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Knees and chairs and things

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2007

Appropriately enough, just in time for blogging against disablism day, my knee gave out.  I've been limping around whining all day rather than getting stuff done. 

The one thing I thought this morning, crawling my way out of bed and wincing, was that I wished I had a chair.  If I did have a wheelchair lying around here somewhere, just about every one of the basic tasks that suddenly became painful and difficult would've been easy for me.  And I could have stood, or walked, any time I get tired of sitting and felt like my aching knee could tolerate it. 

I remember feeling surprised that this thought occurred to me without any shame attached to it.  I didn't think that it was a useful, but regrettable, solution.  I just thought "Hey, if I had a chair, I wouldn't have to be annoyed right now, and I would be building up arm strength for an added bonus. "

It's funny how your outlook changes, and things just become useful.  Years ago, I would've thought of using a wheelchair as unathletic--quite possibly thought of it that way even when I was using one, and building up more strength in my arms than I ever had before or since.  These days I almost miss it, not just because it would help to avoid occasional annoyances like this, but because how much more of a well-rounded workout would I get if most of the time I got around on my legs, and then at home I practiced wheeling myself around?

Maybe that's not quite as awesome as it sounds to me in the abstract right now with a throbbing knee, but I think it does reveal something profound about the way we think of these things.  Thoughts like the ones I had this morning might not occur to most able-bodied people, who would be used to seeing being in a chair as less active, less exercise, weaker, etc. Those thoughts happen once you've lived in both worlds and seen just how normal both ways of moving and being are.

So I guess I'm not really blogging against ableism right now, so much as I'm blogging about points of view, and which points of view are accessible to you when. I'm not so sure that I believe that people who aren't members of certain groups can't understand those groups' experiences at all.  But I do think that there experiences that people don't usually have, and it takes a lot of mental effort to wrap your mind around them if you haven't been there.  And that, more than anything else, is why consciousness raising can still be important. 

Used wrong, consciousness raising is a weapon that people use to shut each other up, or to brag about who has it worse, or to deem other people stupid and incapable of empathy.  Used correctly, it's about unearthing experiences like these and making sure everyone hears about them and has at least a chance to understand them.

Comments

thegimpparade
May. 7th, 2007 07:15 am (UTC)
Those thoughts happen once you've lived in both worlds and seen just how normal both ways of moving and being are.

This makes me think of something John Hockenberry wrote for Wired magazine once about his twin girls learning to walk and how one of them progressed the typical way and the other seemed to emulate his wheelchair-using self by scooting more. They'd spent so much time sitting on his lap that wheelchair riding was already natural as a way of movement.

Here's the part I'm thinking of:

There is no better puppet show than watching your own children teach themselves to walk. In my case, it involved watching Zoe and Olivia, my twin daughters. Their strategies were complicated improvisations that proceeded from observing the world around them. Olivia made especially good use of her hands and arms, grabbing tables, drawer handles, and the spokes on my wheelchair to pull herself upright, where she would stand in place for long periods of time, feeling the potential in her chubby little legs.

Zoe spent weeks on her stomach flapping like a seal, hoping somehow to launch spontaneously onto her feet. She did not see her legs as helpful, and to her credit, in our house walking was merely one of two major models for locomotion. One morning, well before she was 2 years old and long before she walked, I placed Zoe in my wheelchair and watched as she immediately grabbed the wheels and began to push herself forward as though she'd been doing it for years. She had even figured out how to use the different rotation rates of the rear wheels to steer herself. Zoe had grasped that the wheelchair was the most accessible motion platform for someone - in this case, an infant - who couldn't use her legs. She smiled as she looked at me, with an expression that said something like, "Give up the wheels, Mr. Chairhog."

Zoe and Olivia walk perfectly now, but their choices in those formative weeks were startlingly different. In both, the same brain-machine transaction was at work creating functionality from what was available. Engineers and designers have discovered that this is a process as distinctive as fingerprints. Every person solves problems in his or her own way, with a mix of technology and body improvisation. The variables are cultural and psychological, and precise outcomes are difficult to predict - but they determine what technology will work for which person. Think puppetry as a universal metaphor for the design of machines.


Link: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/9.08/assist_pr.html

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