My Perspective from a Wheelchair

I recently suffered a pretty serious injury from yoga of all things!?  Yoga! In early June, I was in my favorite class and moved too quickly into a posture that my body did not appreciate and sprained my hip flexor and pinched two nerves in my lower back.  

It was so painful I couldn’t bear weight on it for 15 seconds or walk 5 feet without needing to sit down.  

After weeks of heavy duty anti-inflammatory drugs, resting, icing, heating, and PT, I’m starting to see some progress.  

Days after it happened, I was scheduled to meet my folks in Grand Rapids with my daughter to tour the beautiful Frederik Meijer Gardens.  

We spent the night at a hotel and I found it hard to walk from the front desk to the elevator to my room.  I think I was in denial that I would be able to tour the gardens the next day. I thought maybe I’ll wake up and magically be able to walk again.

Sadly, I woke up the next day, no better and worried I wouldn’t be able to make it from the parking lot to the ticket counter!  I considered not going with them, but I really wanted to be there. I knew they had a tram ride that circled the 158 acre property and thought maybe I could just ride the tram and then wait for them at the gift shop on a bench or something?  

As soon as we got there, my mom grabbed a wheelchair and said “hop in, sister – you’re going for a ride!”  

I protested and thought – no way!  A. I didn’t want to take a wheelchair away from someone else who really needed it (even though I really needed it and there were plenty of chairs available).  And B. I just didn’t want to do it!  I wanted the freedom of walking all over, exploring the gardens where and when I wanted to, stopping to look at what I wanted to look at and seeing everything I wanted to see.  

But I realized I couldn’t even get to the tram pick up location without assistance and I surrendered and got in.  

My 12 year old daughter insisted on pushing me which added to the sad eyes and sympathetic smiles I received from other mothers with children.  

I wanted to yell out “it’s a YOGA injury!”  

We wheeled up to the tram ticket counter and I pulled out my money to pay.  I couldn’t reach the ticket counter from the wheelchair (even though they state they are handicapped accessible) so my parents passed the money to the ticket man behind the plexiglass window.  He took the money, looked at me, then looked at them and asked them“will she be able to get on to the tram ok?”

I thought to myself “buddy – I can hear you, see you and answer questions!”  

It was eye opening to be in this position for the day.  

You experience the world on another plane.  

You notice all sorts of tiny changes in terrain that you would have otherwise not seen.  Gravel pathways, inclines, curbs, bathrooms and access to ticket counters all become noticeable and can feel like barriers.  It made me wonder if those who create accessibility for public spaces ever move through them in a wheelchair themselves?

You also notice how the world sees those in wheelchairs.  I’m only speaking from my short experience, but to me it was clear.  Some don’t see you at all, you’re invisible to them. Some see you as an annoyance, you’re in the way or taking too much time.  Some see you with sadness and sympathy, which for me was the most uncomfortable.  

I discovered a lot of things in a few hours that afternoon in the gardens.  Perhaps most notable, how important it is to see all people through the lens of ability.  

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