I love traveling. I love exploring new ways of living. I love being exposed to everything this earth has to offer. But sometimes this exposure isn’t always so easy.
I’ve been experiencing a lot of staring in Taipei, and some in Seoul. The staring towards me was actually more noticeable to my German friend than to me in South Korea. As you can gather from the previous post, I see a lot of positive progress in Taiwan towards people with disabilities infrastructurally. However, I’ve also noticed some pretty negative phenomenon. For instance, as I was getting off the metro earlier today, this older Taiwanese man turned his bike around to stare at me wheeling pass him. I asked him to stop staring at me, and he started full-blown yelling at me in his local dialect. I asked the young man next to me what he said, the young man only elaborated by saying it was hurtful words. I did get spooked for a few seconds and glad I was, at least, not by myself.
Another not so great experience started shortly after I landed in Taipei. I would ask locals to take pictures for me and they would pretend to not hear me or just walk away like I had the world’s most contagious disease. Later I relayed my experience to a local person. He said it was because of news reporting of individuals handing over their malfunctioned phone to take photos or what not and accused the good-hearted person who agreed to the request of damaging their phone. My local Taiwanese guy said news stories like these are often reported so people are afraid of getting set up.
What exacerbates matters further is that, I have seen quite a few beggars with disabilities openly displaying their disability to insight sympathy so that people will give them money. 💰 So when they see me, they either think I am going to conduct fraud or I am a beggar trying to trick them for money. Either way, I am someone they need to defend themselves from. I wish I can tell you this happens only once or twice. But I am a persistent person, I asked about eight people in the same area to take a photo for me and they all pretended to not hear me and hurriedly walked away. The more polite ones said sorry, we are busy and walked away. I understand self-protection, but this is when stereotyping and generalizing is hurtful and wrong. One of the reasons why I travel to places I feel uncomfortable going to is to conquer and correct the biases, stereotypes, and generalizations I may hold within.
Over the last few days, I’ve seen that even though Taipei has a great transportation system and many of their facilities are accessible to people with mobility disabilities, their view towards disability is not necessarily the healthiest. My feeling is that they see people with disabilities as someone to be taken care of, to be pitied, and they see us as a burden to others (i.e. family, friends, society at large). For instance, countless people have asked if I am traveling by myself. When I say yes, they’ve all expressed worry, shock, and gave overly patronizing accolades. Unlike in Tokyo, most people you see in wheelchairs are elderly folks being pushed around by caretakers or other family members, otherwise they are homeless people capitalizing on their disability to feed their stomachs. Although, I have seen a record number of electric wheelchair users whenever I’ve been inside the MRT as well. They seem to gather and commute in groups. Despite this phenomenon, Taipei’s public transportation is actually one of the best in the world. The signs inside the metro are written in English and Chinese and are super easy to follow.
Judging from all the noticeably obvious staring over the last few days, I am assuming it is extremely difficult to gain employment in regular work environments. I’ve not been inside any of the schools, but I hope they are as accessible as their public transportation system.
With gay marriage just legalized back in May of this year and interracial relationships increasing, I am confident Taiwan will be able to shift to a fuller, healthier, and a more holistic understanding of people with disabilities. Just like every other minority groups out there, we come in all different forms and talents. I still hold a light 💡 of hope that Taiwan can live up to its founding principles that everyone can create a healthy livelihood through equal economic opportunity.