Has anyone ever told you how lucky you are to have mobility? Has anyone ever walked up to you and said, “You know, a lot of people aren’t as lucky as you to have that motorized wheelchair.” Well, I’ve heard countless forms of the tired adage, “Be grateful for what you have,” and it always irks me, recognizing it as the most socially demeaning forms of patronization toward those with physical disabilities.
I, for one, don’t believe anyone is lucky to have mobility. What I do believe is that those who go without adequate mobility are deprived of more liberties than most prisoners behind four physical walls. I believe that the fundamental rights specified in Amendment I of the United States Constitution – rights to various forms of expression – cannot be achieved without adequate mobility. I believe that an individual’s opportunities to succeed in society – education, employment, healthcare – cannot be fully realized without adequate mobility. And, I believe that one’s emotional and mental health suffer without adequate mobility. Point blank, I believe that mobility is as important to one’s existence as every word in the United States Constitution, as every cry for equality among the races and sexes, as every human’s rights law ever signed.
For one to suggest that we should consider ourselves lucky to have mobility goes beyond absurd, into the realm of socially destructive. Imagine the uprising if, in the U.S., it was determined that only the privileged few of a minority group were allowed out of their homes. Imagine a white person walking up to a person of a different color, and stating, “You’re lucky to be allowed out of your house.” It would be offensive, discriminatory, racist, possibly illegal, and entirely offensive; yet, this happens everyday to people whom use wheelchairs, and it’s somehow viewed as acceptable thinking, that it’s alright for us as a group to take a lesser role in society, to have the privilege to participate in society, not the right.
The question is, what steps do we take to help further promote mobility as an essential right, not a privilege handed to us? On an interpersonal level, when someone suggests you’re lucky to have a chair, take a moment to tactfully explain to them that a wheelchair isn’t a privilege, it’s a necessity, affording you the ability to pursue life to the fullest, to obtain the same rights they have, that everyone is entitled to such societal liberties. From a consumer standpoint, vote with your dollars, demand that manufacturers build better, more affordable products, do your homework and buy those that are great in performance while reasonable in price. And, on the government level, if you are drowning in an insurance undertow of funding cuts, get your Congressman involved, let the leaders of our nation know that your voice is as powerful as any other, that you hold your representatives responsible for upholding your liberties just as they do everyone else’s. Put simply, take a personal approach to demanding your rights, as most other groups have done to achieve equality.
If one applies the rights of everyone else to those with disabilities, it becomes clear that mobility isn’t a privilege, it’s a right. And, as with all rights, liberties can only be had when exercised – that is, you have the right in society, and an obligation to yourself, to demand mobility, not plead for it.