Sandy Lahmann: Disabilities and dignity
September 9, 2008
Remember your high school English class when your teacher gave you the assignment to write a “compare and contrast” essay? I offer this one, on the subject of dignity and disability.
Early this summer, I was riding the Summit Stage in order to save money on gas. I rode the lift (it’s hiding in the stairs) up into the crowded bus and then had to carefully roll between the passengers up front to get to the designated wheelchair spot (it’s got tie downs). I didn’t want to roll over any toes.
It was a tight fit and an older woman noticed the close squeeze. However, her subsequent comments were offensive.
“You’re OK, honey,” she said. Then when I reached my desired location she concluded, “Good girl!”
Good girl? When did I become a child? Does she say that to other adults?
I’m 46 years old and some of my hair is gray. I have a college degree and I’m a respected professional. I’ve raised my son and daughter to be responsible, successful adults.
Despite the fact I use a wheelchair, I’m an adult and I expect to be treated as an adult. This encounter was so upsetting that I swear I couldn’t see straight for 10 minutes. Her comments stripped my dignity from me.
Now, let’s compare and contrast.
The very next day I was riding the Summit Stage again. While waiting for my bus at the Frisco transfer station, I was approached by a young man who is a skateboarder.
He asked me if I could do wheelies. Delighted, I described my limited wheelie skills, gave him a brief demonstration, and then described the superior wheelie skills of some of my friends.
The skateboarder told me he spent some time in a wheelchair during a hospital stay and he had the opportunity to perfect his wheelie skills. He gave me some wheelie pointers which I tried out on the spot. They were excellent suggestions.
We then discussed the potential for taking my wheelchair down the Wildernest bike path, a route that he has done on his skateboard.
I have a new dream now. I would like to take the Stage to the Trailhead bus stop at the top of Ryan Gulch Road. Then I’m rolling all the way down to the bottom of Wildernest. I think I’ll need a new pair of gloves though. So, at some point in the future, if you see a middle-aged lady flying down the Wildernest bike path in a wheelchair, laughing her brains out, that will be me.
Some might question how my dignity is maintained by rolling recklessly down a steep decline. My dignity is maintained because when that skateboarder saw me he was thinking, “Yeah, so you’re in a wheelchair, but you can still do cool things.”
My dignity is maintained because that skateboarder wasn’t thinking, “Oh, you poor thing.” He was thinking, “Have a great time with what you’ve got.”
My dignity was maintained because that skateboarder saw me as an adult and he understands that I have the right to make decisions about my own life, even if those decisions lead to what some people might consider to be reckless behavior. There is great dignity to making your own decisions about your own life.
Thank you to the unnamed skateboarder. You made my day. You made my summer. Our younger generation fills me with hope.
Sandy Lahmann, a previous Frisco resident now temporarily lost on the Front Range, can be e-mailed at email@example.com .