On Wednesdays I usually catch the later screening of a movie at the Hippodrome Theatre. The usher rolls out the seats in the front row for me that double as the wheelchair area, but that day I was running late. As I entered the dark cinema I noticed that something was different. There was a wheelchair parked next to the screen. Whoever used it obviously preferred to transfer to a regular seat. I used to do that until it was a hassle. The back suggested it was a TiLite- a high end wheelchair brand popular in America. I wondered who it belonged to. I couldn't quite make it out in the dark, but the frame looked small. We were watching a Japanese cartoon, so I assumed it was a child. As I was leaving I was proved right. It was a little girl, most likely not older than 12 out to catch a flic with her parents. As they were walking she led the way. She was fast, smooth, determined and elegant in her moves. At times she turned around and circled around the adults as if to get them to hurry, like she played tag with them. If she wanted to, she easily could have leave them behind, but she would stop, turn around, go back or let them catch up if she got too far ahead. She had one of those things on her front wheels that lit up as she rolled. She was being playful. They left the theatre as I observed. They forgot something and they went back. The daughter was leading again. She was first on the ramp and they followed her across the street. She was animated, they were talking, they were walking, they were rolling, she was having fun. It may have seemed strange that I- a grown man decided to stay behind and watch this scene with people I didn't know, but at the same time I guess they didn't think much of it. I was just another person in a wheelchair. It was amazing to see how natural a person this young was in her wheelchair. It was just a tool for her. Something that enabled her mobility and allowed to express her personality. And she got a pretty good hang of it and exercised control. To her it wasn't scary or intimidating. It just was. She didn't seem to have any hang ups about the wheelchairs or her circumstance like many adults would. Welcome to the new generation: wheelchairs can be fast and light and fun and light up the Christmas tree. And here's my hope: that the disability perception that I try to educate people about through my non profit- is something the adults of tomorrow will accept as a fact of life needing no explanation. I was brought up with the sense that wheelchairs are bulky, scary and final and meant loneliness, abandonment and despair and I always felt I wasted a lot of years before I embarked on my journey to independence. But she wasn't. And kids like her are not. And to me that's amazing.
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