My Brief Time in a Wheelchair
Why didn’t she smile at me? Why did he avoid eye contact with me? I smiled, I said hello. Ah, yes. The wheelchair. For a split second, I forgot that I was sitting in a wheelchair as the young couple scurried by me. It seemed so natural for me to smile and greet someone as they pass, and it hurt that a similar greeting was not returned.
This was not the only hurtful reaction I received as I learned to operate a wheelchair around a K-Mart. And, it was not easy to maneuver myself around the store. At one point I knocked down a pile of blankets on a shelf and in the clothing section, I caught my wheelchair on a rack of shirts.
The point of my experiment in a wheelchair was to note the actions and reactions of people who saw me in a different light. People saw me as disabled. But there was more to the looks I received. I was at a four foot height level at best, and adults passed by looking down on me, both physically and mentally as their facial expressions revealed. And from my position, I meekly look up to them. And just as our eyes are about to meet, they look away, ashamed, fearful. I cannot pinpoint the exact emotion that leads us to turn away from someone who is different from ourselves even though I know I have been guilty of the same.
There was another distinctive reaction I received. For the same reason adults looked away from me, children stared. I was an adult who was at their level, height-wise in reality, but maybe seen as an equal to themselves. They stared and I imagine they wondered about me with love and concern only a child can give unconditionally to anyone. They ask themselves why is this person in a wheelchair and how is that fair? It is the child’s parent who teaches them not to care by hustling their child out of...