I had an experience a couple of days ago I just have to tell you about. (Next week we’ll pick back up with excerpts from The Journey, my soon-to-be-released book.)
So…my friend, Randy, who’s in a wheelchair, took me on a Disability Awareness excursion. He taught me to “drive” his spare wheelchair and we cruised the 16th Street Mall, ate lunch at Red Robin, and rode the light rail. Apart from pinning my arm against a barricade and accidentally rear-ending Randy twice, it was great fun.
I guess I was expecting rudeness or stares, but I was surprised with the kindness of strangers. Randy made me ask people for help opening doors and they were eager to oblige, even when it took me a while to get through them…sigh.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to offend people with disabilities I encounter in everyday life. Should I offer to open a door for them? Wait for them to ask? Go about my business? What Randy taught me is that disabled folks are generally pretty good about asking.
Lesson #1. Smile. Be available. Wait for the ask. (I would love to hear from other people with disabilities about this.)
Another thing I learned was that wheelchairs don’t do well in over 3 inches of snow. Have you ever wondered how the disabled get around in foul weather?
Fortunately, excursion day was mild and sunny, but Randy told me about a recent winter when Denver had relentless back-to-back blizzards. He was housebound and pretty antsy. (Randy has never let his disability hold him back from an outrageously full life.) So one Sunday, after weeks of snow, his housemate, Derek, offered to shovel a path on the streets so Randy could get to church. I figured it out to be well over twenty blocks.
Lesson #2. Be a Derek.
And Lesson #3? I didn’t want anyone’s pity in that wheelchair. I wanted to be seen for the person I am, regardless of my mode of transportation. From my vantage point, I had to look up at people’s faces. The face of the man-in-the-suit who looked confident but harried. The hard-to-read face of the kid riding a skateboard while smoking a joint. The glazed face of the homeless man who asked me for money.
Maybe all of us want to be seen for the person we are, not our trappings. We all have a story.
(Thank you, Randy Milliken. I hardly even notice that you’re in a wheelchair anymore. I see the person you are.)