The wheel perspective
Stella Young Ramp Up 27 Mar 2012
It doesn’t matter how we got like this. Really. Are you asking because you want to know or because you need to? If you’re just sitting next to one of us on the train, or taking our order at a cafe, you don’t actually need to know. If we’ve actually met and had a conversation beyond “Do you want honey with your chai?” then perhaps it gets a little more relevant. It might come up in conversation, and when it does, we’ll be happy to tell you. It’s just not a very good opening line.
We heart our chairs. I’ve had five wheelchairs in my lifetime and I’ve loved each one as much as the last. I’ve had my current chair for almost 17 years. Based on the recommendation that they should be replaced every seven or so years, this old girl is about 162 wheelchair-years old. She’s well worn and well loved. One day soon she’ll need replacing, and I’ll come to love that one too, I’m sure. My chair is the last thing I touch before I climb into bed at night, and the first when I climb out. And, let’s face it. without our chairs, there’d be no getting out of bed at all for a lot of us. We are not, as we so often see written, “wheelchair bound”. We are liberated by our chairs. They give us the freedom to be who we are, and we love them for it.
We don’t mind if you ask us to go for a walk. Seriously, there’s no need to avoid saying things like “I must be running along,” or “Let’s go for a walk.” Those kinds of phrases are a part of everyday language, and because we live in the real world too, we’re really not that sensitive. I have a blind friend who once told me that the most annoying thing that ever happens to her is people apologising for asking her if she sees their point. Touche.
We have heard that joke before. You know, the one you were just thinking of. The one about drink driving, or whether or not we have a licence. Even the one about putting a V8 engine on the chair. Heard it. We’ve heard them all, so forgive us if your brilliant one-liner only elicits a polite smile. Sorry about that.
We are not on the tram so that you can hang your shopping bags on us. Our chairs are a part of us and a part of our personal space. Leaning on someone’s wheelchair is a bit like leaning on someone’s shoulder. You wouldn’t do it to a stranger, or someone you’d only just met. And I’m willing to bet you wouldn’t hang your full-to-the-brim enviro-bags on someone’s conveniently outstretched arm. Your shopping may be heavy, but our chairs are not shelves.
Just because we are hanging out with a non-disabled person doesn’t mean they are a carer. Disabled people have friends, partners, kids, parents, siblings and families just like everyone else. Quite often these people are hanging out with us because they like to, not because we need looking after, or because they are kind, generous souls. It’s annoying when people assume the only reason someone is hanging out with you is because they have to. Many of us do have personal assistants to help out with some stuff we can’t do, but most of the time the people hanging out with us are just our mates.
We’re into all the same stuff you are. OK, maybe not exactly the same stuff (I’m really not into snowboarding, if I’m honest), but you know what I mean. We don’t all think about disability all the time. I like knitting and crafty things, as well as disability theory and politics, feminist things, comedy things and fashion things, too. I’m really lucky to have a job where I get to be quite nerdy about disability culture and politics as editor of Ramp Up. We can talk about everything from sport to politics, television to weird things non-disabled people say to us. (Not you, obviously, you’re lovely.) Having contact with so many different disabled folks in Australia reminds me how different we all are, even though we have some experiences in common.
Your kids are going to stare. And that’s perfectly OK. When you look different to everyone else they’ve ever seen, kids will naturally stare. There’s no need to be embarrassed about it or consider it bad behaviour. Kids are interested in anything that’s different to the norm. And the thing is, if you tell them not to stare, or discourage them from asking questions because you think it might upset us, you’re teaching them that looking different is something to be ashamed of. It’s not. We’d much rather have an honest conversation with your kids than have them shuffled away from us like we might bite them. Besides, eventually they’ll say something really cute and funny, like “Are you imaginary?” or “Why are you wearing shoes?”
Feel free to offer us a hand, but don’t get too upset if we say no. If you see someone who looks like they’re struggling to do something, it’s very tempting to jump in and do it for them. But you really shouldn’t. It’s absolutely fine to offer your assistance, but don’t be surprised if it isn’t required. Sometimes we look pretty clumsy doing everyday stuff, like shopping or knitting on the tram, because we might do it differently to the way you do it. But we’ve had years of practice at being us and we’re generally in control of what we’re doing. Make the offer by all means, but don’t be upset if we say “thanks, but no thanks.”
We don’t all know each other. No, I don’t know Jenny, the girl on your street who uses a wheelchair too.
We are not brave. Among the aforementioned weird things some non-disabled folk like to say to us are things like “Oh you’re so brave/courageous/inspirational!” We’re not, really. We’re just living our lives like everyone else. Just as you’ve worked out the easiest and most effective way to get along in life, so have we. There’s no need to praise us for just going about our everyday business. Going to the shops to buy milk doesn’t take any more courage for me than it does for you.
