By Nancy ScolaFox News
Inside and outside, I dress up, work out, and do other things every day. But sometimes, I have to wear a wheelchair to work. Every day. Even during the day. I am disabled. How can I operate my own appliances? Why can’t I leave my wheelchair outside the kitchen window of my apartment? Why can’t I take it out in public? How long should I keep it outside?
I have been in physical therapy since I was 11 years old, and there have been little improvements: plastic chairs, spindles, proper hand controls, a chin strap, and a weight band. A new TV tube! Plus new legs. Some foods good to eat! Some too bad to touch!
Still, the ugliness of my wheelchair — or how to walk, stand, and stand up and even breathe a bit — overwhelms me. My legs don’t work properly; my back is so stiff I can’t fully complete the workout, and I’m not going to lose my balance while standing on a white metal platform. Plus, there’s the handicap-only toilet.
I don’t care if the people who take me out can operate this chair, but they can’t lift me up, let alone transfer me to a higher platform and bring me back down.
“One time you were sitting in the chair, but you didn’t get up to use the toilet. It was still on by the time your mom arrived. When you finally stood up, you found the chair on the floor. There was a white line coming up the bottom of the chair as it slid, and the leg lift was so high and you were so low — you couldn’t lift yourself onto the machine or tool, or ride it,” recalls Jenna Carol, my physical therapist.
After months of such stories from other patients who use motorized wheelchairs — “That time you had a sonogram, and when you got in to use the restroom you couldn’t get up.” “That time your daughter came home from college and your chair was in the basement.” — it hurt my feelings. (I tried to ignore it; I have become accustomed to hearing about this stuff.)
But I care a little more about my neighbors, because I am not a complete stranger. I have lived in my own apartment for 13 years. I have gotten to know my neighbors. We’ve helped out each other. A working-class family must learn to learn to tolerate people with disabilities — and then they have to act.
How can they say, “Go walk to the liquor store” when they can’t take me there? This is the same sad way a child with dwarfism, with size 18 feet or higher, sees those with money. Nothing’s wrong with having money, but why are they trying to show off their toys and independence?
But at least I can smile at the man in traffic who honks his horn at me to move closer to the sidewalk to stop on the traffic island and smile a little more when the woman sitting next to me stares at me in astonishment.
“Hi, how are you? Welcome to my apartment building,” I say. “I just need to empty the garbage out of my trash can.”
“You’re in a wheelchair. And you’re right in here,” she grumbles.
I let out a sigh, because the trash can isn’t a garbage can — it’s a steering wheel.
“I’m sorry. Sorry if I’m annoying you,” I respond.
The gate of our apartment building is even attached to the wall.
I am here all the time and so is my wheelchair. This is my apartment, and my neighbors are my friends. It’s okay to have respect and kindness. It’s okay to be polite. It’s okay to not have to say “I feel sorry for you,” but to say, “I can’t quite believe what you are saying.”
“Thank you for letting me help you,” I respond, even if my wheelchair is loud enough for her to hear me inside.
Nancy Scola, associate professor of communications studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, lives in New York City.
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