Seeing things through a different lens is humbling and makes you grateful for your own life

Having just come back from a convention, I spent a lot of time with people from all walks of life: rich, poor, young, old, various gender and sexualities etc. And I spent time with my friend Tracy, who’s confined to a wheelchair. It taught me a lot. I’m an empath, and I take great pride in understanding where people come from, what they feel and their emotional state of mind. Normally, I can tell someone’s mood before they do (or as they approach me, not having said a word). However, it’s a different animal to understand how someone’s life is, the obstacles they face etc. A couple of years ago I had an eye-opening experience with my friend Claudine and the shocking level of racism in the U.S. when we were on vacation together. It’s one thing to “read” about or intellectually “understand” racism, but it’s another thing entirely when you witness is face-to-face.

Tracy and I at the recent convention.

Last week, with Tracy, I faced the challenges people with disability face in our society, every day. Tracy suffers from cerebral palsy, and usually sits in a wheelchair, as walking on her own has become increasingly difficult. Through her, I experienced just how difficult it is, still, to this day, to get around and be an active part of society when you’re stuck in a chair.

One of the first things I noticed was her outlook or perspective. Literally being at the height of everyone else’s hips, Tracy sees more ass than anyone ever should. To make a conversation in a group possible, the circle needs to widen considerably to allow for a comfortable angle for everyone to see each other. Normally, when chatting in a small group, we tend to stand huddled relatively close together, but for someone in a wheelchair to fit in, that circle needs to widen, which is uncustomary for the “abled” participants. I had never really noticed this before, but as I pushed her chair toward several groups of people (I’ll get back to the reasons why I pushed the chair) I instinctively began to view the world through her eyes, and that was one of the first things I noticed. Needless to say, people also don’t see her coming, not from behind (duh…) but often not even from the front, as their eyes just aren’t focused three feet down.

A hallway from hell… Can you imagine having to push yourself up and down this corridor even once or twice? But several times per day? Yes, it makes for a more quiet environment, but for a wheelchair, this is awful. Why not use to walls to absorb sound instead? Photo: Helen Shaw

The second thing I noticed was how badly we construct things for wheelchairs. Your typical American sidewalks with those creases between concrete blocks make it difficult, almost impossible, for a chair to pass over, the small wheels in the front easily get stuck, and believe me, it’s not easy to push them forward or to do so yourself if you’re alone in the chair. And to lift the chair and push across on the back wheels? Yeah, had it not been for a person actually sitting in it, and the handles of the chair provide no leverage effect to push down, making it virtually impossible. All we could do was for Tracy to stand up, push the chair forward a few inches and try again. Imagine someone who can’t get up at all?

Carpets… Our hotel was full of carpets, everywhere. To push a wheelchair over carpets, or for Tracy to push herself? Not easy and very, very tiring. And when you have to do this ten, fifteen times a day, down long corridors? Wow. We tried to help as much as we could, but why don’t architects consider this shit?

Worst of all though were the non-accessible sidewalks in the parking lot. Yes, the hotel has handicap parking, but what if you are with someone who’s not allowed to park there? Every threshold at that parking lot was 6 inches high, and every time, Tracy had to stand up, take a couple of painful steps to make way for the chair to come up, sit down, start all over at the next threshold, up, down, up, down. All in all, we had to do that about six times. Makes you wonder how this is even possible in 2017.

Having to live like this every day? People bumping into you everywhere because they don’t expect you, don’t see you, all the obstacles, elevator doors crushing into you and what not… I appreciate the patience Tracy and others in her situation have. Yes, they have no choice, but we as a society could make things a little bit easier for them. It’s not rocket science, after all. Have you had any experiences with friends, or yourself?

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Hans

 

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