Friday, February 26, 2010


I mean, I notice.

There is a woman at work who has begun wearing these very neat kind of nylons, maybe tights, that are striped. I really like them. I noticed them right off. I commented. I was on the elevator with a fellow who ordinarily only wears dress clothing. That day he was wearing jeans and a tee. I noticed. I commented. Casual remarks that let people know that we are all here in this together.

So yesterday I went out in the scooter for the first time. It's green. My chair is blue. It's a scooter. My chair is a chair. They look completely different. I have come to feel 'ordinary' in my neighbourhood. My difference has been mitigated partially because I'm no longer novel. Yeah, wow, he's fat. Yeah, wow, he's in a wheelchair. Yeah, wow, it's him again. One of the virtues of being 'out' in the community is that you are only really 'out' for awhile. Then you are paint.

I certainly didn't feel ordinary as I got on the elevator. The scooter turns very differently than the chair. The chair has become a natural way of getting around, like walking. I don't notice myself drive it because I'm not really driving. Like you don't notice yourself walking cause you aren't really walking. Your just going. So am I.

But I was driving the scooter. You make it go in a different way than you make the chair go. You turn it very differently than you turn the chair. I know that it will take me a few days to learn to negotiate turns and angles and that I need to be very careful not to hit anyone and very careful not to knock anything over, but that competence will come.

I felt wildly different. Like I'd left the house with huge arrow pointing down at me with the word 'LOOK!' My chair is much faster and much stronger than the scooter but it does OK. Tessa and I motored up the road and met Joe at our regular haunt for tea. It was difficult to get two scooters into the table, but we managed and then we talked. Tessa is looking so good that I didn't remember that she has had really bad news and therefore yattered on about something I've very excited about at work. Something I've been working on for a while in secret and will be presenting to the boss next week. From that we moved to general 'tea talk' and then it was time for Joe and I to go shopping.

On our way out of the grocery store we went to the wheelchair lane which is checked out by the same woman all the time. We've gotten to know her a bit and chat with her as we go through the line. She didn't say anything about my scooter so I said, 'What do you think about my new ride?' She looked flustered and said, 'Oh, is that new?' Um yeah.

We stopped to pick up a couple of beer at the Liquor store and again we were served by someone who's served us before. Again I asked, if she liked my new ride. Again she said she didn't notice. When I explained, she said, 'Your chair is black, right?' No, it's blue. Oh.

You know how we folks in wheelchairs go on about how we want you to 'Notice me, not my chair' ... well, yeah, that's true. But also it's not.

So I know that somehow I should, theoretically, be pleased that no one saw the difference. But I also know that, somehow, I'm not.

Can you ever please a cripple?

Does anyone understand this?

Can anyone explain it to me?


Andrea S. said...

Some years ago, I got a new pair of glasses replacing my old, no-longer-quite-strong-enough pair. As a sort of psychological experiment I deliberately did not point them out to anyone just so I could see who noticed them and said something and who didn't.

If we were living in a world where wearing glasses was more unusual or stigmatized than it is in most societies today, then no, I wouldn't want to be known as just "The Lady Who Wears Glasses." That isn't all I am. And if that's the attitude I ran into all the time (not as just a mental/thinking habit on the part of other people but as an *attitude* ... am I making sense here?) I'm sure that would get me fed up.

But at the same time, I guess most of us like to feel that people notice us enough to notice when basic things about us change. You show up wearing one set of glasses every day and then suddenly the glasses are new ... you want them to notice, not so much because the glasses matter per se but because it shows that they do notice you enough at other times, and are interested enough and paying attention enough, to be familiar with what you're usually wearing, doing, riding, whatever.

I guess it's sort of ... if the glasses, wheelchair, insert blank line with other object here is the ONLY thing they notice (they only notice YOU at all because you're the appendage to the glasses, wheelchair, etc.) that's a little demoralizing (Hey! There's a PERSON here, not just this object!) But if they notice you first, and then notice the other things BECAUSE they are so aware of YOU, then that's one more sign of their awareness of YOU.

Does that make any sense?

I hope so! LOL!

Of course sometimes people fail to notice, not because they have no interest in you, but just because we do all vary a lot in how observant we are and so forth. Some people just don't process changes in their environment well because they're oblivious to all kinds of details in their environment in the first place.

5 Kids With Disabilities said...

I am thinking that people see YOU and not the chair. That's a GOOD thing!!!!
Lindsey Petersen

naath said...

I guess you just want people to see your chair in the same way that they see your shirt, or your shoes or something.

I mean, I want people to see ME and not my clothes, if they just thought I was entirely defined by what I wear that'd suck, but on the other hand an occasional "nice top is that new" or "um, do you know your fly is undone" are definately within the bounds of what I think of as polite conversation.

FridaWrites said...

Oh gosh, I was feeling like I'd be really conspicuous when I move to th rehab chair from the scooter (it's on order)--maybe not!

Yes, I understand what you mean! Maybe it's not logical of us, but then again there is a substantial difference between a scooter and a wheelchair. I'm betting now that a lot of people didn't notice the change from my travel scooter to the standard scooter--they're both blue.
Or maybe they had some cognitive dissonance where they thought they remembered it being smaller, but how did it grow, or am I imagining it?--hahahaha.

I'm going to be learning the reverse way--the scooter feels like walking to me but the demo wheelchair feels confusing (while very comfortable) to steer.

FridaWrites said...

