Sunday, August 9, 2015

Are wheelchairs scary?

As the wheelchairedforaday project rolls along (pun intended), I'm learning new things about people's attitudes towards disability. Things I wasn't necessarily expecting. Not that I didn't anticipate problems, because I've always known that there will always be some hung ups about what being in a wheelchair is like for many that we ask, but I had hoped we can work through it. A wheelchair might not be in style- it seems like some women - although ready to try it- did not want to be seen in public in it. Many participants had natural concerns over what the experience would be like, can they make it through the day - or even use the restroom. But one thing comes across as striking- some people who were eager to try at first and seemed excited to do it appeared to come up with a list of reasons why they shouldn't and decided against it (often after avoiding us for weeks). The idea of a wheelchair seems to bring out the strangest reactions. My own Director told me that if I sat her in it for a day, she'd feel hopeless and cry. To which I had respond by asking "Why?". Truth be told, she wasn't the only one.

A lot of responses that we had even from people who really wanted to do it called using a wheelchair for twenty four hours scary, intimidating, a big challenge, a great task, something they're afraid to try. I've been in a wheelchair practically all my adult life and to me it's none of those things. It's something that enables me to move around, not something that limits me, so I really wondered, where is all this negativity coming from. Whatever it is- in order to take this challenge- you have to get over whatever your fears and attitudes towards it may be- and I guess that's part of the exercise. To change how and what you think about what "a wheelchair" and "being in a wheelchair" means. The fact is- to me the project wasn't as serious as it's shaping up to be. We wanted for people to have fun, experience something different, get a better appreciation for some of the struggles someone like me faces every day, but it seems we struck a chord and all of those heavy, dark emotions I don't think I was prepared to deal with before it started. My original thought was that it would be a form of recognition, appreciation, inclusion, a bonding gesture from people who have been seeing me in mine for years.

  And I think many people treat this experiment as something more serious than we ever intended it to be. Why can't we just have fun and learn something new about each other and instead turn it into sad, twisted or sordid. One of the reactions I got was from a man who felt it was inappropriate, because he had a paraplegic friend. Well, I can't speak for that friend of his, but I'd love for anyone to come experience my world and my perspective. Maybe more understanding, more empathy and kindness can come out of it? There's nothing wrong with walking a mile in somebody's shoes or in this case wheeling a mile in his chair. There's a quote from Cement Garden that I like to paraphrase ( Girls can wear jeans and cut their hair short, wear shirts and boots, because it's OK to be a boy, but for a boy to look like a girl is degrading, because you think that being a girl is degrading. But secretly you'd love to know what it's like, wouldn't you? What it feels like for a girl?). The only way you can think of this project and you   you being in a wheelchair as something inappropriate, shameful and taboo is if you think that being in a wheelchair and a wheelchair itself is something shameful, inappropriate and taboo. Is this what you really think when you  look at me?

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