Over the last couple years, it’s seemed as if people have suddenly become more aware of fire safety. I used to be able to throw my often overly large bookbags and purses in the middle of aisles. I used to be able to sit cross-legged in the center of doorways. I could stretch my legs into aisles and in front of doorways. I was not considered a fire hazard. It was assumed that I could move should a fire break out. I was not considered an impassable barrier.
Now I am. And perhaps this has to do with an uptick in fear about fire. Perhaps everyone else is now yelled at for blocking doorways and leaning into aisles. Perhaps I’m finding something where there is nothing. Yet, it seems oddly coincidental that I had never been called a fire hazard until I had my gimp gear.
The first instance was in dealing with an English professor at my college who was astonishingly upset that the chair I had my RSD leg on was slightly blocking the door. This slightly blocking the door meant that the chair protruded about a half an inch into the doorway, like many chairs often do in packed classrooms. “You’re a fire hazard,” she kept saying over and over again. And here I was thinking I was a human being.
Another instance was when I went to a play and I refused to sit in the accessible seating (it would have been near impossible to actually see the play) and an usher nearly had a breakdown when she realized I intended to sit in the actual seats by getting out of my chair. “That’s a fire hazard,” she had said pointing at me. “You can’t sit in the aisle.” The most fascinating thing about this occurrence is that I would have been less of a fire hazard if I had been allowed to sit in my chair in the aisle. It was deemed okay to get out of my chair and brake it in front of me in the first aisle. If a fire had broken out, it would have been far safer for all involved for me to have already been in my chair and in the aisle. It’s quite fascinating; in case of emergency I can move. People seem to think that I’ll just sit idly by in cases of emergency.
A few months ago, I read a story about disabled people staging a sit-in in Wisconsin. They were also called a fire hazard. When I’ve read stories about protests and sit-ins, I’ve rarely heard people clamoring about fire safety and fire hazard. Throw ‘disabled’ into the mix, and suddenly everyone cares about fire safety.
Here’s the thing, us gimps? We don’t want to burn to death any more than TABs (Temporarily Able Bodied (people)). Really. When there’s a fire and if we’re in the doorway? We’ll do a really cool trick. It’s called ‘Moving the Heck Away From the Fire.’ You know our canes, crutches, walkers, and wheelchairs? They do a fascinating trick as well called, ‘Helping Us Walk’.
We are not your fire hazard. We are not inanimate objects. We are people. A lot of the time, we’re also people who also don’t want to die a fiery death. Fire safety exists for us as well. We’re no more of a fire hazard than any TAB.