Saturday, May 26, 2012



This is a post about hands.

I've always known that hands can help.

That hands can support.

That hands can offer gentle, soothing touch.

But they can do more.

Much more.

Today I took my power chair to work for the first time. I rolled up to the WheelTrans bus and the driver came out asking me if I wanted to ride in the front or the back. There was someone already on board, on a large scooter strapped into the middle spot. I told the driver that I preferred the front but would take the  back as I didn't see how I could get onto the bus and then into that space. There wasn't room.

He said, 'It's entirely possible, you just need to back up the ramp and swing right into place.'

I've never done that before, I told him so, and started heading to the back of the bus. He said, 'Hold on, not having done it isn't the same as can't do it, give it a try.'

I was pretty sure that I didn't have the skill and that my chair, which isn't powerful in reverse, wouldn't make it up the ramp. I told him that I thought what he was suggesting wasn't possible.

He said, 'I will guide you back, it will work just fine.'

I said, 'So you want me to just put myself in your hands.'

He said, 'My hands will guide you, your hands will do it.'

I lined up with the ramp and slowly backed up. I felt myself slide forward on the cushion, I was glad of the seat belt. My chair struggled a little but suddenly we were on the bus and I was swinging right into place. I was outrageously proud of myself and almost silly with glee. As he strapped me down on the bus, I got my token out to pay for the ride. He finished and reached out his hand and I placed it in his palm.

His hands had guided me into a realization that sometimes I give up too easily and sometimes I acquiesce to fear.

Hands can support.

And those same hands can give confidence.

And courage.

I placed myself in the hands of another.

And wasn't diminished by the fact.

That is, to me, the ultimate goal of service.


Anonymous said...

What a remarkable driver - and human being. Wow - in just a few moments he not only challenged, but encouraged and assisted. What a great example of coming along side. I think I would write a note of thanks - kudos - to the company on their driver. You, and now us, feel better about themselves because of this one man's encouragment. Lesson noted.

Mary said...

By contrast, that would have rather annoyed me.

I'd appreciate being asked where I preferred to sit, that's great.

I'd probably even defer to his experience of how it is "entirely possible" to easily get into a certain space - it's his bus and he's the one with the training and experience, so if he says a regular chair can get into a certain space by reversing up the ramp and swinging in, I believe him.

But ultimately:
It's my body,
It's my chair,
I am responsible for both,
I am the one who knows the limits of both,
It's me who's going to have to foot the bill and/or be immobilised and/or deal with the pain if something goes wrong, if my chair doesn't have the power and goes "fzzt" halfway up the ramp, if I slip and injure my shoulders.

As such I want to retain the right to say "no, I don't feel comfortable doing that."

I want to not be pressured, in public and presumably in front of spectators, to do things someone else's way.

I want to be respected when I say "I'd prefer to do it this way," especially when my preferred way doesn't inconvenience anyone.

Yes, it's great to face challenges and learn things, and I'd love to learn more wheelchair skills at a dedicated time and place for learning wheelchair skills.

However, when I'm on a journey to somewhere, I want to preserve my physical and mental energy for doing the things I plan to do when I get there, all of which will be quite challenging enough for one day! I don't think it's fair of the world to present me with additional challenges and make me feel obliged to "give it a try" and overcome six impossible things before breakfast.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Mary, you raise an excellent point. I must not have written this as well as I wanted to ... I must say, I didn't feel pressured, I felt encouraged, and I didn't feel that my 'no' was being ignored. I also think he knew that I wanted to but was afraid to. But I defer completely to your point, my body, my chair, my choice. In this circumstance, with this driver and with his manner, I felt somehow, very safe.

Bubbles said...

Given the less than pleasant press bus drivers have had in our area as of late, this is really nice to hear! They are just human beings and no where in their job description or training, I'm sure, does it say, must encourage, must be super human and be pleasant and supportive at all times. I love people who see possibility and not the improbability as I at times do! I long to naturally have that outlook but it takes work for me!!!

Mary said...

@Dave well yes, if anyone is equipped to assert their own boundaries then it's a person who goes around giving talks about empowering disabled people to assert their own boundaries. :)

I think the bit that swung me was that you said you know your chair isn't powerful in reverse, and then that you felt it start to struggle. For me, that's the point where I think "trying new things is fun, but this chair cost thousands of pounds. I can't afford to replace or repair it, and my insurance company won't accept "a bus driver I'd never met before told me to do it," as a valid reason for a claim." It's not giving up too easily - the risk of serious debt and/or immobilisation for a month outweighs the benefit of sitting up front.

But I know you know that not all disabled people have your level of empowerment, assertiveness, self-confidence, due to a world which constantly expects them to comply. You felt safe, and your chair managed it, that's great, but another person in the same position felt pressured and their chair conked out.

So the thing I fear is every unqualified Tom, Dick and Harry thinking it's desirable behaviour to challenge and persuade and assume "they know best" about the capabilities of another person's mobility aids. If it works out, it's great, if it goes wrong...

Dave Hingsburger said...

Mary, I'm not sure what more to say, I did defer to your point. I thought it valid and said so. I think you made your point well, both times. I still insist that in this situation for me I found it supportive. Because I did then does not mean that all will ... or even that some will ... I agree with all you say - I hope you agree that I am allowed to experience my experiences and determine my own feeling reactions to them. As stated, all your points are extremely valid and I agree with all your cautions. I wish I had written them myself into the text of the blog as cautions - I am glad you came and added in considerations that I left out.

Anonymous said...

'I placed myself in the hands of another. And wasn't diminished by the fact.’
That is big time inspiring. And totally to aim for. And when I fail I’m gonna try and try and try again bcos you have planted the vision with this story.

Mary said...

Sorry. You're quite right - please accept my apologies for pressing the point.

liz said...

That is awesome.