Today, I want to talk about my wheelchair. Not how much it costs, or how annoying it is to get fixed, or even how wheelchair manufacturers will say that they are not designed to go in the rain (I know…right?). I want to talk, instead, about my relationship with my chair.
Recently, I have had occasion to think a lot about what my wheelchair means to me and how much is a part of my identity. I have been attacked, by many people who don't know me, for believing that denying my wheelchair is the same thing as denying me. What those people don't realize, and likely never will, is the fact that a wheelchair is more than a handy toy which I used to get from point A to point B. It is as much a part of me as my eyes, arms or head. Without it, I will not function. My wheelchair represents basic human dignity. It is my independence, my productivity, the core element, that allows me to do what I do. Denying my wheelchair is denying me basic human dignity.
This is not an off-the-shelf purchase either. When your disability is a significant as mine happens to be, wheelchairs are highly complex, customized parts of our body. Much like no two people have absolutely identical legs or gaits, wheelchairs can have a similar uniqueness that we rely on day-to-day. So to those who tell me that I should get an easier or more standard wheelchair, I will say that it is not possible. You cannot merely switch out one leg for another, I should not be asked to do the same thing with my mobility device.
I have a deep love for every wheelchair I have ever owned or used. Not to say that I don't get frustrated with them, because I do, but everyone has been a part of my identity for the length of our relationship together. You form a sincere connection in a way that others may not understand. I know there are people out there who treat their car like a child. Imagine if you drove that car literally every second of every day that you are awake. Then you might begin to understand why denying someone's wheelchair is just as hurtful as denying the person themselves.
So today's disability positive lesson is a simple one. Respect someone's wheelchair with the same level that you would respect them. Because for many of us, it is the same thing.