Observations From a Chair

by Brian Philips


Observing people has always been kind of a hobby to me. Noticing all the idiosyncrasies of the common man can be a little surprising sometimes even in the realm of everyday life. I believe this to be even more prevalent these days because now after forty-five years I spend a lot of my time in a wheelchair.

About two and half years ago I was in a car accident that left me

Paralyzed. The L-1 fracture of the vertebrae left bone fragments in the spinal cord creating permanent damage. Paraplegia was the diagnosis and the best news the doctor could give me was that maybe someday I could walk with a cane. This actually was good news but at the time I remember thinking how completely limiting his observation had been.

In 1990 when the American Disabilities Act came into effect I was working for a Clothing Store in Atlanta, Georgia. The human resources department like that of many other companies put together a seminar for all store managers to create awareness. They covered items like the proper way to treat people with disabilities along with how companies just starting up had to have updated facilities i.e. restrooms to code, special parking etc.

Through the years I always liked to pride myself as being conscience of other peoples needs. I remember a customer when I was selling clothing that recently had a stroke that needed special assistance.

It was common to see sales personnel ducking the obligation every time he entered the store.

I don't claim to be an authority on disabilities but I do, however, fell like I have an advantage seeing both sides of the fence. Recently my wife and I went to a concert in a rather large venue. Most new facilities have great accommodations for people who are disabled as well as their spouses or companions. I notice lots of people jump at the chance to ride with me just for the parking. When leaving after the concert was over I absolutely couldn't believe the rudeness of people as we were trying to maneuver through the crowd. My wife was taken back at how people would run into the chair and trip over me like I was a piece of invisible furniture

I have had children point at me telling their parents to "look at that"( I think they meant the chair as I do not have any physical deformities) when they pass by.

There are a least four categories I have observed so far to put peoples reaction to someone having disabilities.

The first one is lasses fare. This one could care less what goes on around it in its day to day challenges of picking up toothpaste, gasing the car, going to movies or accidentally parking in "our zone". A boss of mine once sent a memo out saying that "mental incompetence" is not admissible to receive special parking privileges. These people stay on the cell phone during every aspect of their lives like they are an international brokerage firm awaiting to see how the Euro is fairing against the Yen and the U.S. dollar. I can't blame this type of person as it would be nearly impossible to be aware of someone else's need when their own life is so exhausting.

The second one is Mr. Go with the flow. This one is a victim of circumstance. He has to open the door for you because he got up 5 minutes too late this morning which put him at the door the same time as you. He won't take your parking spot because he got the memo and also because he saw the wheelchair in the back of your car while he was circling for the same spot at the mall. Mr. Go with the flow leads by example so that his kids won't end up like Mr. Laissez faire

The third one is Me. Me and every other person that has a disability. We all know how to treat other people who share the same needs.

Young or old, rich or poor all of us are, by are varying ages, at different stages with our disability but still share common ground. We realize what we are up against on a day to day basis. We look at our challenges as personal. If we need help we will ask for it. But after asking for the help just treat me like a person and not like you were comforting a hurricane victim.

The last type I like to call Sincerity. This one realizes, or at least seems to know what you're going through. Sincerity gets to the door before you do; they help you get your drink at self-serve restaurants. They would never take your parking spot and also don't mind if you jump in front of them in the check-out line because you have less items than them.

Sincerity can be any age as I have observed man or woman and any ethnic background because courtesy knows no gender or race.

I used to wonder why disabled people seemed so cynical. I am only now coming to understand this at many levels. Sometimes in our everyday life we are too wrapped up in our own little world. I say little because even the smallest of disabilities can make small tasks seem difficult. Whether you are in a wheelchair, or are suffering from any kind of disability in my eyes you are special. Your requirements are special to you and you only. Some of us are just lucky to have a second chance at life and dealing with all these different personalities is just another challenge in our lives or at least that's just what I have observed.

Brian Philips

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