PS, I don't know if your wheelchair is mid-wheel drive or not, but with scooters you have to drive almost completely past something before you start your turn, though of course there's a bigger turning radius than with the wheelchair. That's what hangs me up with the wheelchair--because of the tighter turning radius, I "instruct" it to turn too at the wrong time and can't get the casters lined up--backing up is tricky!

Helen said...

Hi Dave
I agree with Andrea about the glasses thing - that's happened to me, someone even said "oh, do you wear glasses? I didn't know" Ya - since I was 9!
I think some people notice detail and some people don't, that's it. I'm like you , I see hair cuts, new glasses new shoes, everything.
In the last year I have gone from long hair to short, thick frames to frameless, ordinary gait to ortho shoes to walking stick to crutches, and back to better (expensive) ortho shoes, you think anyone commented on any of this at all?? Course not.
Sometimes it's not 'polite', sometimes people get too stifled by their own idea of what's ok to say, and the majority just do not see the detail. Period.
It feels odd I know, but sometimes I think it's just not about me, it's about a different kind of difference - I think we process information in different ways, only some of us do detail.

Shan said...

I have friends who have lost (or in a few cases gained) 30 or 40 pounds and I have not even clued in until they verbally say to me, "I've lost a lot of weight this year". Then I say "really? is everything okay?" but I honestly do not see it happening. And if I don't see 40 pounds, you can bet I'm gonna miss your new haircut, too.

But I'll remember every last damn thing you ever said to me, including when your birthday is and your husband's middle name.

Anonymous said...

I am one of those people that doesn't do very well with visual stimuli. I do like my learning material in written form, but I find the general visual environment over-stimulating, so it is hard to take in and process the details.

I might have missed the change from wheelchair to scooter. I would definitely miss a haircut, change of glasses, new shoes - generally speaking. Something has to really stand out - to me - to be noticed (and even at close to 50, I don't understand my own brains processing rules about what stands out).

And my inability to focus on the visual environment doesn't have anything to do with whether or not a person has an identifiable disability, need for adaptive device, etc. I am conformtable around all of the paraphenalia that can make it more tolerable, easier for people to navigate the world.

That being said....if you are excited about your wheelchair, scooter, glasses, dentures, top, shoes, etc. etc. and want to point them out, I will be more than happy to notice and invite you to share your own emotional state!

Good luck with the scooter Dave - moving my toes back a couple inches just incase!

Anonymous said...

I think, Dave, that people actually DO notice but they're not sure if it's politically correct to mention it to you. It's an uncomfortable situation.

I have RA, and there have been times when it affected me badly enough that I needed to use a cane or crutches. So I have an idea about how others "see" and treat those with disabilities.

But because I'm not disabled most of the time, I'm like most other "abled" people in that I don't want to single you out or perhaps insult you by bringing up the tools you use to be mobile. You said that you'd rather I notice you, not your chair, so really, what could I say? I don't want to insult or upset you, you see.

This is one of those very complex and difficult situations that arise between those of us who are abled and those who have disabilities. I want very much to speak to and treat you the same as I would anyone else, but it's so easy to mess up somehow without meaning to.

Anyway. I do hope that you'll have your chair fixed and back good as new very soon, so you can be more comfortable and at ease. :o)

Kristin said...

I think you wanting people to notice the difference of the chair vs. the scooter is no different than someone wanting people to notice and comment on a new haircut. It's part of who they are and, if someone notices, that means they are paying attention to the individual.

Terri said...

If I didn't know you well, I would be the dope who said to someone later "Doesn't Dave usually use a blue wheelchair?? I swear today he had a green scooter..."

Then the NEXT time I saw you I would say something. Though if you said something I would say I THOUGHT something was different. And I would ask questions, because scooters look fun for some reason and I would want to know if they are...

I do that with haircuts and new cars too. I don't know why. I try to be attentive, but I'm on a delay....

CAM said...

I personally never notice details about people like new or different clothes, hair cuts and things like that. I cannot desribe people if someone asks me what someone looks like.
Once when I worked in a retail environment, a customer was extremely rude to me. My boss asked me to describe the person, as he wanted to speak to him the next time he came in. I couldn't give him any sort of a description. My boss said to me, I hope you are never working if we are robbed! I have to say, I agreed with him, but not because I wouldn't be able to supply a description of the suspect!

Anonymous said...

When I first got my crutches, I was a little upset. The color was MUCH brighter than I wanted. I'd originally wanted a dark burgandy, but it was out of stock, so I chose a medium blue. I expected it to not be very flashy, because I didn't want my crutches to clash with my professional clothing.

To my surprise, I had bright blue crutches that to me at least were very eye-catching.

You can imagine my surprise when I discovered that people registered that I had crutches, but never remembered what color they were!


Unknown said...

It's like being out with a radically different haircut and no one saying anything.

I think it's one of those in-culture things--the chair is part of the body, and I can tell you what color wheels and frame style most of my friends have. But when I switch chairs (as I recently did), no one even noticed except the dance company, gimp friends, and a very few of my closest AB friends. Casual acquaintances? Never.

Cynthia F. said...

I'm with Wren - it's like when African-American friends or colleagues have a new hairstyle - you want to be polite and notice, but you also want to not do that annoying white person thing where you fetishize their hair. So you say nothing. Maybe it's kind of the same thing for your chair/scooter switch - people may worry that you'll think all they see is the chair instead of you!

By the way, this post made me remember that I recently dreamed I ran into you and Joe in an airport, and that I shook both of your hands and then Henry's handle to make all three of your acquaintance. But I think he was black in my dream, not blue!