Wheelchair Bingo…Part 1

When I was about ten years old I had a crush on a girl at school, but she wouldn’t talk to me so I asked a buddy of mine to find out the scoop. It turned out that this young lady was nervous to talk to me because I am in a wheelchair and she was afraid she’d say something to offend me. I made up my mind right there & then that I didn’t want to be the type of person who gets easily offended by anything, and I also decided to not let my disability be an elephant in the room that people are scared to acknowledge. It doesn’t define me, but it’s an unavoidable part of my existence. Nothing ever became of that grade school crush (I don’t even remember her name), but to this day I’m usually the first to crack a stupid self-deprecating joke. It’s kind of my thing. So when I ran across this meme a) I couldn’t help but chuckle a bit because they are so spot on, and b) I could not pass up an opportunity to address each statement individually because they are real things that people actually say or do. We’ve come a long way since I was a kid. When I started school it was automatically assumed that my physical disability also meant that I was mentally impaired, which wasn’t the case (actually I was “gifted”, although I’ve gotten dumber over the years). Having said that, there are still preconceived notions & common reactions, and I think it might be fun to dispel (or confirm) them in my own unique way.

Sorry, our building is not accessible…but we’ll figure out a way to get you in.

No…no you won’t. Look, I appreciate the effort, and to be honest accessibility isn’t nearly as much of an issue as it was decades ago. However, if a place isn’t accessible it just isn’t. Chances are I’ve done my homework and wouldn’t even attempt to gain entry to anyplace that’s not accessible, but in a situation where I haven’t cased the place properly we aren’t going to try to fit a square peg into a round hole. My wheelchair is quite expensive and I can’t afford to have it broken, and God forbid either myself or someone else is hurt trying to “figure out a way” to get me in.

Can you have sex??

Yes…yes I can. I’d like to have a lot more of it too!! Unfortunately the trifecta of fat, crippled, & economically challenged is a combo that doesn’t attract the ladies. On top of that, I’m at a point in my life where I’m looking for a bit more than just a casual fling, and I have fairly high standards. At any rate, more germane to the question, I’ll just say that I might not be the Jaguar you’ve always dreamed of taking for a test drive, but I am the reliable Honda Accord that’ll give you great mileage for many years.

I’m praying for you.

Well that’s fantastic. You can pray for me anytime. I believe in the power of prayer. But don’t just pray about my disability. I’ve got problems & inadequacies that are much more of an issue than being in a wheelchair.

Be positive…I know you’ll walk again.

Nope, not gonna happen. When I was little my Papaw sometimes talked about taking me to see one of those TV preachers (I believe it was Ernest Angeley in Akron, OH) so they could slap me in the face, I’d fall to the ground, and miraculously be able to walk. Don’t misunderstand…I believe in miracles…but I also believe that if it’s God’s will that I walk one day that’s fine, but at this point I’m not counting on it. That’s not me being negative…just realistic. I’m all about being positive (most of the time).

What happened to you?? Is it permanent??

That’s a great question, and one I do not mind answering one little bit, especially if it’ll break down barriers and lead to other topics of conversation and perhaps a solid friendship. My standard joke used to be that I was born in a wheelchair, which was very painful for my mother (lol). Occasionally I’ll tell people I was injured in an unfortunate accident of some sort (usually related to something being discussed at that moment). The truth is that I was born with a birth defect called spina bifida, which is essentially a hole in the spine. I am fortunate that mine was very low in the small of my back. An inch or two higher and I may have died or been in much worse shape than I am…an inch or so lower and I might have been able to walk. It is my understanding that spina bifida can be diagnosed in the womb nowadays, and oftentimes cured. I guess I was born just a few decades too early.

I’d rather be dead than in a wheelchair.

Well…okay. If that’s how you feel it’s your prerogative. Personally I am glad to be alive. My life may not be perfect, but it seems like an upgrade from being dead.

Can I sit on your lap??

Yes!! Absolutely!! IF you’re a fetching (preferably single) young lady and not a big burly dude.

You’re too pretty to be in a wheelchair.

I can honestly say that no one has ever said that to me. Okay okay…in all seriousness I know the statement is focused on young women, and I’m sure you ladies in wheelchairs have had people say it, which blows my mind. Disabilities don’t discriminate against ugly people. That’s not how it works.

Do you know (insert name)?? They’re in a wheelchair too.

Ha!! I live in a small town, and yes, this is a question that I’ve gotten. When I was in college the basketball arena & football stadium used to sit all the folks in wheelchairs together, and it was weird because I didn’t really know anybody. I just wanted to sit with my friends and I couldn’t. I’ve had well-meaning people try to fix me up with people in wheelchairs because the assumption was we’d have a lot in common. You know what they say about assuming. Look, I get it…there is some level of understanding amongst those that face similar challenges, but that doesn’t mean that all of us disabled folks hang out together and commiserate about how much our lives suck. Say it with me now…that’s not how this works.

I wish I had my own chair sometimes.

Trust me…no, you don’t. A nice recliner maybe, but not a wheelchair. For every one thing that looks like it’d be a positive, like being able to sit when everybody else is standing during a church service or the national anthem, there are a hundred other ways in which my life is made more difficult by having to use a wheelchair, and I wouldn’t flippantly wish that on anyone. Don’t misunderstand…that’s not meant to come off as some kind of whiny “poor me” thing…it’s just the truth.

*Grabs wheelchair & pushes without asking*

That doesn’t happen as often as it used to when I was younger, but when it does it’s usually by someone with the best of intentions, and I’ve learned to take a deep breath and react as politely as possible. We all need help sometimes, right?? If I’m out & about on a warm day and trying to make my way up a steeper than it looks incline I am not above accepting a push, but please ask first. Grabbing a person’s wheelchair without permission is akin to someone coming up & touching you inappropriately, like Joe Biden at a campaign rally. As mentioned, a wheelchair is an expensive & delicate piece of equipment, and I don’t need someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing ramming me into a wall or trying to get over a crack in the sidewalk like The Duke Boys avoiding Sheriff Roscoe. This is a little different with friends or family who have spent time with me and are familiar with when & how I may need assistance.

Do you need help??

I’ve really mellowed about this one over the years. My macho pride & need to be cool have lessened, and I admit there are occasions when a little bit of help is nice. However, I am much more likely to accept help from someone I know than a total stranger, which seems pretty logical in my mind. It always makes me feel weird when some sweet little old lady or a grey-haired gentlemen my father’s age asks me if I need help. I feel like I should be offering to help them!!

Have you heard about stem cell research??

Yes, although I don’t know enough about it to really have a deep conversation. Would it “cure” me? I don’t think so. Like I said…I was born a few decades too early.

But you don’t look sick. You look so normal.

Trust me…I’m far from normal lol. And thank you for saying I don’t look sick. I’ll take it as a compliment.

It must be nice not having to go to work.

Wrong!! I do in fact work for a living. I even have a college education. Could I sit at home & collect “rocking chair money” (as my grandfather used to call it)?? Yes. But I don’t want to do that. I haven’t been as professionally successful as I’d prefer or become as prosperous as I’d hoped, but I have no desire to sit at home and do nothing. Having said that, I know that there are people whose disability does prevent them from holding a job, and to opine that that circumstance “must be nice” is just asinine. Don’t be the kind of person who says something like that.

As always I strive for readability in everything I write here, so this seems like a good place to take a break. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion…coming soon.

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