My Maiden Wheelchair Adventure

Monday July 26th was the 20th Anniversary of the ADA and Boston was having a celebration on the Common. I did not participate in any events to honor the signing of the ADA in 1990. This created a stronger desire in me to celebrate the anniversary of this civil rights event that has created freedom and supported the rights of people with disabilities.

I decided to travel into town on the MBTA in my newly purchased wheelchair — my maiden voyage! What a perfect day to do it. My friend Jean and her son joined me. I was very grateful for their wonderful company and for their help if I ran into any unexpected mobility situations.

We got on the T at Wellington Station and my first moment of hesitation was crossing from the platform into the T car – there was a gap of 3 inches, just enough for the small front tire of my chair to fall into and get stuck. I took a deep breath and went fast over the gap, and I made it into the car. Whew!

A friendly MBTA worker was on our car and chatted with us on the ride into Boston. We told her why we were going into Boston. She eagerly told us about many MBTA accessibility services, including a ramp to help wheelchair users get to and from the platform and car. She obviously cared about providing service to T passengers, so I wondered why I had not been offered the ramp when she saw me on the platform.

I decided to ask. Her response surprised me. She told me that she used to be much more proactive about help to people with disabilities, but she got so many dirty looks, was yelled at and received other rude responses that she has become much more hesitant about offering assistance. Who can blame her?

I also get why I and other people with disabilities get angry. We are often invisible and not included in mainstream society and employment, yet we are very visible when it comes to asking us if we need help. We are typically bombarded with offers for assistance. But we are competent, capable individuals who know how to get around and do most things independently.

Personally, I’m angry that my disability makes it hard to do some things. I don’t like that I’m dependent on receiving assistance from others when I’d rather be able to do it myself. Independence and freedom are often hard won battles for people with disabilities. Who can blame us when we get angry because we’re offered assistance for the umpteenth time?

Whether disabled or not, we all are living our lives with the best of intentions, hopes and challenges of daily living. How can we be more fully seen, heard and understood for our true selves? We can start with curiosity and being willing to open our eyes and ears to understand what the other is experiencing and feeling. We can also dare to be real and share more openly about what we’re really experiencing and feeling. In this way, we are able to be more fully true to ourselves and in more real relationship with others.

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