looks exasperated, sighs, and explains in the sort of voice you would use to talk to a misbehaving 6 year old that they need the money to cover their expenses and really, “$10 isn’t that much” (her words). I consider saying “yes, and one of those expenses includes pizza and beer that not everyone can eat….” but I leave it. I do ask if there will be a way for anyone to ask for a fee waiver if they are low income. I’m told they will address it at the next meeting.
The next meeting is 9 days before the event. The event has not been publicized at all, and at the time of my writing this, the event is 25 calendar days out. Do you know how long it takes to schedule an ASL interpreter or CART? 25 calendar days is probably not enough. This is another way these events limit who participates. They wait to announce them. Anyone who didn’t know it was happening and needs to ask for time off, or arrange child care, or arrange a ride, or ask for accommodations (because it’s not accessible), or ask about a fee waiver…. this last minute stuff puts them at an extra disadvantage and rather than encouraging their inclusion and participation, is just another way we push people away.
I plan to go and I’ve been telling everyone I know about it in an attempt to make up for some of the last minute effects. I plan to take my share of pizza and salad and do something creative with it. Maybe I’ll bring a takeout container and then drop off the food I can’t eat but helped buy at one of the homeless camps in my town. I’m thinking of taking my share of beer and giving it to my friends and allies who can and do drink beer. Or maybe I’ll offer the extra to the candidates.
Footnote: I used the term “partially accessible” and I used it sort of ironically. Because here’s the thing. If a space, building, event, class, website, social media platform, etc. is not fully accessible, it’s not accessible. We get used to making do. We try to use the half measures that a “partially accessible” thing allow but it comes with costs: social, physical, and emotional.