Monday, June 29, 2015

Different, but the same

A few weeks ago I was having lunch with a friend who like me uses a wheelchair. His is electric and he operates it with one hand while I enjoy the mobility and freedom of movement my body affords me in a manual, sports model. We talked about what it means to be functional and independent. He believed it meant doing everything people who walk do in the same manner as much as possible. I thought it depended on the circumstances. He was proud of his reputation for stopping a bus that was full until it boarded him the few times he used public transportation. He was at the stop first and in his reasoning just because the driver decided to board him last doesn't mean he shouldn't be on it. He was trying to make a point and I believe he put his foot on the steps so it wouldn't leave until some other people got off to make room for him. It was a matter of fairness. For the most part I agreed- because he was the first one there indeed. But this is something you can pull off once, maybe twice. Always making a point would be exhausting. For me -rather than doing everything like everyone else- it's about getting functionally the same result everyone else gets in the in the end. It's about getting home... safely.

 That specific time aside his other reasoning was that he wanted to be treated like everybody else. My problem with that statement, although nice on principle is that you are in a wheelchair, you are not like everybody else. There are many seats and standing spots for people who walk. There are only two spots for wheelchairs on each bus. There will be times when you don't get to board although you see people jumping on at the last minute. Sometimes the buses get so crowded with people standing and leaning squishing together like a pack of sardines but it wouldn't be safe for me to board. And the whole process of getting the driver to get the people to get off, people coming on, people getting off just takes too long. Sometimes I don't have the time or the energy to make a statement. And there are buses that already have two wheelchairs on board as they stop for me. I wouldn't insist to transfer onto a regular seat just to make a statement. And there was one example he brought up that I truly disagree with. He took an issue with belts and straps. While I always say no to a shoulder or a lap belt - because I don't see them serving any real purpose, I'm happy there are things keeping me in place. His take was- other people don't have seat belts on the bus, so why should I? He has an electric chair that pretty much stays in place no matter what you do to it. I have a light, manual thing that can easily send me flying. The acceleration would have my chair rolling into the isle and all around the bus. The reason why I get strapped down is not only the bus driver/ transit system liability should something happen, but also safety. Mine and everybody else's because getting hit with a titanium frame that just rolled onto you as the bus goes into a full stop has to be a painful experience. I try to do many things pretty much the same way as everybody else. But the truth of the matter is I'm sitting on 4.4 kgs of metal and I have four wheels. I'm heavier, I take a lot more space, so there will be times when my mode of transportation influences how I do certain things or how certain things are done around me. That doesn't mean of course that I don't take offense when I routinely get skipped or if the wheelchair access is hidden away from public view. I guess I try to be realistic in my expectations. I want to be able to do  the same things people who walk do, but I understand if I don't get to do them the same way.

No comments:

Post a Comment