One of the first things I noticed after I started using a wheelchair was what a great view I had of good looking asses. Unfortunately, the converse was also true- leading me to be more circumspect about concluding that this vantage point was going to be fulfilling on that level every day.
It did make me rethink how many times some person in a wheelchair had checked out my butt before it wound up in a chair. Not that my butt is confined by any means to a wheelchair. I hate that phrase. “Confined to a wheelchair”. What is that supposed to mean? Is it like house arrest, where you can’t get out of the wheelchair? Is that the disability?
“Sorry, ma’am, but your diagnosis is confined to a wheelchair.”
No it’s not. That’s not even a diagnosis. So when I hear people use that phrase I always think “mobility related impairment”. That’s after I stop chuckling.
There was a time when I used to get angry whenever I heard this phrase but since then I’ve found a lot of other, more important things to get angry about. You’ll be disappointed if you were expecting me to say I no longer get angry when I see disabled people treated less fairly or with less respect than others. That’s simply not true. I have learned to channel that anger in a more constructive way.
I’ve also learned not to fight every battle. There are some groups and some people who simply don’t get that we’re all human beings of equal worth. This is usually what’s behind conflict that arises that results in group action . By the time groups of people are chaining their wheelchairs or demonstrating in the streets, you’d think folks would catch on that disability advocacy is here to stay and that some issues need attending to.
When I read about how the Black Panthers helped out disabled folks during the 504 sit ins years ago, bringing them food and supplies as they occupied the hallways of the Powers That Be, I realized that whenever I write about disability advocacy and activism I owe mention to allies.
Able bodied people who stand by our side as we roll our chairs down streets chanting for the right to live in the community are our allies. Educators who teach our children that all of us deserve respect and dignity are our allies. I could go on and on, because there are many allies. And it is these allies who carry me through every time the world seems to just be full of assholes, prominently displayed in my face.
It can be the guy who sprints from his truck parked in the only handicap spot left just as I pull into the lot, who is cheating by using his grandfather’s handicap placard or the potential employer who doesn’t want to hire a wheelchair user.
These are probably the people who go around saying “confined to a wheelchair”. They have given about as much thought to what it’s like to live from a wheelchair as – well- the pigeon that roosts. They simply don’t care because they think we are the ‘other’ and it can never happen to them.
And when they see people in wheelchairs chained to objects they probably think it doesn’t matter since we’re confined all the time anyway. What they don’t see are the faces of the people in those wheelchairs. They never get that far.
Of course I could simply stare at asses (or assholes) all day since they are at my height. But that’s no way to go through life. There’s so much more to people who stand up than their asses. And the same is true when you don’t see the person in a wheelchair. Or the blind person with a guide dog or using a cane. If all you see is the disability, you’ve missed the entire point.
Because people with disabilities are, after all , just people. And when people confine their views to just seeing the wheelchair, they’re the ones who are confined to a wheelchair, not us.
copyright 2007 Ruth Harrigan