Wednesday, June 7, 2017

RIDIN' AIN'T WRONG - By Louis Patrick


By Louis Patrick
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is from the Memphis Center for Independent Living’s Newsletter: The Declaration, Vol. 3 No. 1 January 1989
Louis Patrick
Every now and then I take my glasses off. Not very often mind you, not even to rest the bridge of my nose because I'm blind as a bat without them. The screen of my computer is about twenty inches from me as I write this, but if I stare over the top of my glasses the letters  are a complete blur. I even fall asleep wearing my glasses. If ever anyone was “confined” to glasses, I am.

Yet I don’t feel confined; quite the opposite. Glasses  not only give me nearly normal vision, they free me from worrying about what would otherwise be a serious and confining vision problem.

English, to My knowledge, has never tolerated the expression."confined to glasses.” Glasses have become quite fashionable lately even as contact lenses have become more comfortable and affordable. They've become "cool," what the Disability Rag calls "disability cool."  We do talk about a person being "confined to wheelchair," however. And wheelchairs aren't supposed to be cool.

What's the difference in the way we use language to talk about glasses and the way we talk about wheelchairs? Once upon a time there were no wheelchairs. There never has been a time, however, when there weren't some people who couldn't walk, talk, see or hear. Disability has always been - and always will be - an intimate and integral part the human condition. Being mortal doesn’t just mean that you’re going to die some day. It also means you have a physical body that’s subject to occasional, sometimes permanent , breakdowns.

Louis Patrick in the 1980's at an MCIL event
In those times before the wheelchair, or the wheel, people who couldn't walk didn't have any way of getting around unless someone carried them. They were virtually immobile, laying months, years on end in the same room. It's that mythic memory and image of interminable sameness, poverty, and complete dependence on others, that has become inextricably bound up with the idea of persons with mobility impairments and those of "confinement," being bound and "ridden." It's that image, associated with those words, which flashes instinctively into people's minds.

Then came the wheel. It moved goods, crops and animals, it moved people, able-bodied people. Then - finally - it moved people with mobility impairments. Today people who have trouble moving are able to move more and more easily, more and more independently. Now even people who don't have the physical ability to move more than their shoulders or heads can get around in specially equipped electric wheelchairs. And what happens? The public talks about such folks being "confined” to a wheelchair" as being confined by the vary tool which allows them unprecedented freedom and mobility. The wheelchair along with shoes, cars, boats, planes and trains are all tools for mobility. It's a cruel use of language to associate tools of freedom with tools of slavery.

These words stifle and denigrate the use of reason and technology to extend the abilities of disabled people. We can't take a Sunday stroll to Saturn but tools used to extend our "eyes" and "ears" have been there. Are we "confined" to our Reboks because they can't get us to Saturn without the use of other tools? What happens when we fail to accept the use of tools, for permanently, irrevocably lost abilities of our bodies?

Rheta Grimsely Johnson, a writer for The Commercial Appeal, wrote a story about a veteran who existed in the netherworld of rural Tennessee,, an amputee who was “confined to his porch."

Nonsense! He didn't have a wheelchair ramp. We've walked on the moon after we rode all but the last few feet. If we can  put somebody on the moon, we can get somebody off his porch! What are tools for? Not being able to “cure” disabilities doesn’t absolve us from using our brains.
Louis Patrick and Deborah Cunningham

These words help perpetuate a vicious rumor that wheelchairs are a drug even more powerfully addictive than heroin. If ever, even for a second, you sit in one you’ll never again stand and walk! You’ll “give up!” Haven’t you ever seen anyone get up from a wheelchair? Happens all the time. More and more folks are finding out that if you have a lot of trouble walking, you shouldn't beat your head against the wall trying to look normal when you can save all kinds of energy and live more safely and ignore independently riding in a wheelchair. If someone is having that much trouble walking, why doesn't he use a wheelchair? They might be somewhat inconvenient but this is true only because we don't design houses and our environment properly.

We spend billions of dollars a year to create and maintain our highway, waterway and airway systems. Ain't nothin' wrong with ridin'. It's a fine ol’ American tradition.