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Monday, August 1, 2016

Letter #3

Few paralyzed people write about their relationship with a wheelchair. In John Hockenberry’s memoir Moving Violations he wrote about how he felt empowered by his wheelchair on a gorgeous early morning day crossing the Brooklyn Bridge. Simi Linton in her memoir My Body Politic wrote about her cherry red power wheelchair she named Rufus. Alice Shepperd of Axis dance company contends her wheelchair is an extension of her spine. Reading such stories I feel less alone knowing others have adapted. I am just one of a cadre of individuals that have been empowered by a wheelchair. My overwhelmingly positive assessment of wheelchair use is well out of the norm.

I often refer to my wheelchair as a portable social isolation unit. Culturally a wheelchair is deeply stigmatized and a poor substitute for bipedal locomotion. A wheelchair is a thing, a product, an inanimate object. Worse yet, people associate a wheelchair with inability and physical incapacity. Symbolically a wheelchair is often associated with old age and tragedy. Think wheelchair bound, an old phrase I despise. I am no more bound to my wheelchair than a biped is bound to their feet.

I love my wheelchair--every piece of it. It is a part of me, akin to my leg or arm. I cannot envision life without it. It is a vibrant positive part of who I am. When it breaks, I am devastated--how could such an integral part of me fail. Such mechanical failures are very rare, most easily fixed. Such thoughts remind me of how I feel when I am sick. How dare my body malfunction.

My obvious and intense feelings for my wheelchair reveals a divide exists between those who use a wheelchair and those that do not. This cultural gulf makes the Grand Canyon look small. I firmly believe there is a disability culture as unique and fascinating as any other subcultural group. Not all crippled people are members--some are not happy nor do they embrace disability culture. The reasons for this are many and varied starting with the overwhelming stigma associated with disability and wheelchair use. Some of us see through this cultural bias--we understand it for what it really is--bigotry plain and simple. 

Embrace your adaptation. For me it is a wheelchair. If one is blind, love your cane or become a part of a guide dog team. If you are deaf embrace Deaf culture with a capital D. If you are neurologically diverse, celebrate your life with like mended fellows.  Reject dominate sociocultural beliefs associated with disability because they are wrong. Reject movies that praise the plucky cripple that wants to die. Don’t talk to me about Helen Keller or Franklin Roosevelt. They do not inspire me. Don’t talk to me about special education. None of us cripples are special. Reject all the misinformation about disability that people absorb unwittingly. Accept the fact you are living in a hostile world. A world where distinguished professors like Peter Singer, the most famous philosopher in the world, think all things being equal parents should be given the opportunity to end the lives of their disabled children. Others philosophers support the idea that “post birth abortion” should exist. That is should a disabled infant escape being detected in utero that upon birth parents should be given the option of terminating a disabled infants life. Those are the sort of bipeds that surround you. Never forget that fact. You live behind enemy lines.

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