Disability: A Curse in a Traditional Rural Community?

In Columns, Features, My Life: Straight Up with a Twist by Tashauna Swanson

disability a curse in a traditional rural communityI am a born and raised farm girl who grew up on the midwestern prairie, and no, I did not wear pigtails and write on a slate at school like Laura Ingalls Wilder. My family was in the dairy business until just recently when my dad retired from it.The population of my hometown is about 1200 people, and my high school graduating class consisted of seventy students;

the majority of them I have known nearly my entire life. I was the only individual in my class who used a wheelchair.

Was I treated differently in my small town community? Of course. Am I still treated differently? Most of the time, yes. When I was younger, life was a constant struggle. If my parents weren’t fighting with the school system to provide adequate accommodations for me, I was working to be accepted by my peers which I never felt like I fully achieved until college.

I found friendship with my aides at school more than I did with kids my age; I felt I could communicate with adults better most of the time. The impression I had of the world around me was so vastly unlike that of others I knew due to my experiences. I still had a small group of friends, but there was no way they would ever try to understand the things I went through until we all became adults ourselves.

Fast forwarding about seven years to the here and now… I do go home to the farm on a fairly regular basis, but I don’t pass through my hometown much anymore unless there’s a holiday or special occasion going on. Even then, I don’t really stick around. While most of the citizens know me by name, and are great people, I feel that the attitudes of the community towards the disabled have not progressed at all. It isn’t necessarily their fault.

Small town life is just this way. It takes time for even the largest, most modern cities to progress on any front. A town like my hometown, just a blip on the radar, might very well take forever to make a giant leap forward in the area of disability awareness.

Recently I attended a women’s luncheon held at the country club in the town where I grew up. I hadn’t been to the country club in years so I wasn’t exactly sure about the overall accessibility of the event. I tried contacting one of the organizers, but she was on vacation.

In the end, I more or less figured out the outside was ramped. I did remember there were a few steps inside, between the entry area and reception room, but unfortunately I took a chance in thinking the inside would have hopefully been adapted somehow over all these years. I’ll think twice before I take that approach next time!

Why did I assume? I kicked myself later for that, figuratively of course. Instead of being able to sit in the same area as the other attendees, my mom and I had to be seated at the only table in another area. The table was not intended for any of the guests to sit at. The area adjoined the reception room via a large entryway between the two. The main barrier was three or four steps down into the reception room.

At first, most of the committee members seemed oblivious to this issue of segregation. They then suggested carrying my electric wheelchair down the steps. I don’t mean to be sexist, but the majority of the women present were not going to be able to accomplish this task. It isn’t safe anyway. This always seems to be the magical solution people come up with.

Well, I’m sorry, this isn’t the answer and it will not continue to serve as the temporary solution in situations like this.

Due to the lack of accessibility, we were unable to view the slide show presentation put on by the local doctor about plastic surgery because we were sitting directly behind the screen.

Frankly, I didn’t care to see it anyway. I’ve had enough surgeries and I’m definitely never going under the knife voluntarily! That was followed by a fashion show, lunch, and a motivational speaker whom was my initial reason for wanting to be there in the first place. I was able to see everything excluding the schpiel by the doctor.

I know it was wrong for me to assume the venue would be one hundred percent accessible, and it was mentioned by a committee member that if they had known I was coming, they could have tried to figure something out.

That might be true, but in the back of my mind I have this voice asking why. Why should I have to call ahead to let others know I’m going to be there when nobody else has to? If it is a public event, there will always be a chance an individual with a physical disability will show up.

Why not choose a totally accessible place to begin with?

Since the event occurred, I have been thinking a lot about it. The worst part of that day was the initial feeling

of being ostracized, yet again, by my home community, and the feeling of not being understood. I think I felt the worst for my mom. She has seen this kind of thing happen to me repeatedly.

I’m sure from the standpoint of a parent, it isn’t easy to see your child unable to be fully involved in the community due to incidents similar to this one.

I have decided it is time to pay more attention to my hometown community. I have remained quiet for too long as many of us with disabilities tend to do. Although I am building a life in another place, I need to be concerned about the place I grew up in. I need to try to help it progress versus ignoring the issues after time has passed.

Some letter writing is in order so my community can see there is a problem. I will start with the board of the country club and also the local newspaper. There will always be a risk of stepping on someone’s toes, but I am not intending to be rude. I will be successful even if I can get only a few people to think.

Trying to increase awareness and influence change in a traditional small town isn’t easy, but what people need to understand is the fact that we do not necessarily speak up for our own benefit. We speak up for those like us, as well as the aging population, and generations to come in order to provide a more accessible future.




Did you like this article? Read more articles from Tashauna’s column, My Life: Straight Up with a Twist! Another article worth a read is ABLE Act: ABLE to Make a Difference? Comment and share with your community.

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