The bus engine sputtered to a stop, disgruntled passengers flooded the snow-covered sidewalk, and I disembarked alone, fifteen blocks from where I was supposed to be.
Getting stranded when your blind is no picnic; getting stranded in a snowstorm is a whole other story.
It was January 2017, and Vancouver was languishing underneath a thick blanket of snow. When I say thick, I mean we had about four inches. But it’s Vancouver, the city shuts down at the mere rumor of flurries. Susie and I were busing home after work and daydreaming about McDreamy while listening to Edd Sheerin, as you do. Well, that’s what I was doing. Susie was probably fantasizing about eating a second dinner. Anyway, we were about ¾ of the way home when the bus took an unfamiliar turn, I keep track of these things ‘cause I’m awesome and observant like that, and rather abruptly and resolutely halted in an unloading bay. The driver explained that the trolley buses, like the one I was aboard, were not going up the hill to UBC for the rest of the night because of construction. The bus engine sputtered to a stop, disgruntled passengers flooded the snow-covered sidewalk, and I disembarked alone, fifteen blocks from where I was supposed to be.
I had two seconds of worrying about how best to problem-solve, (ask for directions, find out the address, locate a different bus) before a fellow passenger, super chill and polite like, joined me on the icy sidewalk and asked if I would like help navigating to another UBC-bound bus. He cheerfully asserted that it would be no inconvenience because he and everyone else was heading that way anyway, and that he’d been sitting across from Susie and I and had been wanting to chat about her and how cute she was so it was a win win. Then, you won’t believe this, he pulled off flawless sighted guide and we chatted about intelligent dog breeds while we and thirty other stranded people tromped through the snow, looking, and feeling, in my new buddies words: “like extra’s in a scene from an apocalyptic horror movie.” This felt especially true when the people at the front of our straggling group saw the bus we were trying to catch at a stoplight a block away, preparing to strand us yet again. We did the logical thing, ran toward it shrieking and waving as if we were fleeing a hoard of ravenous zombies. To her credit, Susie handled herself extremely well. Her paws pattering over the icy sidewalk, her tail wagging with enthusiastic abandon, she charged happily for that bus as if we regularly fled screaming down a street every night after work. Horror movie vibes or not, that situation might have been pretty annoying for me, but thanks to some chill, random stranger, it was a tiny blip on my “unexpected but strangely fun scale.”
There has been a lot of discussion lately on something called allyship. Put simply, allyship within the disability context is when someone forms supportive relationships or associations with marginalized individuals or groups. My definition of allyship is lots more informal. I kind of equate it to the warm and fuzzies. I find it easier to describe through actions.
Allyship is when the server with the insanely cute Scottish accent at Carlos O’Brian’s describes, with perfect directions, exactly where he is placing everything on the table. He does this on a busy Saturday night, when I’m with someone sighted who easily could have done it for me. He’s busy, it’s stressful, and he knows he doesn’t have to, but he does it anyway. Why? Because, for whatever reason, he gets it.
Quick shameless plug, I have a facebook friend who’s writing a novel featuring a female blind protagonist. As if that wasn’t cool enough, her protagonist is also a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Through the eyes of the protagonist, this brilliant novel presents the reality of disability, intersectionality, and sexual assault. It’s powerful beyond words and I cannot wait for it to become a best seller! I’ll definitely be posting a link to her book when she publishes, because guys, it’s going to be good!
Allyship is the teen ticket agent back in Nanaimo who excitedly showed me how to work the brand new audio description headphones. He actually sat with me for a bit to make sure everything was working correctly and checked in on my friend and I to see if I wanted popcorn halfway through the movie. Maybe he was just bored, but he had total allyship energy.
Allyship is my favorite chem tutor-turned-friend-turned-bonus-older-bro-type introducing me to his popular, older friends as “his friend” just days after he began tutoring me. He could have said student, he could just have told them my name, but he bestowed the friend label and it majorly stuck! 😛 I was not going to let him undo that, he was too cool to just be my insanely smart and fun tutor.
Allyship is when I’m in loud environments, like concerts or bars, with my girlfriends and they go the extra mile to verbalize and do crowd control.
Allyship is my brother reading aloud the entire Harry Potter series, front to back, start to finish, because the audio books were painfully slow to come out back then. Allyship is when he insisted that it was more fun reading it to me between chugging glasses of water and mountain due to quench his thirst. These are not short books. The official recording of Order of the Phoenix is thirty-one hours long. My bro read it to me in about two days when he was maybe eleven.
Allyship is photo descriptions, Netflix originals renown for audio description, and random strangers who chat about dog breeds as they tromp cheerfully through the snow. It’s asking if, rather than assuming that, someone needs help. It’s making people feel comfortable, included, and valued. It’s quietly making a difference with or without recognition.
So, what do you think. Are you an ally?
Be kind, and be aware.
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