Things You Can’t Tell By Looking at Her

Twitter is amazing. We know this. How quickly word travels, or rather how quickly 140 characters do. But I’m going to elaborate here on my tweets from last night. They played out as such.

1) lucky me / i’m off to see / @jillbarber perform / at the CBC! @cbcvancouver

2) am so sad, frustrated & disappointed with the unclear accessibility at @CBCVancouver tonight. when I asked for help, they blew me off. boo.

3) ppl have such limited idea of what “disability” means. if in a wheelchair, they wouldn’t doubt my needs. do I have to take my pants off?

There should have been a tweet in there too mentioning how AMAZING Jill Barber (and her band! woot!) were, because that part of the night was awesome.

But what wasn’t awesome was that when I asked for help of one of the many red-shirted CBC staff, I didn’t get it.

I should have asked for help sooner than later, it’s true. When us excited audience members were lined up outside the new CBC Vancouver building, I should have said then “hey, I have a disability, what’s the best way for me to be part of this?” But when the line got moving, it became a bit of a cattle herding and I was swept up into a crowded stairwell.

I decided in that moment to go with the flow, a glance behind me leaving me daunted to make my way back through the happy and hurried people. Salmon, upstream, you get the picture. At the bottom with the familiar fire ablaze in my knee, I said to one of the staff “hey, I just made my way down those stairs but I have a disability and should have asked for help. Are there any more stairs?” She said “just the stairs up the risers, but those are small”. I replied “I really can’t do any more stairs”. I should have added that I really needed to sit down at the moment too – note to self “be assertive”. “We’ll try and find you a seat near the front”, she replied. I thanked her. My hunch was that she wouldn’t.

As we made our way into the studio I couldn’t find her or anyone else to check with about accessible seating. I feel there should have been a clear designation for anyone with a disability, that I could have seen without asking, or that when I had asked she could have directed me “no problem, we have a reserved section for people with disabilities to the right” or what have you.

Because my worry about being a bother sometimes overtakes my worry about my body (bad!) I once again gave into the current of the river of people and found my seat at the top of the risers, in pain, but glad to be sitting.

As the room settled, the crew at Studio 40 began to pull people from the risers to fill the available seats at the tables, ON THE FLOOR. What? They were being handed out like winning lottery tickets, which is exciting, I get it, to go from the back row of the risers down to the best seats in the house. We were all excited for the show. But what would have been really exciting was if the woman had thought of those seats when we spoke. Like “there are reserved seats on the floor at the front which might become available – why don’t you wait here and I’ll find out”. That would have GREAT.

But here’s the thing – I had a strong feeling that she didn’t believe my needs. And I know what it looks like when people don’t, because it happens all the time.

Which is why this sequence of events is so charged for me.

Example (one of many) from the past:

YVR arrivals level, I park my car in the marked disabled spot and head into the airport. YVR parking guy shouts across the street: “that’s reserved for people with disabilties”. Me: “I have the placard displayed in my window”. Him: “you don’t look disabled”.

I have a feeling the woman at CBC thought exactly that too.

This BAFFLES me. What does “disabled” look like?? Why do so many people not know there are a hundred reasons a person may need certain access that you could never tell by looking at them? I could have chron’s, or a pacemaker, or or or or or or or or. I hate to admit that in the past when I feel I’m being questioned, I have invoked a limp to avoid the conversation. But that feeds their narrow stereotype. These days I stick to my stable gait that I have worked so hard on for years and challenge people to rethink their definitions.

It just so happens I only have one leg. One “real” leg anyway and one pimped-out prosthesis. Which is why I considered taking off my pants because, no, you can’t tell by looking at me unless I get naked. Or if you see me try and navigate a flight of stairs.

But I shouldn’t have to explain it, or defend it.

@CBCVancouver was quick to reply to my tweet with concern and kindness. As much as I don’t like the woman I spoke to, my love for the CBC as a whole is undying, the concert was fantastic and I’m on the couch, feet up, getting to have my rant, humming “Tell Me” and contemplating up-do’s and the things you just can’t tell by looking at her.



  1. I hear you. I have a few broken vital organs and the energy of an ailing 90 year old, but on the outside I don’t show a sign of it to most people. To them I’m a healthy 35 year old.

    I can’t count the number of times I’ve had a waiter/ress cock their head to one side and raise an eyebrow when I need to order something special. The difference between what I’m doing and someone who is just making their life harder is whether they decide to tell the cook to hold the salt means a hospital trip for me and my kidneys the next day.

    Anyhow. Just wanted to let you know you’re not alone in this.


  2. Hi Christa. Long time no talk! I just had to comment because this is such an inspiring post.

    You have done a terrific job articulating just a handful of the frustrations that come when navigating the world with a disability.

    My own disability (arthritis) is minor compared with the challenges you transcend daily (with considerable style I might add :) But I totally get the grit-your-teeth seething that comes when given the stink eye cause someone doesn’t recognize a non-obvious disability! And even worse, when people doubt the claim when you tell it right to their face!

    I’m taking away from your post the reminder to BE ASSERTIVE!! and stand up (or sit down) for my needs. And also to remember to keep my own assumptions in check as I move about the world. How much more interesting the world is when shared by people with varied abilities all adding their unique perspective to the mix!

    Thanks Christa!
    peace and love,

    ps – boo to the public broadcaster for not making it a priority to accommodate a variety of needs. not impressed!

  3. Christa, you are quite the powerful writer and I appreciate your frank and straight forward sharing of your experience. It seems in this day and age people have become more cynical and less trusting of each other to the point that many suffer what you have. It’s so hard to understand why so much pain has to be present in humanity. It seems people are afraid to make a decision for fear of making the wrong one to the point of seeming callous. I once heard an excellent song by a very powerful woman that turned my head and speaks to this, the song is called “Scared Too”. I know you understand when I say it’s people’s fear that makes them do the things they do. I’m glad you came out of that situation OK.

    Best to you always,

  4. I, too, have disabilities that aren’t always visable. I am inspired, by your words, to help change the narrow stereotype……it can be hard to ask for help, and even harder when we do and are refused! Keep on keeping on Christa<3 <3 <3

  5. I love this story – not for the reason for it, but for the writing and reflection and serious need to remind all of us that a) we need to ask for help when or before we need it, b) there is no honour in suffering, and c) we also need to listen, see, hear, believe others when they state their needs.

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