Weeks ago Joe and I, along with Marissa, Ruby and Sadie, began planning to go to the Pride march in Toronto. The girls were excited, put super soakers in their hands and then give them a crowd of people to shoot at and they are happy.
We had planned to use a borrowed van for the event and suddenly that was no longer possible. Then, again suddenly, my power chair died. So we had no way to get the chair there, and even if we did, it wasn't working. I changed my mind about going but then, after making that announcement, I realized that my situation was affecting a lot of other people, so I talked with Joe, and we decided to go and I would use my manual chair.
I've never done the parade in a manual. I've always been in the big power chair. I knew that I'd have no problem doing the parade because it's mostly downhill. All I'd have to do is be sure to guide the chair properly over any rough pavement and turn around and back over the trolley tracks that I encountered. That would be the easy part. Getting back up hill to the car, that was another.
I made it back up, under mostly my own power, but that's not what wanted to write about.
I found a very different reception from the crowd as I went down the street. In my power chair I got a lot of looks and some comments about my weight and the chair, mostly around being lazy. The stereotype that fat people who use mobility devices are all lazy sloths who let the chair do the work is a prevalent one. Just look up 'fat people on scooters' on google and you'll find the ha ha hilarious pictures taken of people like me, and in a couple cases, me, who are too lazy to walk.
This time, going down the street under my own power, I encountered very little of that, I got a lot more people calling out encouragement, and not a few feeling inspired. It was a much nicer experience as a marcher and as a person.
I should have liked it, and I admit to being relieved because I always hated feeling on display in the power chair, but it bothered me. I needed the power chair then, could have used it now, but circumstances combined with a decision put me there in a different mode of transport.
When pushing up and back, through the crowds at the street fair I got a lot of pats on the back, along with 'good for you' kind of comments. People could see me working to get back up hill, could see that I had refused help, and they assumed different things about me than they did before.
I'm not sure what this says about anything.
I felt more valued.
But I felt it was value based on prejudice.
It made me really uncomfortable.
The perceptions of others do influence us, as much as we wish to be immune from them when they are hurtful...and to believe them when they give us praise or affection.
I guess it's just how much value you place on that source of feedback....
And anyone who knows much about adaptive devices for mobility knows that having a variety of choices is necessary!
The new manual chair got the job done, powered by Dave...and family.
Humans have survived because of the ability of their big brains to make snap judgments (is that tiger going to eat me?), but most humans never learn the self-awareness necessary to question their automatic responses - and moderate them.
They think, "I would NEVER use a power chair because I'm not ..." and don't think that, regardless of how someone got to be in the chair, right this minute they are making the best decision for themselves. By the time they have acquired empathy, often by needing such assistance for themselves or someone they love, it is too late for them to become effective advocates - they are overwhelmed by the demands of caring for themselves and others.
You are in a very small contingent, relatively speaking, of those who are self-aware AND advocate for others. It is a gift you've developed and share.
I can understand why this felt so uncomfortable. The stark difference in reactions that people have toward you based on your use of a manual versus power chair tells you that their positive reactions, for at least some of them, is very conditional on which type of chair you use. Conditional approval is approval that can be taken away at any moment--often for arbitrary reasons that say more about their prejudices and assumptions than they do about who you are as a person.
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