Take a Disabled Person Flying Today (COPA Post 11/5/05)
In reply to:
Phil has it exactly right.
I never really appreciated the feelings and the abilities of the "disabled" until it struck close to home. It us, the abled, that usually assume they can do less than they can do.
I totally agree with Phil and Todd.
For two months after my recent brain surgery I squarely fit the definition of "disabled": the rehab experts in the hospital insisted that I stay confined to a wheelchair and only allowed me to walk 30 minutes a day under close supervision; after exiting the hospital I could barely walk, even with a cane and brace (and with those aids it was still a very unsteady and risky proposition); and for much longer than I care to recall, I lacked the basic motor control or feedback to lift my right arm high enough or steady enough to feed myself or hold a glass.
Yet I was determined to climb out of the pit of crippled people that surrounded me in the hospital, so I chose to disregard those very real disabilities and improvise solutions so that I could function in the able-bodied world: e.g., become left-handed until the right side was ready to function again, then re-learning to drive a stick shift, play golf and fly an airplane: all with only marginal functionality on the right side.
My physical disabilities are now largely gone, to the point where only my neurosurgeon can pick them out. But I still retain a strong viewpoint on the deeply depressing state that disabled people can often find themselves in: due in many respects to perceptions and rules established by the able-bodied uber-majority (even when they're well-meaning).
In fact, disabled people can derive incredible satisfaction from peering into the looking glass: whether its shuffling along without a cane or, yes, being a passenger in your airplane. In fact, its that kind of dreaming which can inspire and push them to expand their own reality and break away from the stifling confines of a given disability.
As for dignity: please resist the natural inclination to offer a disabled person any help--its the worst form of reminder that they suffer from deficits which others can't even begin to imagine. If a disabled person wants your help, they'll know when to ask for it. My theory was: so what if I'm splattered on the ground because my walking is less proficient than an infant's: as long as I didn't break or tear any important body parts, the only way I'll rebuild confidence and reacquire basic skills is by doing it on my own, without anyone's help.