This Saturday, July 12, 2008, will mark an anniversary that I would just as soon forget because three years ago, on that date, I was discharged from a local rehabilitation facility and have since devoted myself to a new career: that of a wheelchair test pilot.
While I strongly condemn a similar career change if you find yourself a casualty of NAFTA or some other undeclared trade war with the third world, should you find yourself in circumstances such as mine I would like to share some of my personal experiences.
First of all, be sure that you get an electrically-powered wheelchair. Manual chairs are essentially useless unless you have the upper body strength of a Navy SEAL. Additionally, the battery-powered chairs weigh an average of about 250 pounds. This will also maximize the damage you can cause to the feet of anyone that happens to be standing between you and your destination.
Once suitably equipped one of the first things you will learn is that, for some reason, there is a belief that anyone in a wheelchair is either deaf or unable to communicate. The reasoning behind this misconception has so far eluded your humble correspondent but, should I ever discover its etiology, I will be the first to bring it to your immediate attention.
You should expect that anyone speaking to you will raise their voice level by at least 10 dB, if not more, apparently because they feel that non-working legs are associated with non-working ear drums. This particular misconception is particularly common in clerks at shopping malls and among the staffs of public libraries.
In a related matter, be prepared to answer the question “Is anyone with you?” if you venture any further from home other than about 50 feet. Why I would need to bring anyone else along with me has never been explained, although I have speculated that many of my fellow cynics would find such excursions to be both informative and highly entertaining.
A subject that will frequently be thrown in your face is the Americans with Disabilities Act.
It seems that Congress, in keeping with its philosophy that enacting a law will automatically improve any given situation, passed this particular act in order to appease a few voters and to give themselves a pat on the back for their “compassion.” In reality, the Americans with Disabilities Act is the greatest hoax perpetrated on the American public since the Single Bullet Theory! Allow me to illustrate my contention with a few personal anecdotes.
I’m sure you are familiar with the large “wheelchair” buttons that can be found immediately adjacent to the automatic doors in most public places. If you cannot immediately locate this button, try looking behind the nearest potted plant or trashcan since these are the preferred techniques used to camouflage such devices.
You should also exercise extreme caution once you locate and use this button because a significant number of doors will open outward and crush you (and your chair) flat enough that a kindly passerby could easily slide you under the door that you were trying to open.
If you depend on public transportation in order to keep your necessary appointments such as with your doctors, or to avoid being fired from your job, get ready to miss a few doctors’ appointments and then get ready to sit in the Unemployment Office because being in a wheelchair will make you very unpopular with bus drivers and other such “dedicated, compassionate public servants.”
I can only speak of my experiences with the City of Albuquerque, New Mexico, Public Transportation Department, so consider that your experiences with local public services may be better, or worse (if that’s humanly possible), than mine.
Albuquerque bus drivers have taken a solemn oath to never pause at a designated bus stop to pick up anyone in a wheelchair unless there is a Channel 13 news crew in the immediate area. This observation has been confirmed by numerous others, some of whom have hypothesized that the operation of a wheelchair lift might exceed the intellectual capabilities of most city employees.
This is by no means a complete listing of the shortcomings of the City of Albuquerque and its handicapped-accessible pseudo-commitment. Complete deforestation of the Middle Rio Grande River Valley would be required in order to produce enough paper to accomplish that task.
Rather than leave you with the impression that being in a wheelchair is nothing but bad news, allow me to point out a few advantages to be gained if this is your primary means of locomotion.
The first advantage is that you never have to worry about finding a seat in class, on the bus (if one will stop for you, see above), or at church (if you are given to matters spiritual). This is, or course, assuming that you can get to your destination without bogging down in a foot of mud or being consumed by a sinkhole.
Personally, I counsel against attending church, Mass, Rosary, meditations, weddings, cross-burnings, or any other gathering of a similar nature because one of three things will invariably happen.
First, some idiot will insist on praying for your immediate healing. Why anyone would want to bother the Almighty with such a trivial request as suspending the laws of nature for the benefit of an individual has yet to be explained. Even when confronted with this fact, the true believers will pray for you anyway out of their conviction that God will listen to them when He has ignored everyone else’s prayers to invoke a similar event.
The next most likely event is that another member of the flock will inform you that you are in a wheelchair because “it’s God’s will.” If this happens to you, as I can assure you it will, try to have some fun with the divine rationalizer by pointing out to him (or her, since the female of the species obnoxiosus biblethumperus is quite vocal as well) that, sometimes, “shit happens.” This will usually result in a new round of prayers aimed in your direction but can occasionally instigate a holy war between the divine interventionalists and the deistic fatalists.
The third, but by no means final, attitude that you will encounter is that of the “Holier than Thou, You Godless Sinner.” This particular subspecies of obnoxiosus biblethumperus is of the impression that if some “misfortune” has come your way it is only because God is “punishing” you for your “sins,” a situation that will never befall him / her because they are “good Christians (or Bahai’s, or Jews, or Moslems, or any one of a number of other self-justified “-isms”). When confronted with such, the best thing to do is to feign deafness since no amount of logic can penetrate the wall of stupidity surrounding these self-deluded buffoons.
Above all, never forget McDonald’s First Corollary to the Rules of Life:
“If life hands you a lemon, don’t make lemonade. Throw the lemon back into Mother Destiny’s face and tell her to try harder because you have not yet begun to fight!”