One of my great challenges in life, or possibly it is a gift, is the ability to see things from both sides. This is true with politics, entertainment and human behavior. This also includes what it is like to be in a wheelchair.
I am able to walk short distances using a walker. But if more walking is required or if I don’t know the lay of the land, I use the wheelchair. I am not ashamed or embarrassed by this. It is just a fact of life – my life.
Here are the bad parts of being in the chair:
● When I am in the wheelchair, the people I am with are usually standing behind me and can’t or don’t hear me talking. When I talk loud enough to be heard, they want to know why I am yelling!
● In public places, when they need to ‘park me for a second’, there always seems to be an available ‘spot’ next to the trash can. PEE-EW!
● When we go to restaurants, the host or hostess looks at me sitting in the wheelchair and then asks the person I am with “Does he want a regular chair?” ASK ME PLEASE! (Ironically, if I enter a restaurant using the walker, we always seem to get the table furthest away.)
These are all minor, readily surmountable issues. These are the things I have noticed when sitting in the chair. These are all issues that my family and I can usually laugh about.
There is one more behavioral issue that I notice. That issue is that the people I don’t know who see me in the wheelchair can usually be divided into two camps. They are:
1. People who seem particularly friendly towards me.
2. People that pretend to not see me or avoid me.
I always prefer the friendly faces. I suppose that if I am in a wheelchair, and don’t look homeless (I am pretty sure that I don't look homeless), I may appear harmless and easy to approach, so people do. I get more smiles and hellos when I am in the chair than I do when I am not. I would like to think that I am a very friendly and approachable guy, and so I love the friendly faces, smiles and hellos.
What I don’t like and wish I could change are all the faces of those not wanting to look at or notice me. It is not that I want attention or to be noticed because I am in a wheelchair. It is that I don’t want to be AVOIDED just because I am in a chair.
My favorite experience is when a child approaches me and asks why I am in the wheelchair. I always thank them for asking and explain as simply as I can that I have “weak legs.”
My least favorite experience is when the parent pulls the child away from me and tells them, teaches them not to ask, or to look and that talking to me is not polite. I always prefer the honesty and innocence of a child asking why, to the avoidance of an adult who thinks they know better.
My goal is this: To increase the visibility of disability. I want to be seen as an outstanding member of the world because of my participation in it and not because of my disability. I want to see a world that is so accessible, that people with a disability are outstanding because of who they are and not because of their disability.
I want to see a world where we are all approachable, smile and say hello.
Participate. Make a difference. Live a life that matters.