Walk…..Wheel This Way

Last week I had an interesting conversation with some friends. We discussed the topic of fear and my daughter’s disability. It was obvious that while kids and teens viewed the wheelchair as a novelty some adults have had a difficult time knowing how to react to a teen in a wheelchair. It was brought to my attention that when I was growing up, kids who were different in any way were separated from everyone else. Now, we have adults, some in leadership positions, who are still uncomfortable around people with disabilities. The reason for being uncomfortable, fear. Fear of not saying the right thing, fear of seeing the wheelchair-seeing the person and facing the knowledge that the same thing could happen to them. Fear of having to change a routine or the way something has always been done. Fear of feeling. If not for my daughter, I could have easily been one of these adults. The interesting thing is, I have never met a child or teen with these fears, only adults.

To kids and teens the wheelchair is fun. One day I turned down my street and discovered two of my daughter’s friends outside taking her racing chair and every day wheelchair for a spin. Kids are always sitting on her lap, tipping her back, pushing her, and asking to ride in her wheelchair when she transfers out of it. They see her as everyone should, a kid who is simply sitting down instead of standing.

A few weeks ago, I had a little kindergarten visitor when there was some confusion as to who was picking her up from my son’s bus stop. I brought her to my house while we waited for her ride. We were all strangers to her. She took one look at the wheelchair and wanted to climb in and give it a try. This little six year old child was not afraid. Neither was the three year old son of a close friend. His legs barely reached beyond the seat, but he maneuvered the wheelchair around our living room like a pro smiling and repeating “Rock on!”

There was a lesson I taught my third and fourth graders throughout the school year. They were probably sick of me saying, “Put yourself in someone else’s shoes.” I tried to get them to see different points of view and understand that no one was out to get them or meant to intentionally hurt them- it’s just that sometimes we forget to look at a situation fromanother perspective. The tale about the blind men trying to describe an elephant after they have each touched only one part, the tusk, tail, side, foot, comes to mind. When the blind men compare notes, they can’t believe they are describing the same creature.

As a parent of a child in a wheelchair, whenever I feel there is an injustice, I become a lioness protecting her young. Sometimes it is difficult for me to take my own advice and try to understand the fear others may feel when seeing someone in a wheelchair, or simply that others are wrapped up in their own lives and do not see how their actions or inaction may affect my daughter. Like most parents, I want to bean anyone who has hurt my child. But that is not a good lesson for my children nor is it respecting of life. When I fail to see another perspective out of sheer pain for my daughter’s situation, I am lucky to have a group of friends who will gently open my eyes. Suddenly I see myself walking around my old classroom saying “Put yourself in someone else’s shoes.” My cheeks burn-take your own advice Mrs. Rausin.

To all the adults out there who are uncomfortable around people in wheelchairs-my advice is to first sit down in a chair-are you a different person? Now imagine that you could not get up out of that chair, how would your life be different? How would you feel if suddenly people treated you differently? I told my daughter we needed to start a wheelchair awareness day. (For adults) Have adults, including myself; spend one full day in a wheelchair to get a little better idea of what it’s like. I think it would help ease fears and open the eyes of some adults who are uncomfortable. Instead of walking in someone else’s shoes we would take off our shoes and replace them with a set of wheels.

K.D.Rausin

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blind_Men_and_an_Elephant

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The Picture Book Review

Reviews of Children's Board Books, Picture Books, Activity Books, and Graphic Novels

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