Like everyone, my thoughts have been on the attacks in Paris and the friends and families of the people who died. As others have observed, this feels like a game-changer, and it makes me feel…anxious, and sad. This isn’t same world, even, that I went to university in, and I wonder what it will look like by the time my two nieces and my nephew are fully grown.
I inevitably end up thinking, when something like this happens, about disabled people who may have been involved.
Content Warning: Terrorism, Paris Shootings, Aurora Movie Theatre Shootings, Fire Emergency
Image Description: A picture of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, with a retro effect, with a heart icon like the like buttons used in social networks to depict the idea of liking the picture.
In the car last Saturday, my father and I listened to a CBC radio program where the host interviewed someone who was in Bataclan Concert Hall when the shootings began talk about what he experienced as people rushed to get out, and as the surrounding area and Paris in general realized what was happening.
“I don’t know what I would have done,” I said to my father honestly, thinking at the time about where I would have gone once I’d gotten out of Bataclan Concert Hall and onto the street.
“Gotten out of the building,” he said.
Yes, okay, that’s a given. But I’ve since thought, would it have been that easy, as a disabled person?
Getting Out When You’re Disabled and People are Scared
I don’t know what the interior of the Bataclan Concert Hall looks like, so I’m making some assumptions. But, based on the layout of a typical concert hall, I think that I could probably have gotten out of Bataclan Concert Hall fairly easily at this point in my stroke rehabilitation, assuming best conditions given the circumstances. With my cane, I’m fairly stable and I can move surprisingly quickly.
Yes, I probably would have gotten outside. Assuming best conditions given the circumstances:
- Assuming that in other peoples’ panic to get out I did not get knocked over
- Assuming that it was a good day and I wasn’t feeling dizzy or otherwise unwell
But that certainly would not have been the case in previous years, and as much as I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, I do not trust that a large, panicked group of people trying to leave a concert hall would necessarily help out a stranger who had fallen.
Or assist a stranger in a wheelchair who perhaps couldn’t get to the wheelchair entrance/exit because that would mean heading in the direction of the shots.
Or assist someone with low vision who may not be able to move as quickly because he or she has to use a white cane.
Or find some other way of making sure that a disabled person that otherwise needs assistance during a situation like that gets it.
The instinct for self-preservation and the protection of loved ones kicks in. I get that.
I think it’s a complicated issue, because unless I’ve totally misunderstood the law, being in a venue like the Bataclan Concert Hall for an event doesn’t mean that the venue owner has the same amount of responsibility for your safety as would, say, the administration of the school that your child attends. Schools absolutely have a responsibility to make sure that all students, including disabled students, are made as safe as possible in the event of gunfire on school grounds, including going into lockdown mode – teachers can’t just leave because they’re scared for their own safety. I don’t know what employees did at the Bataclan Concert Hall, but I don’t imagine that many (if any) stayed out of duty to patron safety – why would they potentially risk their lives that way?
I get that.
(Please feel free to correct me if you’ve heard otherwise. There certainly are dramatic stories of employees risking their lives for no good reason to save others in a crisis.)
However, there are safety standards that all businesses must meet, and when they don’t and patron safety is affected because of it – they need to be held accountable. And while I’m not going to suggest that a comprehensive plan about what needs to be done in the event of terrorist attack needs to be Priority One for either entertainment venues like the Bataclan Concert Hall or the disabled people that visit those venues (because, after all, in the grand scheme of things these sorts of attacks are still extremely rare in the West) in light of the fact that the world *is* rapidly changing and threats keep moving closer and closer (have up already in a movie theatre, in fact, if you remember the shooting in Aurora, Colorado – not ISIS-related, but certainly shocking in its brutality) perhaps venue owner owners need to stop and reassess, in light of these latest attacks:
- What are the possible things that could go wrong during a show, however remote?
- What are our responsibilities to patrons, in terms of their safety?
- Are we meeting those responsibilities for *all* of our patrons, at all times?
- Why or why not?
- If “no”, what needs to be done? What’s the plan to make the necessary changes?
- Whether “yes” or “no”, how do we best communicate safety procedures to all patrons?
And I think that everyone, disabled or non-disabled, should be cognizant of variables that might make a sudden, safe exit from a public venue difficult, and have a general plan for dealing with it:
- Limitations imposed by disability (slower movement) or by navigating a panicking crowd or a building that’s not accessible enough
- Responsibility for others’ safety (babies, children, any other person/people who need/needs assistance)
- A fear of something involved with any sort of emergency and/or a sudden exit that may getting out safely overwhelming or difficult to do. For example, if you know that you become overwhelmed in the face of fear and tend not take action because you can’t make a decision about what to do first, that could be a problem.
I can see some people pointing out that the obvious solution to the issue of making sure that you can safely get out of a venue quickly if you’re a disabled person that’s perhaps going to need assistance is to go to events in venues like movie theatres or the Bataclan Concert Hall with a person that can assist you to leave safely in an emergency. For an event like the Eagles of Death Metal concert in Bataclan Concert Hall, presumably most people were with at least one friend anyway.
But not necessarily. I’ve never gone to a concert alone, but I’ve certainly gone to movies and plays alone. I’ve got friends who can’t imagine doing that, but it’s never bothered me.
To those that make the “bring a friend” argument – that requires an assumption that everything that a disabled person needs to safely exit a venue in an emergency will be in working order – for example, that the emergency exit by the screen in the movie theatre has had snow cleared away from it sufficiently that the door will open. If the damn door won’t open, who cares whether a friend very carefully helped you wheel quickly to it?
As I said earlier, there needs to be a procedure, there need to be checks scheduled, and people need to be doing them.
When I first moved into my apartment building, my name appeared on a list of people who weren’t to leave in a fire, because I couldn’t move very quickly – in all drills I was to wait for the fire department to come get me. A number of people in the building, especially elderly people on the upper floors, are to wait this way – they are evacuated from their balconies. This works because the building is constructed so that it’s very difficult for a fire to get out of the section in which it starts – a lot of thought went into protecting residents and making sure that they’re safe in their apartments for an extended period of time.
I don’t have a balcony, as I live on the ground floor. I now leave through the building’s front door by myself anyway, but I didn’t feel especially unsafe when I didn’t because I knew that there was a procedure and I saw by what happened during the fire drills that it worked. I trusted it.
But I don’t have that level of trust in movie theatres, or even concert venues. Sorry. If the manager of one (preferably more) of them is willing to show me an emergency evacuation plan for something like fire that includes procedures for ensuring that everything is set up so that all patrons are able to get out safely, including the schedule for how often it’s all checked to see that it runs smoothly, and evidence that people are checking it frequently…maybe I’ll change my mind.
It’s crossed my mind a couple of times since hearing about the Paris shootings that, for my part, if I’m worried about falling and losing valuable time in any sort of emergency in venues like movie theatres or concert halls like Bataclan Concert Hall , then maybe I shouldn’t be going to movies and plays alone.
That’s a hard pill to swallow, and the “victim-blaming” rhetoric of “It you don’t want this to happen, then you shouldn’t…” isn’t lost on me. I don’t like it and I’m not sure how to reconcile it as these threats, however statistically rare they are, require us to ask difficult questions about how we can make public places as safe as possible for everyone, and what role we all play in that.
It’s definitely something that I will continue to think about.
Thoughts and prayers are with the people of Paris.