Waiting in Line: An Exercise in Passive Endurance

a shop front with a line of people waiting to enter

What’s it like for you to wait in line? I’m not asking if it sucks that the time spent in line is time you could be doing something else. What’s it like? Is it boring? Maybe it’s a little frustrating if you’ve got somewhere else to be? Perhaps it’s a chance to rest, stretch your legs or strike up a casual chat in an otherwise busy day. 

Does it hurt? Does it impact your ability to do the things you need to do the rest of the day? Does the anxiety of calculating the cost/benefit of getting in any given line exhaust you?

For so many people with chronic pain and illness – people with marginalized access needs – waiting in line and other ‘passive’ things can have a huge negative impact on our physical and mental health, and our capacity to accomplish what we set out to do in a day. This is because for us they aren’t passive at all. They are things we have to endure in order to survive. 

I’ve started calling this Passive Endurance.

Passive Endurance is being forced to persevere through activities that normatively able-bodied people treat as neutral or ‘easy’. This is particularly true out in public where social norms are dictated by the fact that most people don’t know each other. 

This is any line you’ve ever waited in. At the store, bank, gas station, etc. Just like any other activity someone with marginalized access needs might require support in, waiting is also one of those things. When waiting in line negatively impacts someone’s ability to function, we need to create accessibility solutions so that these people can live their lives with less harm being inflicted upon them.

So what can we do?

      1. Generally acknowledge that passive endurance is a part of the challenges that people with marginalized access needs face.

Integrating this knowledge into what you know about marginalized access challenges is a great first step. Take time to think about what it might be like for people who experience waiting in line as a burden. 

      2. When you notice someone struggling, offer* to advocate for them.

I was at a theatre once where the accessible bathroom (one stall) was closer to the theatre doors than the multi-stall restrooms. As a result, there was a long line and ⅔ of the way back there was someone on crutches clearly struggling. Even though this was a bathroom for people with disabilities and there was an usher there directing traffic, none of the people making sympathetic eye contact with this person thought to have them go ahead. I asked them if they’d like support and facilitated them being next in line.
*As with any demonstration of allyship, autonomy should be centered, so ask first, and if they say yes make the space for them to get their needs met.

      3. Visible policies at events and spaces you curate.

You have the power to support us! One way to do this is to acknowledge – preferably though posted signs and in the access information on any event pages – that people’s access needs might include going directly to the front of the line.

      4. Grab a buddy and take care of your fabulous self.

I recently performed at an event with my choir that had a buffet afterward. Because we sang a song to close out the program, the choir members ended up at the end of the line. I knew this was inaccessible to me, so I took a support friend to carry my plate and entered the line right where the serving started. Eating soon and not waiting in line made it so that I was well enough to safely drive myself and my friends home that night. If I’d followed the social expectations of waiting in line two things would have happened 1) My physical and mental wellness would have dropped off a cliff because I needed food, and 2) I would have been in a lot of pain from having to sit on my scooter for a long time.

~~Addressing Ableism Interlude~~

As you logic and process and hopefully empathize with those of us that face this challenge, I want to address a question that is ever-present in our ableist ether when discussing support solutions:

But what if the person claiming they need this access support doesn’t need it?

Let me be very clear: Gatekeeping an accessibility solution because someone might ‘abuse’ this support causes very real harm. 

Many people have disabilities that aren’t visible or don’t ‘make sense’ to everyone and judgment about whether someone is disabled *enough* bars people from access to things they need.

Is it really worth it to deny access on the grounds of hypothetical cheating?

Doing the internal work of deconstructing one’s assumptions is just as important as implementing structural changes.

~~Interlude Complete~~

Who knew waiting in line could be so complicated?

Well, lots of us actually, but now that you know too, this awareness can help you become a better ally. 

I also have an invitation for all my fellow spoonies who experience passive endurance – I’d love if you’d share your stories of passive endurance in the comments. It is our combined experience that creates the sharpest relief against the systems that disable us.

Thanks for reading.



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