Wednesday, February 13, 2008

If there was a camera there

When I found the piece in the news about Brian, another quadriplegic, being dumped out of his wheelchair by a deputy to "check" his disability, my stomach sickened. I warned Meredith when I saw her that I'd posted a video and what it showed. And then I told her that the news coverage, as hard as it is to see, is a positive step in bringing this kind of behavior out into the light.

I, too, have been confronted by people physically over the decade I've been in a wheelchair. Part of it came from being a quadriplegic in a manual chair. I often had people say to me "Oh you can't be a quadriplegic. Christopher Reeve is one and he's totally paralyzed." Many folks don't understand the variations in spinal cord injuries. (Even in this article, it says that Brian is a quadriplegic, but still able to drive. )

Some quads can look like paraplegics to people if they don't understand the disability. Once I had bones in both wrists broken because a man assisting me "lost patience" with how slowly I "chose to move" and pulled away my wheelchair. I fell onto the ground landing on my wrists. On another occasion a woman pushed food into my face to see if I would "knock off pretending I couldn't lift my arms". And many times I've had change thrown at my face by impatient clerks who think I'm deliberately moving slowly. (And, yes, I've been dumped out of my wheelchair too. )

This kind of physical stuff happens. There isn't always a camera. And let me tell you, this woman deputy's words are classic and her behavior is classic, arrogantly proclaiming "I don't believe what you say about your disability - let's see". I've been questioned incessantly over the years about my disability, but there are these folks who cross the line and become physical. It's sickening to watch and my heart goes out to Brian. No one should be treated like this.

But the point is it's happening out there. Turning our heads away doesn't make it go away. It's time to speak up about it, bring it out into the light of day for what it is.

Because, before anyone assumes that a low level quad isn't really a quad, let me tell you that hand/arm impairments do affect one's ability to get around and do things in our quick paced world and, I suppose if it comes to that, to defending ourselves. Having paralysis in all four limbs renders one more vulnerable. Period. I'm not going to suggest anyone duct tape their hands or spend a day in a wheelchair because that just doesn't do it in my opinion. But I've lived with it for over a decade and I know what it's like to go out into an uneducated world and deal with people who are judging what I can/can't do and take out their ideas on me.

My friends, it sucks. It doesn't always reach this level of behavior, but it sucks. I wish people would educate themselves about disabilities and ask questions if they don't understand. Most of the injuries I've received over the years have been as a result of peoples' impatience on this very issue. And even though their behavior doesn't reach the level shown in this video, it can still cause injuries.

Watching how the media picked up this video and article and how it spread is a positive sign that we are making strides, that this kind of behavior is abhorrent to most people and that those who choose to engage in it face discipline or criminal charges.

What happened to Brian is an assault to him. And to all of us. Not just people with disabilities, but to each and every one of us. It's about not being treated with human decency.

"She certainly wasn't treating me like a human being," Sterner said. "When I saw that one deputy laugh that's when my blood started to boil. That's ridiculous to have that happen to me, then have somebody having a good time laughing about it."