Saturday, February 7, 2009

Look my way and say hello

It's just the start of a letter to the editor--draft 1, so subect to much revision!

Earlier this year I attended the Kindergarten "get to know people" party, where I sat in my wheelchair and watched as friends who knew each other talked to each other, families who didn't know each other sat hesitantly at cafeteria tables and made light conversation, my family found our own place at the end of a cafeteria table where a wheelchair could fit, where no one else was, and eventually my daughter and husband descended a few stairs to join the fun where the new "Kindies" could play and dance. And I sat alone--my wheelchair was too wide to fit between the tables and the steps... I didn't knowing anyone--I was "the person in the wheelchair," and felt very alone. My daughter's teacher said hello, and the music teacher struc up a conversation with me. Those were the highlights of the thankfully brief evening.

Fast forward to ski season--I go to the Breckenridge Adaptive Education Center. At first I knew no one. But when I entered their doors (alone), I was immediately greeted, welcomed, and felt a part of everything. There was room for a wheelchair to move, so I met so many people, and there was a sense of togetherness. I felt valued as a person, where there was no hesitancy from anyone in regard to the wheelchair. Each time I go, I can't wait to see old friends, to see who I will meet, and to turn off the disability flag and instead be known for who I am, not for my disability.

Recently we got an "end of year celebration" announcement in my daughter's backpack and I was so glad that it will happen when we will be out of town. But I still struggle with how to change things--how to go from feelings of isolation to feelings of inclusiveness, where I don't feel like "the lady in the wheelchair"--what should people say, are they afraid they'll offend me, and on and on. I want to get to know people and if the wheelchair allows me to move and people see me, I'll try to get to know them. I've done this when possible.

What should you know? Know you can say hello to a person in a wheelchair. Know the person in the wheelchair probably wants to talk about anything OTHER than the wheelchair. Know the person in the wheelchair has a life, has friends, probably wants more friends, and almost guaranteed, wants to talk to you. So look down--that person may say hello and you may beat them to it. Ask who their kid is, which class their kid is in, where they live, etc. You never know--you may find an unexpected friendship and that would be a truly wonderful thing.

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