Friday, July 24, 2015

Variety Is The Spice Of Life?

Today was busy, but it would be very difficult to explain. We ended the experiment with the wheelchairs, and needed to reflect upon it. We were supposed to compare our preconceptions and what we actually experienced.

Many of my preconceptions did turn out to align with the experience that I did end up having while in the wheelchair. The worst part did turn out to be the limitations set by the campus rather than the limits set by my own body, even though I was very sore after the first night. I did find that the best thing about it was the insight to the life of someone in a wheelchair, and that I gained a new sense of appreciation for all of my limbs. I remember being very young when my grandmother told me to pray and be thankful that my arms and legs work, as many people in Pakistan can’t afford to have proper surgeries, and infections there often lead to amputations. While she did put this into more child-friendly terms, the point still stands, and until yesterday I did not quite understand. I know that I will not ever truly understand the perspective of someone who is permanently in a wheelchair, unless I happen to become one of those people.

Spotting for Arnold was a different story. By nature, I am a very overprotective person. With my closest friends, I am known as the “mom” of the group, always urging people to hydrate themselves or offering them food. Since Arnold insisted on going everywhere as quickly as he could (including ramps) I was forced to hold back the urge to grab the chair so that he would not fall out. I felt a lot like a mother watching her young child zoom by shortly after learning to ride a bike. This is also why I feel like I would become very annoying if someone I was very close to started using a wheelchair. With them I feel like my desire to help would outweigh my knowledge that they need to feel independent, so as not to be a burden. Since Arnold did not have any special activity that he had to deal with while he was in the wheelchair, I did not have a similar experience as a spotter, since he was always in a group. The only time that I went off of campus with him was when we went to Sweet Cece’s, and since that was a group activity and we were all being very conscious of the safety of every group member, nothing notable really occurred. As a spotter, I think that I was treated with more respect than as a wheelchair user.

If I was told that an able bodied person should not be allowed to spend time in a wheelchair, I would not be able to hold myself back from arguing with them. I can’t think of a better way to at least attempt to understand the daily struggle of someone who is a wheelchair user. While I was in the chair, I did not really experience most of the things that I have seen in the media about disabilities. None of the experiences that Murphy wrote about, Darius Goes West discussed, or Sal talked about really occurred during that 24 hour stretch of time, but I do believe that is because it was limited by the time, and the fact that I did not leave campus or any other VSA sanctioned areas. I was not going to encounter most of the ADA compliant Air Carrier Access or Rehabilitation Acts, and all of the areas of campus that I traveled to had an accessible route, even if it was a bit difficult to navigate. I think that if anything was to change on campus, it would have to be the level of difficulty it takes to get around. The only reason I was so comfortable maneuvering is that I had taken every opportunity since we were allowed to walk to and from class to find alternate routes from the Commons to Wyatt. 

Throughout our discussions of disabilities, and even throughout this reflection you may have noticed that I do hesitate to use the term “confined to a wheelchair” as I feel that it is rather ableist, and I have always done my best to be conscious of my privilege. While our society has moved towards being far more politically correct, ableism is still rampant. Before I spent the day in the chair, I assumed that people would treat me with an exponentially larger amount of courtesy since it is essentially socially unacceptable to be rude to someone in a wheelchair. This turned out to be the case during meals, where people would move items so that I could access them with greater ease, even though they knew that this was just for an experiment. However, I did not expect the sense of avoidance that seemed to pervade the people who passed me, not knowing that this was just an experiment. I did not really expect to be treated differently for a few reasons, one being that in my school of 1,200 teenagers, there are at least six people in wheelchairs, and three of them have been integrated into either AP, Honors or regular classes. Our school has fully functional, spacious elevators in every building and ramps everywhere. I have always treated the people I know with disabilities, be they mental or physical, just like I treat everyone else. While I do now have a new perspective on the strain put upon people in wheelchairs, I do not believe that I will treat anyone any differently. I will treat them like I treat everyone else; I will treat them like a human being.

The activities at night were part of "CoffV House" where there was an open mic night. It is impossible to explain, but I saw amazing performances, and it surpassed all of my expectations! There was everything from original songs, to spoken word, to someone reading the diagnostic regulations for pyromania out of a Psychology textbook. Variety is the spice of life?

One of our goals was to be
"as hipster as possible!"
for CoffV House.
Did I succeed?

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