Trapped at home? Hardly--battling misguided perceptions about the impact of paralysis

Posted by Michael Collins in Life After Paralysis on April 13, 2018 # Mobility

I think I spend too much time on the computer each day. While it is obviously necessary for my work as a writer, that work wouldn't occupy much time without a few distractions that arrive on the internet. Even though I know that it helps to minimize distractions, I have to admit that my basic problem when it comes to focusing on my work deadlines is electronic mail and what passes as social media.

As far as socializing via media, I am a relative lightweight. I do not dabble in such things as Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, Skype, streaming, YouTube, gaming, online shopping, FaceTime, online music or the dozens of other social media services that occupy much of the time of younger generations.

Despite watching much of the universe of social media passing me by, Facebook has sucked me into its vortex. I resisted becoming a convert for quite a while but reluctantly signed up when my adult daughters informed me that if I wanted to see any more pictures of my grandsons growing up I needed to be on Facebook where they were posted for the world to see.

In reality, the internet is a tool that allows thousands, perhaps millions, of people with all types of disabilities to remain at home yet keep in touch with family, friends and (hopefully) employers. With the touching of a few keys, it is possible to draw from resources around the world to complete research that would have taken weeks or months to complete in the pre-internet past. Rather than expensive long-distance telephone charges, contacting someone in another country comes with no charge through the wonders of the many communication tools available on today's computers.

Which brings me to today's computer-related problem; it is misguided people who feel that life lived in a wheelchair may not be a life at all. I am not so foolish as to think that anyone who finds themselves paralyzed or needing a wheelchair for some other reason might prefer this option over any others, but people need to understand that the wheelchair is just a tool and not the controlling factor in our lives.

This all came about because a good friend sent me a link to a video composed of animations that eventually lead to the philosophy that we should all be grateful for what we have. My objection is to the way they went about it.

The video starts with an animation of a sports car with the driver looking longingly up at a helicopter and saying he wished he had a helicopter. That same theme is carried through a succession of less expensive vehicles until they show a person who does not have a vehicle and is waiting at a bus stop longing for a bicycle. The final shot shows someone seated in a wheelchair looking over the railing of a balcony at a pedestrian walking below with a thought caption that reads "He Can Go Wherever He Wants."

While the philosophy of being satisfied with what you have is a good one, the perception that someone who is in a wheelchair cannot get around is usually far from the truth. In many cases, four wheels are more efficient than two feet when covering distances, as long as there are curb ramps and the grades are not too steep.

If seeking longer trips, most cities that have transit service are also required to have a lift or ramp-equipped buses, subways or commuter trains; supplementary paratransit may be provided to qualified individuals who live near a transit or bus route but cannot access that service for a number of reasons. Long distance trains and buses are usually accessible as well, although Amtrak has a long way to go before all of their stations are accessible.

The only way that the video would be accurate would be if the person who uses a wheelchair could not get out of their apartment and reach the street because the elevator was out of service. If that's the case, an ADA complaint might be in order.

When I am trapped at home it is because snow or ice coats the streets leading to the top of this hill where I live. That is the same situation for most of my friends, and it is past the time when the rest of the world should have figured that out.

© 2018 Michael Collins

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.