Give Me My Wheels or Give Me Death

In Columns, Just My Bellybutton, Opinion by Nathasha Alvarez

Every morning I wake up to see my Quickie wheelchair on the left side of my bed. The only time I ever not want to see my wheelchair would be the day I no longer need it. My wheelchair is my life. It is an extension of me. People who can not see that need to watch their step around me. I don’t know who invented the wheelchair but I am eternally grateful to that person.

I didn’t always have my own wheelchair. Before Kindergarten, my mom would put me in a stroller as if I were an infant. It was very embarrassing. When I was five years old, my best friend and I would compete to see who got to school first. That would decide who got to use the cool red wheelchair that the school provided for students who didn’t own one. This particular school was for physically disabled children only. (See the article HUMAN RESOURCES SCHOOL) I didn’t own a wheelchair until a few years later. Wow! The freedom was unbelievable.

I no longer had to ask my parents to pick me up and place me on the sofa or the bed or a chair. I could leave or enter a room when I wanted not when it was convenient for my parents. Then, there was the bathroom. No one needed to know my bladder’s schedule. I was liberated. It was the best feeling.

My social life improved.

The kids from the neighborhood would color with me at the dinning table and then 30 minutes later we would go to the living room to watch television. They didn’t have to go fetch an adult to lift me up and take me to the living. This was a whole new and exciting world for me.

One of my favorite memories is the nature walks that my sister and I would take with my grandmother. I would push myself around the neighborhood in Long Island, searching for the prettiest leaf or flower. If I grew tired my grandmother would take control. Before the wheelchair, I was excluded from these walks. I felt more equal to everyone.

As I grew up, my taste in wheelchairs changed. When I was in high school I wanted the wheelchair to match my school colors. My wheelchair is presently black. I don’t see it much as a thing of beauty like before. Now it is my legs. One time in college, I was in a heated arguement with my close friend when I stormed out of his office. He shouted out, “Hey don’t walk out on me!” I turned around, looked at him straight in the eye and said, “I don’t walk!” He turned beet red. I wasn’t offended by his remark but I knew it would catch him off guard. In fact, I also say that I am going for a walk around the block even though I know I don’t literally walk.

If you can’t respect the wheelchair, then you don’t respect me. I don’t like people tapping their feet against the wheels. That is rude. I would never take a pencil and tap someone’s body. People need to know that there is a boundary that they cross when they touch my wheelchair without my permission. As a teacher, I inform my students that there needs to be a three foot gap between them and my wheelchair. I consider that my personal space.

My wheelchair allows me to compete and participate in sports. I have played baseball, golf, tennis, and hockey in my wheelchair. I love racing and walk a thons. But, you won’t catch me doing wheelies or going down the stairs. That stuff is left for the brave souls who like an adventure.

My wheelchair protects me. I have the ability to leave when I sense danger and to run over a person’s toes if I need to fight back. Hopefully, that will never be necessary.

If the able bodied world would respect wheelchairs they wouldn’t feel the need to hang their coats on the handlebars or use them to sit up. There is an ettiquette list that was written in a previous issue of Audacity Magazine. It should be printed and given to every inconsiderate or ignorant person who violates these guidelines.

We don’t expect strangers to mess with your legs so don’t mess with our wheels