Recently, I was at an old cider mill, and in order to get inside had to climb a few stairs. I am able to navigate stairs well, so I didn’t consider this an issue or lack of accessibility for myself and my situation (though I very much realize that stairs may be inaccessible for others, and I fully acknowledge that). A line of people started forming behind me, and waited as I climbed the stairs. Nobody said a word and all they did was patiently wait, yet still I found the need to say, “sorry,” even though I did absolutely nothing wrong.
While the word itself may seem simple and harmless, in this context it’s more complex. It’s not just that I say sorry all the time because I’m constantly hyper aware of the physical space that I occupy. It’s also because, on some level, I feel as though I’m a burden on others–non-disabled friends, schoolmates, or simply a random stranger walking beside me on the street–because I am physically disabled.
Sorry for making you wait as I climb the stairs.
Sorry for being “in your way” or walking too slow on the sidewalk.
Sorry for needing help on the subway.
It’s taken a long time and a lot of work for me to recognize that I am not a burden just because I am disabled. I am not “in the way,” and the physical space that I occupy is just as valuable and meaningful as the other spaces around me. I should have as much access to space as anyone else, so there’s no need to apologize in the first place. Further, there is nothing to apologize for. Yes, I may need extra help from time to time, but there’s no fault in that.