The Day I Got My Wings

In A Sedentary View, Columns, Features by Gregory Banks

July marks the fourth anniversary of Audacity Magazine. I’ve been with the magazine for just over two years, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity that Nathasha Alvarez has given me to express my thoughts and opinions, and to share my personal feelings, desires, frustrations, and triumphs with the rest of the world.

But July in particular has an extra special meaning for me. Six years ago, on July 30th of 2001, a dream long in the making finally came true. After months of waiting, which followed months of “head banging against the wall” frustrations while trying to get the government funding I needed, I received my first power wheelchair. Up until that moment, I’d spent the previous 35-plus years being carried or pushed, never experiencing even the slightest taste of independent mobility, never truly realizing just how significant a change in my life this would be.

It was scary at first. The people at The Shepherd Center, who helped me get the chair, took me on an “obstacle course” session through the building which led down a steep ramp outside going from the second story to the firs t, around the outside of the building, back inside, through the lobby, and up the elevator. I remember thinking that all I wanted to do was to not kill myself in front of these people. Fortunately, despite a close call with the wall of the elevator while turning around, I succeeded, and I happily left with my brand new chair.

Having the chair has been freeing to say the least. Although I’m not able to go places on my own, being able to move around independently at those places has made me more attentive to my surroundings, more confident and assertive because I now feel like an active and vibrant member of society.

Of course I’ve also seen once more how little respect people have for those in wheelchairs, how, if you aren’t careful, they will walk over, into, or through you as if you don’t exist. I don’t know whether people think I should always defer to them because they aren’t “damaged goods” like me, or do they believe that if they ignore you that you will simply go away like a very bad dream?

I’m also painfully aware of the places that are not equipped to handle my wheelchair, places where only a manual chair can go because my powerchair is far too heavy to be hoisted up a flight of stairs, or where space is too limited for me to safely maneuver around without causing damage to myself, the surroundings, or to others.

When this happens, it’s frustrating, it’s hard. I wonder how would people feel if someone told them that in order to enter such and such a building you must remove your legs and crawl through the door on your belly? That’s exactly how I feel sometimes.

I love my chair! It’s not only my legs, my transport, my virtual wings that have freed me from the crushing gravity of my disability, but it’s become my sanctuary, my refuge, my home on wheels. When I’m in my chair with my hand at the controls, I feel as if the world is laid out before me, waiting for me to go exploring.

So by far, July is a monumental month for me for many reasons, to which being a part of Audacity is only one. It’s an honor and pleasure to be with the magazine as it reaches its fourth anniversary. Hopefully it will have many, many more, and I’ll continue to be a part of it as it continues to mature and grow.

Gotta go. My wings are growing restless, so I know it’s to go flying some more.

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