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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Have Wheelchair, Will Travel. If you are able bodied, think of this as a head's up

Have Wheelchair, Will Travel
If you are able-bodied, think of this as a friendly head’s up.
I take things for granted. I go to Stop & Shop and expect to buy fresh fruit and milk. I flinch when I pull into full serve but I assume the gas will be there to fill up my car. When I turn on my faucet, for the most part, I assume clean, clear water will be there for me to use.
You know another thing I take for granted? Walking.

When I wake up in the morning, I stand on both feet and shuffle my way around the house. I walk to my car. I walk my dog. I walk around the market. Sometimes, when I’m feeling good, I even run. Slow and steady wins the race.

After spending a week on vacation with a family member who is almost exclusively wheelchair bound, I will never take walking and movement for granted again. I will never dismiss the need for all those handicapped spaces at Target. And I promise, never again, to use the special bathroom stalls so I have room to move.

The inability to walk makes even the simplest tasks more difficult. Everything needs to be thought out in advance: moving around restaurants, finding companion bathrooms at public facilities and navigating uneven walkways and raised entries. Very few things are made with complete accessibility in mind.

Then, factor in the looks from those rushing to get past you. Using a wheelchair or a scooter or even a walker, tends to make everyone hurrying around grouse with impatience. I experienced this more than once on vacation. I watched people with arms folded or hands on hips, staring irritatingly at my little family while they waited for the bus to lower and then waited for us to load and strap in.
Maybe I’ve done that. Shame on me.

I never knew. Never lived it everyday. When I was about 10, my grandmother lost one leg to diabetes. I used to watch her dress her stump and rub lotion on it to keep her aging skin from rubbing in the artificial leg. Until she learned to walk with her cane, she'd use a wheelchair to get around her apartment. One day, I got in it and started wheeling myself around the bedroom. To a kid, wheelchairs look like great fun. When my mom caught me, she was not pleased.

"Wheelchairs are not a toy. You'd better hope you never have to use one."

Maybe being in a chair was like crossing your eyes, I didn't want to be stuck that way.
But sometimes, things stop working. Age happens. Injuries happens. Disabilities happen. Being immobile is no reason to stop enjoying all the things that life has to offer and being able bodied doesn't entitle us to a better quality of life than those who need our help.

But for the grace of God...

One thing I know for sure, is that the look I saw on my stepdad's face when he watched the parade and looked out the window of the plane, was irreplaceable. The travelling, while arduous at times, was worth it. Life has so much to offer that it would be a shame if we didn’t make things as easy as possible for anyone who wants to explore them, wheelchair bound or free standing. And if someday, that person is me, I hope the opportunities to travel are not limited by my inability to get to them standing up.
About this column: There are some things I really love about Milford that you should know about. On those weeks, I’ll rave. Then there are things that leave “little to be desired," as my grandmother would say. Those would be the rants. It won’t be difficult to tell the difference. I’ll write it like I see it.

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