"Modern day Neanderthal ? What's that?", you ask? Something
that I have just recently figured out that I am.
I suspect that I am more or less an average American. I don't tend
to judge and have thought myself to be quite understanding of the
challenges encountered by those with physical disabilities. I assumed
(isn't that a wonderful word) that with the laws well in place to
protect their rights it was just a matter of them overcoming the
particular challenges in their lives. Boy, was I wrong.
I recently found myself exploring the world of the physically challenged.
I went seeking answers to better understand what their life was
like. I encountered some anger and some outrageous humor. Some stories
were of success while others were still filled with pain. Sadly,
I was dumb-struck by the sheer number of daily challenges and all
of the extra considerations and decisions that need to be made in
order to function in "our" world.
This all began when I was looking for an apartment. While I am not
disabled, I began to notice that none of the places I was looking
at were accessible. This both surprised and disturbed me. When I
returned home, I proceeded to call several other apartments that
I wasn't interested in - just to see what I would find. I was hoping
that perhaps my initial experience was off-kilter somehow. Out of
17 apartments - none were accessible. When I asked for ideas or
suggestions the only answer that I was given was to check out the
local nursing homes. Yeah right. Being a bit naive, I attempted
to convince myself that there were so many alterations needed for
a comfortable living space - that surely this must be one of the
more difficult challenges.
Daily life continued. I went to town to do a bit of shopping. As
I went from store to store - I noticed how many of them would be
next to impossible to get into without help. Most all of the doors
opened to the outside - a difficulty I remember from my days on
crutches. Many of them had a base plate in the door that was just
a block. While they weren't very big, without a gradual angle, I
suspect that convincing a wheelchair to go up and over wouldn't
be the most fun of the day.
Many of the isles were just a bit too crowded for easy maneuvering,
and the product displays set up in the isles looked like a nightmare.
Not having had the experience of a chair myself - I am not sure
how many of the shelves could be reached. Even with these few obstacles,
I wonder, is it possible to do any of this by yourself ? A full-blown
shopping trip is obviously out of the question. Grocery carts are
too high to be of use and even when a store does have a scooter
available with a very small basket, that would mean transferring
and leaving the chair unattended. I have to wonder how long it takes
to go to town and grab that forgotten gallon of milk or if that
is even possible.
That started me to thinking about how much of day to day life and
the ability to just go do it by ourselves, to get away from all
of life's stresses and follow our own path - in privacy - would
be lost. I can't imagine not being able to just take off by myself
and go for a long drive to nowhere to think. Even my ability to
heal myself in my usual ways would be intruded on by someone else
- and therefore lost as an outlet.
Perhaps there was hope on the home front. Judging by what I read
- most of us "CRABs" (Currently Regarded as Able-Bodied) just plain
don't ever think about dating someone with a physical challenge.
Apparently it is quite common for those with impairments to end
up together. After all, who else would really understand.
I happened across an eye opening page that dealt with the idea of
parenting. Would you believe that there was a couple that had to
have an engineer design modifications to a crib so that it would
be accessible ? To the best of my knowledge, and apparently theirs
- a company does not exist to supply these products. Their initial
experience was met with harsh judgement and disapproval even from
their families. In this instance, she was in a wheelchair and he
was a "CRAB". He stays home with the kids and she brings home the
Yet, the amount of negativity they came across amazed me. Why couldn't
she be a parent ? I don't know enough to be able to argue that she
could be the primary caregiver, but I see no reason at all for her
not being able to choose to be a parent. What can't she teach this
child ? How can't she be there for this child with an able bodied
husband by her side ? They have since had a second child, and I
am relieved to report that their families had relaxed a bit and
were more accepting. Some victory.
Home life and chores are a problem - okay - surely work has improved
over the years. I made a few phone calls. I presented myself as
someone with desirable talents looking for a desk jockey position.
The interested voice on the other end seemed to turn ice cold as
soon as I questioned about accessibility. Suddenly, as if you could
really hear it, those potentially opened doors slammed shut. While
I do not claim to be able to completely understand what effect this
would have, I do have to wonder how exceptionally strong and confident
you would have to be to stand up to this as you were attempting
to rebuild a life that conceivably had been shattered in an instant.
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises I uncovered was on a message
board on the Internet. A member of a church board had left a post.
He had been trying to convince the board to include room for a wheelchair
or two in the pew areas. He was looking for where the preferred
area would be. No one was currently using one, but there were a
few members heading that way.
The response from the church board astounded me. Basically, they
didn't care to do it. If they were to make these arrangements it
was believed that they should be provided at the rear of the church.
The posting member had been suggesting the front, thinking that
when the congregation was standing, they would still be able to
see. Some of the answering posts really hit home. For the most part,
what was desired, were a few spots in different areas. Just as "CRABs"
have different preferences, so would they. It was also mentioned
that to be able to sit with friends and family was very important.
In the quest to provide something adequate, the personality and
desires of the individual seems to be completely overlooked. To
have society, even when well intentioned, define you only by your
chair and your different needs must be a never-ending fight.
The more that I uncovered, the more I have to wonder about those
who have overcome and succeeded in spite of the endless challenges
that society places in their path. I can not begin to imagine what
it must be like to have the right to all these things, yet have
to fight for them at every turn. I don't know if I could ever be
comfortable at a job that I had to wave a law book at in order to
be treated as an equal, never mind taking them to court. I used
to assume (there's that word again) that when I came across someone
with an impairment who was full of anger, that it was coming from
not having accepted their situation. I believed that, for the most
part, this anger aimed at others was misplaced. I am beginning to
understand now, that it is not misplaced at all. How do you not
become angry when all those around you, albeit unintentionally,
do not see you for yourself and, in their own paths of the modern
day Neanderthals, just somehow have never opened their eyes to see
things as they are?
I can not change these situations, I can only change how I see them,
or more to the point continue to see them. I fear that I have only
begun to scratch the surface. Perhaps if each of us, in our own
way, took the time to mentally roll a mile in someone else's chair,
we would finally begin to see these things slip off into ancient
history where the Neanderthal attitude belongs.
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