If you can use the regular loos, and they’re free, don’t use the disabled ones. OK, we get that not all disabilities are visible and there are all sorts of reasons someone might need a bit of extra space. A friend of mine is diabetic, and she prefers to use the disabled toilets so she has a bit more room to inject her insulin. That’s fair enough. But when we wait outside for 20 minutes and you stroll out with a newspaper and a completed sudoku under your arm, you probably weren’t checking your blood-sugar levels. If the other toilets are occupied, and you’re going to be quick, go ahead. Just remember that needing to poo is not an access requirement. Thanks.
I love so much about all of these points, especially the last one.
Going to throw in here, too, that I don’t give a shit if you’re “going to be quick”; don’t fucking park in the disabled parking spaces if you aren’t disabled. Jackasses.
“It requires greater courage to preserve inner freedom, to move on in one’s inward journey into new realms, than to stand defiantly for outer freedom. It is often easier to play the martyr, as it is to be rash in battle.”—Rollo May (via chaoticlibra)
But the decision to alter the storyline with Peeta’s leg really troubles me because of what it symbolises. Peeta becomes a prominently disabled character in the series, and his disability becomes part of his experiences. At the same time though, he’s not defined by the disability, consumed by it, and placed in the narrative for the sole purpose of constantly reminding everyone that he’s disabled. Peeta, like other characters, is scarred by the world he lives in, and he bears a visible mark of the cruelty and brutality of Panem, but more importantly, he’s another person trying to survive and build a better world. By neatly cutting that entire plotline away, the filmmakers avoided some tangled and thorny issues.
Like the fact that Peeta is supposed to be a love interest. I can’t help but feel one of the reasons the amputation storyline was taken out was because the filmmakers don’t think amputees can be love interests, or think that the reality of the amputation might be offputting to audiences who wouldn’t be able to identify with the characters if Katniss fell in love with a disabled Peeta, because that sort of thing Isn’t Done. Furthermore, obviously no amputees engage with media and pop culture and certainly don’t want to see versions of themselves on screen, so that angle didn’t need to be considered when preparing the film adaptation.
They probably also feared the idea of a character who happens to be disabled; they couldn’t let him get fitted for a prosthesis and get on with his life. They would have felt compelled to wrap up some kind of special story in it, even though that’s not necessary. Riding right over that storyline can be justified by saying they don’t have time to do it, with all the other things that need to be included. Just like they didn’t have time to view actresses of colour and nonwhite actresses while they were making decisions about the casting of Katniss. Making movies is very busy work, people.
And, of course, Peeta doesn’t comply with narratives above disability. His withdrawal and depression at the beginning of the second book are more about his emotional state over Katniss, rather than his leg. As a character, he’s physically active as well as politically defiant, once he begins to grow into himself. This isn’t what amputees are ‘supposed’ to do in pop culture, and thus it’s a narrative that makes people uncomfortable, and one that the filmmakers evidently simply didn’t want to deal with.
I could be wrong; perhaps in the next film we will learn that infection set in and they took the leg. But I doubt it, highly, because this doesn’t seem to be in character with way Hollywood works, where disability is erased when it doesn’t serve a greater narrative or actively defies tropes. Peeta cannot be allowed to be disabled.
Ca va mieux :D Mais maintenant mes allergies attaquent ;;. Sinon, j’ai pu regarder Un village français non plus. Et je me refais l’intégrale de A:TLA. Et je bosse aussi, quand même ^^
Argh ! Ça se combat ces saletés?
Pas vu A:TLA, j’ai vu le premier épisode de Legend of Korra et me suis dit qu’il faudrait que je regarde tout ça ^^
Sinon, j’en peux plus des opinions contradictoires (voire carrément opposées) des gens/forums/institutions sur les métiers du livre, j’ai pas encore appris à gérer le fait que le monde du travail est ce qu’il est, je suis en retard. J’imagine qu’à un moment il faut arrêter de vouloir prévoir quoi que ce soit à l’avance, juste décider de quelque chose, et le faire.
Fox News’ The Five currently talking about The Hunger Games being a cautionary tale warning against the dangers of socialism.
File under “people who don’t understand what socialism means”
Also file under “people who missed the entire point about how forcing poor people to sacrifice their children to fight for rich people and demoralize the other Poors is an allegory for America and the way we treat poor people and how our military industrial complex works”.
…Fox News is a joke invented by American bloggers to make sure that the rest of the world doesn’t lose its combative spirit against ridiculous political beliefs, right?