Sunday, September 27, 2009

They could be allies

A friend of mine was in the post office in her wheelchair when she overheard a man with a leg cast on telling another friend how he was so glad he was no longer "wheelchair bound". In front of her, as she sat in her wheelchair, he told his friend how he couldn't go out in a wheelchair or do anything. His friend commiserated with him.

Then this morning I see this article by a teacher who was temporarily using a wheelchair. She writes how it kept her "homebound and schoolbound".

Neither person who had the experience of being in a wheelchair got the point: it's the fact that there isn't adequate transportation that's more of an issue than "being in a wheelchair" or, as people keep insisting on saying "wheelchair bound". The latter, considered archaic language by some of us using wheelchairs (who are perfectly aware that we are not 'bound' to our chairs), undermines the perception of a wheelchair as a viable form of mobility, even a preferable one to some who would do better with one but fight it because of such perceptions.

If you ask me, it all comes back to writing off the potential of people with disabilities -not wanting to put resources into affordable transportation and durable medical equipment. Keeping these perceptions alive is part of that equation. It's so ingrained into some folks that they enter into the experience of using a wheelchair and leave it, even for months, without ever questioning those perceptions, without ever asking the why's. Why isn't there available and affordable transportation for a power chair user to go to the movies, out to dinner in many places? Why do they still sell and rent such heavy manual wheelchairs that they can't be pushed and navigated around in the community?

And it's so sad. Because these folks could be allies. Instead- and in many cases unwittingly- they further the misperception that using a wheelchair means being bound.

UPDATE: Here's another one: Disability Changes the view


Anonymous said...


I happen to be familiar with the region where the columnist you linked lives & works. It is a nightmare of sprawl for anyone who can't drive.

If you are old enough (not a kid) and strong enough, you can hike through ditches, along highways, over fences, etc., if you have no car. Otherwise, you're stuck.

It is appalling.

(And wow, so true about unpushable chairs. What on earth are people thinking? How exactly does it help to add a shoulder injury to your other problems ...? Argh.)


(And in fairness: light = expensive for wheeled devices in general. So I understand the dilemma. But still. One good shoulder injury negates any 'cost savings' of a cheap chair.)

Wheelie Catholic said...

You're right. Rural areas are particularly hard without transportation and suburbs and cities - well there are issues like traffic safety crossing certain intersections that just haven't been addressed sufficiently.

As for the light equals expensive equation - that's so true!

Greg said...

I cringe every time I hear wheelchair bound. The lightbulb never goes on for some people when they talk about accessibility.

90% of the problem is Wheelchair access or lack of accommodations, not my spinal cord injury.... Just my two cents worth.

Anonymous said...

Ruth, FYI, the county in the article is partly rural, partly suburban, partly urban. Except the very most inner core, all of it is unworkable for non-drivers.

Off the top of my head (having not taken a look lately), I'd say the inner urban area is relatively manageable for walking pedestrians and skilled cyclists, because distances are short and traffic not so fast. But you'd need to plan to brave traffic way too much to do it safely in wheelchair, due to spotty sidewalk existence & maintenance. (And a it's all one big hill, so powerchair would be your friend. To go off on a random tangent.)

Greg - How is it that the exact same person (who shall remain nameless) can one week be completely clueless about the importance of accessible design, and the next tossing off 'wheelchair bound' in a horrified way? Like you say, no lightbulb going off. Argh.