“It’s nice,” I said, “because I thought that being without the power chair would decrease my independence and in fact it’s increased it.” I was talking to someone about the fact that, with my power chair in the shop, I had expected to do less, to go to fewer places, to have my life significantly impacted. Well, I was wrong on many counts. It is very true that it takes way more work to simply ‘be’ where I want to be. Booking WheelTrans to go a couple of blocks over to the nearest mall takes time but it also took effort to get over the guilt of going somewhere that close. I apologize, even now, to every driver. They are all very clear on the fact that the service exists to get me from place to place no matter where that is.
It’s also a lot more work because I am pushing myself where I would have normally have simply motored along. But even there I’m using this as a challenge and my strength is increasing my ability to do ramps and to go long distances is also on the rise. I just finished, as an example, a 1.3 km lap around a mall in less than 40 minutes. For me, this is extraordinary. But, back to the conversation.
I gave as an example of my increased independence a moment when Joe said a version of, “OK, I’m going to go over here to do this, why don’t you go over there to do that, and we’ll meet at Tim’s for a tea afterwards.” Now this was a situation where before, in my manual chair, we would not have been able to split up and I would not have been able to push myself over to where I needed to go, do what I needed to do and get back to the coffee shop afterwards. It felt good that Joe was confident that he could make that particular suggestion.
Here’s where the conversation took me by surprise. The person I was speaking to said, “So,it’s becoming more of a relationship of equals then?” I spluttered about in giving an answer primarily because I had never thought, at any point in our relationship, even in the early days, that we weren’t a relationship of equals. I’d not equated my status as a disabled person either lessened me nor elevated Joe in any way. We’ve always worked as a team and at no point has that changed.
It made me think about how people see disability. Every single person with a disability adapts to their life as a disabled person in a whole variety of ways. Every single person with a disability can contribute to any relationship that they are in in a whole other bunch of ways. Human relationships and the capacities for humans to give to one another simply aren’t affected by, well, anything. While its true that people can and do value their relationships with disabled people differently but that’s a choice, not a natural result of disability.
Over time Joe and I have relied on one another, sometimes more in one direction than another, sometimes the reverse is true. Like any relationship there are ebbs and flows in regards to who needs what and who gives what. If you want to look more specifically at the course of our relationship during the time period of my disability. There have been ebbs and flow there. At first Joe had to do everything pretty much to support me, but then I was learning how to be disabled and how to reestablish a relationship with my body and the abilities that were possible. Years later, I still need help, true. But do you honestly believe that Joe hasn’t needed me, even once, over a 10 year period? Do you honestly believe that my very visible needs have invalidated our sense of equality?
I don’t believe that ‘now there is a greater sense of equality’ and I don’t accept that if I learn to do something else or require less help in a certain area of my life, I gain equality, I do gain, but not a sense of being ‘more’ in a relationship where there has never been a person with more and a person with less.
Cause human beings have the ability, through all of their lives, to connect and where there is connection there is equality.