I am still getting accustom to using my new wheelchair. After nearly four months, I can relax as I navigate the world. I am no longer worried about falling nor am I in pain at the end of the day. I am, to use silly wheelchair manual lingo, an expert user. This does not mean I enjoy the symbiotic relationship I enjoyed with my old wheelchair. That wheelchair was part of me--it was an extension of my body and perhaps my soul. With my new wheelchair, I am awkward in certain ordinary situations. I am extremely cautious at curb cuts and often come to a near stop before popping a slight wheelie to get over rocks, large cracks in the cement, and rough terrain. I especially struggle night. I cannot see small rocks (if I am not leaning back on my rear wheels enough and I hit a rock with the front wheels I will get jarred). I am especially wary of late night tranfers from bed to wheelchair as I do not want to end up on the floor. Transfers in and out of cars remain awkward and time consuming in comparison to the past. Despite these observations, every day I become more comfortable with my new wheelchair.
The above is the downside to using a radically different wheelchair--and not by choice I should add (thank you United airlines for altering my life). Yet I am rapidly learning the strengths of my new wheelchair. At Union Station in downtown Denver there is an underground portion of the station that connects the furthest to closest tracks. There is a wide concourse at least two or three blocks long. I love this part of the station. I move fast--when alone I move at warp speed with little effort. I pass bipeds left and right. I have no idea how fast I go but it gives me great pleasure. If I were bound to my feet for locomotion, I would guess I travel at a brisk jog or slow run. As I sped through the concourse I often think I cannot wait to go to an airport! I will speed through a concourse like never before.
Over the weekend, I discovered two new wheelchair joys. I was out with a friend to enjoy a rare dinner out. Unfortunately, the restaurant we ate in was atrocious. The inside of the building was dirty, the food was terrible, and my wheels felt greasy when we left. We each had indigestion on the way home. I felt bad. The restaurant was one I picked out. Oops. On the walk back to the train station I was pretty grumpy. Suddenly, the wind kicked up. It had been windy all day but as anyone who has spent time in the West knows the weather can change dramatically in minutes. During the day we had strong wind gusts up to 40 to 50 MPH. However, by early evening the wind had died down--or so I thought. Suddenly a strong gust of wind hit us from behind. I started to fly forward. I could feel the wind blowing me in a way I have never felt before. I started to go fast--I mean really fast. I started to hold on the push rims to slow my momentum and thought to myself why? Why am I slowing down? Well, I was trying to be polite. The poor biped with me felt no such joy. I thought screw it, laughed loudly, held my arms out to catch more wind and let myself go. Without pushing the wind started to propel me forward. It was the best sensation I have felt in years! I once again felt one with my wheelchair.
The symbiotic relationship with my wheelchair is coming back in fits and starts. I realized this with a second wonderful experience. I have started to understand downtown Denver. Without any semblance of directional ability, it has taken me seven months to not get lost in the city center. Since arriving in July I have mastered the train system and am now trying to learn the bus system. I have always been drawn to mass transit and thanks to ADAPT Denver has one of the nations most accessible systems in the nation. The main tourist area in Denver is the 16th street mall. There is a free shuttle bus that I use often and on a crowded weekend I used it to go from Union Station to Civic Center Park. Rather than take a crowded bus back to Union station I decided to walk the length of the mall. I knew the walk back was largely down hill. What I did not know was how much fun I was going to have. It was indeed downhill but thanks to the free bus, peddle cabs, bipeds on long boards, and the bike lane the mall is ideal for navigating on wheels. I took great joy in speeding along and meandering between side walks, the street, and bike lanes. I think I made the mile long walk in under 5 minutes. I was able to weave in and out of traffic, around gaggles of bipeds, and tourists. Better yet, not a single person person made an unwanted or inappropriate comment--a rarity when I am alone in a major city.
I wish bipeds understood the wheelchair human connection. The idea that one could be "wheelchair bound" is laughable--it is one of the most ignorant statements I have come across in 40+ years of wheelchair use. I am no more bound to my wheelchair than a biped is bound to his or her feet. I am as protective of my wheelchair as I am of my body. If any person sits in my wheelchair I am instantly angry. If anyone so much as touches my wheelchair I will make a cutting remark. The bottom line--do not mess with my wheelchair. Indeed, anyone that touches or makes an unwanted contact with my wheelchair is in my estimation committting a crime. Imagine if the courts recognized the importance of a wheelchair. Imagine if we as a society valued those that use wheelchairs and acknowledged how empowering a wheelchair is. Imagine if we valued the inclusion of those that use wheelchairs. Imagine if we forcefully rejected the notion people with a disability were special. Imagine if all public venues were accessible--and I do not mean an abscure rear entrance no one knows how to locate. Imagine if wheelchair users could get in the front door of all buildings and all hotels, motels, trains, planes, and buses. This sort of utopia does not exist. Unfortunately I doubt I will live long enough for such a utopia to emerge. I suppose this puts me in the same position as Thorstein Veblen who I have long admired. He too imagined utopian societies. He was a social critique as am I. What we need however is much more fundamental. We need the social mandate and will to demand society be made accessible to all. What we need are policy prescribers who seek to revolutionize society. I have no interest in incremental changes but rather a social revolution. Simply put, when it comes to access and inclusion there are no half measures.
Paralyzed since I was 18 years old, I have spent much of the last 30 years thinking about the reasons why the social life of crippled people is so different from those who ambulate on two feet. After reading about the so called Ashley Treatment I decided it was time to write a book about my life as a crippled man. My book, Bad Cripple: A Protest from an Invisible Man, will be published by Counter Punch. I hope my book will completed soon.
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Tuesday, April 3, 2018
The Joy of New Wheelchair Discoveries
Posted by william Peace at 9:07 AM
PhD 1992 in anthropology Columbia University, I am interested in disability rights and bioethics.
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"I wish bipeds understood the wheelchair human connection."
Come on. That's kind of like asking people with normal hearing to understand the "hearing aid human connection." People typically "imagine up" (How would life be better when I get a 6-pack? When I'm earning a monthly 6-figure income) rather than "imagine down" (What kind of relationship will I have with my wheelchair?).
Stephen, The point of this line was to highlight the cultural divide between your average biped and wheelchair user. Bipeds assume using a wheelchair is inherently inferior. Wheelchair users know their wheelchair is an empowering piece of technology. The cultural difference here is huge--think Grand Canyon. In my opinion, for real social change to take place bipeds need to revolutionize their thinking.
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