Time, Disabled


Earlier this week I saw a discussion of chronic lateness, the people who never arrive when they say they will. Many of the commenters brought up disability as a justification for chronic lateness. They were not by and large excusing their own behavior, but rather suggesting it as a possible reason.

And I get it, some people genuinely have a harder time than others tracking time and preparing in advance.  But what none of the evidently abled commenters considered was the myriad ways disability might make waiting on a late person far worse.

I’m disabled, super disabled. I usually can’t even remember all my diagnoses when trying to list them. My conditions are physical and mental.  If I leave my apartment at a specific planned time, the other party better show up.

Being stuck out of my home, and with no car it really often means stuck, waiting for another person is a recipe for an anxiety attack. Stressing out in public practically guarantees an IBS flare up.  I won’t just resent you if you’re late; I will become physically ill as a result.

I have finite energy and capacity for pain. The longer I’m out, the more I hurt when I get home. If you routinely, frequently, as a habit fuck with my health because you can’t be bothered to show up on time, I’m going to stop trying to see you.

And of course many other disabled people rely on Access-a-Ride programs. If you bail on them or show up late, they don’t have the freedom of movement to be gone by the time your late ass shows. They can’t ask their ride to come back early or adjust their plans on a moment’s notice. They probably don’t need a cultural myth floating around that it’s okay to be late meeting up with disabled people.

I get that disabled people are different. Even when we struggle with the same challenge, we handle it differently. I have an awful ability to track time. I also have twice daily appointments dropping off and picking my son up from his bus stop. I can’t be late. So I set three alarms for each event, warning me when it’s ten minutes in advance, five minutes in advance, and time to go.

I’ve seen people go so overboard in their attempts to seem accommodating, I’ve seen my disability based need for people to respect my time and the sacrifices involved in reserving some of it for them described as ableist. In the effort to accept chronic lateness in some disabled, my need for schedule (a need I share with many autistic or obsessive compulsive people) is separated from my disability to be portrayed as an unreasonable preference.

Some people who are chronically late are simply chronically self-centered. They don’t think about what waiting means for others. My cult leading grandmother always ran late and “made up for lost time” by endangering everyone’s lives with her speeding and reckless driving. The only condition we might blame for that was her narcissistic personality disorder, but it wouldn’t excuse her speeding, or make an officer who pulled her over ableist.

If you are making plans with a disabled person and want to be accommodating, ask them if they’re more likely to show up five minutes early or five minutes late. Between my social anxiety, my fear of being late, and the hard-to-predict length of time it will take me to secure a Lyft ride, I leave and arrive early everywhere. Others with similar conditions may well arrive late. We’re different, with different cultural and personal reasons to treat time as flexible or rigid.

I’m rigid, because despite the challenges I face in being timely, the demands on my time are rigid. I have to be at the bus stop on time twice daily. I usually arrive ten minutes early and wait there. My lateness wouldn’t be acceptable, and would make every student and parent further along the route late too. I expect others to treat me with the respect I show the bus driver.

Clearly I am so far on the “Be where you agreed when you agreed to!” camp, I can’t really say both approaches to time are equally valid. To me they aren’t. But to you they might be, or my style might be incompatible with yours. Some upfront honesty at least lets everyone decide if they can really cope with showing up on time/someone being late.

Disabled people, like all people, can tend towards being early or late. Sometimes their disability may be a factor in either case, and sometimes they just don’t view time the way you do. While some disabled people may be late frequently, that does not mean throwing out schedules is the disability friendly thing to do. Some of us need timeliness at least as much as others need patience.

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