The world worries about disability more than disabled people do.
As I stood on the corner waiting for the light to turn, I saw impending doom come rolling across the street. A very attractive woman was turning onto 15th Street, directly ahead of me. The tragedy of this situation laid in the fact that this woman was in a wheelchair.
My mind immediately started racing. The trek on 15th Street is slightly uphill, and this woman was moving much slower than I was walking. It wouldn’t be long before I would overtake her. The sidewalk wasn’t wide enough to go around her, and walking in the busy one-way street wasn’t a viable option. I considered crossing to the other side, but I would have had to cross back over and in front of her to get to my house. I could have walked slowly and uncomfortably behind her. I justified avoiding that inconvenience, however, by thinking I wouldn’t do that for someone that wasn’t in a wheelchair, so why would I give her special treatment? Then again, someone who wasn’t in a wheelchair wouldn’t take up the whole sidewalk, and I wouldn’t have had to climb over tree roots and bushes to scurry by.
The closer I got, I realized she wasn’t having the easiest time getting up the hill. It would be a lot easier for the both of us if I just pushed her up the hill. But would that be rude? If I saw a heavy person struggling up a hill, I wouldn’t ask if they wanted a piggyback. Then again, if I saw my grandmother laboring up the hill carrying grocery bags, I would feel like a jackass if I didn’t offer to carry them. But then even again, I don’t think this young woman would want to be compared to a grandmother.
It was a manual wheelchair, and she looked kind of fit—athletic outfit, sneakers, and, to be blunt, her legs looked normal. If she were sitting on a couch, I wouldn’t have known she used a wheelchair. Was she permanently confined to the chair, or was it just a temporary injury? If the injury is only temporary, should I assume that this person is frustrated and would gladly welcome help? But did that mean I expect people who are permanently confined to chairs to have a higher tolerance of frustration, or greater level of patience?
I can’t tell you that I did the right thing, but I am pretty sure I can tell you I did the wrong thing. Like most college boys, as I approached the pretty girl and her long, wavy blond hair, the want and intimidation of starting a conversation became the only troubling aspect of the scene. And, like most college boys, I was absolutely terrible at accomplishing this. Figuring that trying to squeeze by was my best chance at sparking a conversation, I damn near took a bush out of the ground as the only sentence my dumbass was able to utter was, “That is sure one hell of an arm workout.” As I heard the stupidity coming out of my mouth, I picked up my pace and as best as I could, concealed a sprint into my house, never to see her again.
After brushing the dust off my worst pick-up attempt of all-time, I asked a handful of people what they would have done—offer to push or not offer to push. Now this wasn’t a large sample size and it wasn’t approached scientifically, but what I found interesting with my To Push or Not To Push survey was the clear split. Everyone less familiar with people with disabilities thought it was very rude that I didn’t ask, while those close to someone with a disability was adamant that I should never ever undermine someone’s ability by offering to push.
Jimmy, especially, as serious as he had ever been, looked me dead in the eye, and started with “Eddie,” in a tone of condemnation before letting out a little laugh at how ridiculous I was being. “Don’t. EVER. Offer to push someone.”
I was beginning to think maybe I was looking at this disability thing all wrong.
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